‘This is a two Voltarol day,’ I thought, as I popped another pill and settled into the bath after Darcy’s first hurdling session. Well, three Voltarol if you count the one I gave to the young jockey who parted company with his horse at the first hurdle just in front of me.
He knelt on the ground wearing a stoical expression as he cradled his arm. He has been doing this since he was 15. When he is older he will be able to tell his children, in all seriousness, that he went to the school of hard knocks and the college of crashing into hurdles.
‘If there are bones sticking out,’ I thought, because the jockey tea room talk about injuries nonchalantly suffered is always luridly laid on for my benefit every time I nip in for a cuppa, ‘then that’s it. I’m not doing this any more.’ (My mother rings me up daily to announce, ‘Listen here. You’re not to do it. Do you hear me?’)
But he hadn’t broken his arm. ‘It’s just bruised,’ said another jockey who rushed to help. This was a relief, although ‘just bruised’ is something they apply to pretty much everything in the life of a jockey. As a trainer once said to the 18-year-old Tony McCoy as two splintered bone ends pressed through his jodhpurs, ‘Are you sure you’ve broken it?’
I had been hanging on to the reins a bit tighter than was strictly fair to Darcy as a group of four of us, the trainer in the lead, began the session by pirouetting towards a line of jumps in his practice field.
I say pirouette because that is the best way to describe how excited racehorses approach the start of a line of jumps. They don’t so much canter towards them as spin towards them. But as soon as we got the horses pointed in the right direction it was all systems go. They were up for it.
‘Nice steady canter’ was how the trainer described what we were about to do, before we hurtled at the set of tyre obstacles. Oh, I have to point out, because the trainer wants me to: when I said before that I raced around his track at 40mph I was exaggerating.
If I had been doing 40mph he would have been genuinely excited. Racehorses only do 40mph when they are at the peak of their fitness and at top speed. I was probably doing a lot less than that on my youngster.
‘Listen,’ I told him. ‘I don’t got no speedometer. When I tell the readers I’m doing 40, it’s because it feels that way.’
No doubt he will tell me when he reads this that I am exaggerating again now because I say we approached that line of jumps as though we were flying like the wind. I found it utterly thrilling. He will say I need to get out more.
Darcy leapt like a stag over the first two jumps. But in front of the third she put in what might be termed ‘a dirty stop’. And a split second after she did that she lurched over it and completed her trajectory.
This pitched me almost over the top. I’ve only been riding in a racing saddle for a few weeks so give me some credit for jumping in one. I wobbled precariously before righting myself, hat down over my eyes like something out of Dad’s Army.
I decided to do the next two larger jumps — which were real hurdles from a race track — at a stately pace to ensure my survival. But my plan came to nothing when, as we approached the slanted hurdles, the jockey in front of me deposited himself in the wings, taking assorted bits and bobs of the jump with him.
We had an interlude thereafter catching the loose horse and verifying the ‘just bruised’-ness of the young lad’s condition, after which the trainer insisted that the three still on board would have another crack at the line of hurdles.
Off we flew at them with me clinging tightly to a keen as mustard Darcy, feeling a bit like an emotional cripple. I was poised up there with all the enthusiasm of a damp rag, yelping, ‘Go on, girl! Please!’ But Darcy performed like a pro and flew over.
In fact, she jumped so high I shot upwards by a few feet, shouted out an expletive mid-air, and then shot back down again, banging my backside.
Afterwards, I shared a strip of Voltarol in the tack room with the young jockey who was nursing his arm. Then I went home, ran a bath and popped another pill before bed, lest my lower back seize up completely, putting a premature stop to this glorious mid-life crisis.