Casting my mind back to this time last year, the UK was gripped with royal wedding fever and a heatwave. Today dawned grey, miserable and windy, with a fog so thick, early on, that I couldn’t clearly make out the other side of the lane. Today, I was marshalling at Manor Farm’s Fun Ride, which raised over £1,000 for the Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance.
I walked over the fields to the farm gritting my teeth and clad in so many layers of clothes and waterproofs that I could barely move, to help set up things for the event in a field so muddy, that tractors had to tow the vehicles in and out. People weren’t put off by the poor weather though, as riders are hardy souls, and about 50 people and horses turned up.
The event was for riders and their own horses, so none of Sue’s regulars rode but almost all joined in to help out in one way or another, like bringing cakes, bread and quiches for the cake sale, or putting up gazebos.
Unlike when you’re actually on horseback, when the best you can do is shout at each other over your shoulder, this was a chance to get to know a few riders who live locally. This kind of joining in is really important to me, as it’s hard enough to feel part of the community, when you’re not here all the time.
Once the ride had started, we were driven to our marshalling positions in the middle of nowhere, to point the riders in the right direction. Cue a further three hours standing in the cold. The fog dissipated mid-morning by converting itself into rain and then a dampness that forced itself right into my bones.
The expected ranks of horse-loving girls were padded out by all sorts today, from the very well-heeled – three generations of a family who turned up with an enormous four-horse transporter full of thoroughbreds, and people who talked about hunting, to a cheeky, young, overall-clad Irish jockey on a flirty little pony, who had broken three vertebrae at Wincanton recently and wasn’t back to racing yet. There was also an incredibly arthritic old chap, who had already ridden three miles to get to the start. He told us to just take his money – and by the way, he wouldn’t be finishing at the finish, as he would just go on home and he didn’t need a entry number, thank you.
The old chap’s gnarled hands and bony old ride put me in mind of the other-worldly horse and rider in Goethe’s poem Der Erlkönig. I think my mind must still be full of last night’s Radio Four drama, whose quite frightening ending (aided by award-winning sound design) happened just as my headlights were being bounced back at me by swirling fog as I drove over the Quantocks to the cottage. I’m locking my doors firmly tonight.