For years, people have been resolutely telling me that I can’t have a horse “and”. I can’t have a horse and go to law school. I can’t have a horse and live in London. I can’t have a horse and work for a City firm. More recently (here all e-venting equi-mothers mutter an emphatic “YES!” and nod their heads in recognition) I can’t have a horse and have a baby. And, for years, I have been resolutely ignoring the prohibitive “and” and I have quietly proceeded to have a horse “and”. As I sat bleakly leafing through assignment documents at 2 am on a Thursday morning, though, I started to wonder. Just how many “ands” would it take, before I conceded defeat, and bowed down before the might of the ubiquitous “and”? Could I live in London and work for a City firm and have a baby and have a horse and event said horse at any sort of level?
March was a dire month. In more trivial news, bloodshed in Syria hit new highs and Russia appeared to be in the process of annexing most of the former Eastern Bloc. This, however, paled into insignificance in comparison with the real disaster that was unfolding for me. The materna-holiday clock that had started ticking last February gave one final chime and its hands stopped forever. I returned to work. Covered in horse hair, straight from my early morning ride, I stepped into the plush lifts in our shiny foyer and stared blankly at the sparkling array of buttons that confronted me. Which floor, I thought in rising panic, was my office on? It was a fair way up, as I remembered, probably into double figures, but likely not as high as 15. I plumped for ten. The lift stopped. No, wait, this didn’t look right. I pressed 11. Better. There, through the glass fronting, just visible behind a computer screen, a picture of Vito nestled on a pin board. I raced in in relief, showered, changed and brushed my hair. A handful of hay, unleashed from under my hairband, floated gently down past my shoulders and landed on the floor. Showering at work is not without its risks. In the first place, there’s every chance that some item of clothing or toiletry utensil will wend its way from my bundle of garments, escape from my feeble clutches and land in an inopportune place along the corridor. A discarded tube of mascara outside HR’s office, for example, wouldn’t necessarily be the end of the world. A pair of large, white, semi-padded riding pants left carelessly on the threshold of the managing partner’s door, on the other hand, could be infinitely more serious.
Whilst trying to remember my password, my direct dial and any meagre amount of law whatsoever, I reflected upon the two events that I’d been able to do whilst still on materna-holiday. Oasby Novice had been and gone in a combination of sub-artic temperatures, forgotten saddles and misunderstood optimum times, and had culminated in an unremarkable double clear for 9th. Feeling confident, I’d headed to Gatcombe for the Intermediate. There, in sea of mud, beset by my old fears about corners, I’d picked up two run outs at a double of corners. Unfortunately worse was come, and a few fences later, I inadvertently fell off on my head in a ditch. My husband ran over as I extricated myself and I was assailed by guilt. He’d been so supportive and so encouraging, and the best I could come up with was to present him with a view of my wobbling bottom as I grovelled about unceremoniously in the bottom of one of Princess Anne’s trakeheners. He slung an arm round my shoulders. “Don’t worry, darling”, he said, with a wry smile, “I’ve been following sport for long enough now to know that things can go wrong, and you’re mistaken if you think I’m a fair weather fan.” And, as he persisted in supporting Manchester United under David Moyes, I can only assume he’s telling the truth.
On we’d gone to Goring Heath, South of England and Hambleden for the Novices. At Hambleden, I pioneered a ground-breaking and revolutionary technique that was later to be emulated by the great Sir Mark Todd at Badminton. In a tribute to my cutting-edge and unrivalled skill set on the cross country course, Toddy stood on that whacking great oxer at Badminton and, muttering under his breath “I owe so much to the Materna-venting column, it’s taught me all I know” he used his oxer as a convenient mounting block and hopped back onto NZB Campino, just as I’d jumped back onto Vito from the equally imposing and daunting fence 5 at Hambleden.
Sadly, it looked as if my problems were a little more deep-rooted than I’d previously thought. I stepped away from BDWP and took the baby and the horse for a XC lesson instead. We were joined by a sweaty, lycra-clad husband, who’d cycled some four hours on his road bike to join me. He flopped onto the seat of the car and held his hand out for a bottle of water. “Are you ok?” I’d asked, anxiously. “I got lost in Cambridge”, he’d groaned. “Then I found myself in the middle of an undefined fen and, just as I was considering my options, I bumped into a small man in the middle of nowhere, also on a bike. We swapped triathlon stories and I think he may have been a leprechaun.” I looked at him, concerned, and racked my brain to try to remember whether Irish-themed illusions were a symptom of severe dehydration. My worry, however, did not prevent me from getting onto Vito and immediately discovering that the zip on my boot had broken irreparably. My husband, well-trained in these situations, handed me my black tape. I rested my leg over Vito’s withers and started to tape my boot onto my calf. Vito tensed and made to move off. “Darling”, I yelped, “Can you grab him?” Husband, wearing the baby, looked askance. My XC trainer stepped forwards and seized Vito’s reins. This was awkward. Did I thank her, and carry on as if nothing had happened, thereby tacitly implying that my “darling” had been aimed at her? Great coach though she is, this would surely bring our relationship onto a new level. What would my poor HR department, left holding a tube of mascara, and my managing partner, in possession of nothing but a pair of my discarded riding knickers, have to say about this development? Or did I mutter quickly that my request hadn’t been directed at her, thus sounding ungracious and slightly rude, but refuting any allegations of endearment?