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The fine, hard art of falling off horses & bikes

The fine, hard art of falling off horses & bikes

The secret of life is getting back in the saddle when you fall.

"I made a deal that if he learned to ride a horse, I would try a motorbike. What could be so difficult?"

The secret of life is getting back in the saddle when you fall

I’m not sure which saying is more true: “You are never too old to learn new skills”, or “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”.

This as I contemplate my ability to learn to ride a motorbike at a half of century in age.

When I was growing up, we typically fell into two camps, choosing horses or motorbikes as the preferred mode of transport.

Most of us learned to drive the farm bakkie on gravel roads at an age where we had to peer through the gap in the steering wheel to see where we were going.

The neighbours were aware that the vehicle was being steered by a minor if they could not see the driver. Until then, you either rode a horse or a motorbike.

Our family is known for preferring horses. Not that we really had an option. My mother banned motorbikes after my eldest sister, riding a Yamaha she won in a radio competition, injured herself while racing someone when she was meant to be studying for her matriculation exams.

I can’t say my mother loved horses, given her experiences with the fickle creatures. Her first unpleasant encounter was being painfully nipped by my father’s beloved Monarch, who did not take kindly to his master’s affections being diverted.

Fortunately, my mother only found out about our own horse-riding injuries after the event. On one occasion my siblings dragged my concussed sister through the bedroom window after she fell from her horse while jumping a stream at full gallop.

My friend and I were dropped at home by our neighbour when we grazed our faces, hands and arms, falling on the gravel road when I was unable to stop the horse at full gallop.

Suffering injuries when learning to ride came with the territory. My teacher was a particularly naughty Shetland pony, trained by my elder brother to be a circus horse.

This pony had a nasty habit of jamming his head between gate and post, rearing if you put your feet too far forward or back, and depositing you on the ground as your girth went slack.

My father and brother’s love for horses has been intensified in the next generations. My nephews were given a Welsh pony when they were born. From a young age, they charged around the yard with the gardener in tow to help them back on.

They were only allowed to ride with saddles when they had broken in their first horse. My city-dwelling niece gained her equestrian skills when her country cousins showed her the ropes on Oscar, who changed colour and temperament each holiday, becoming livelier as she grew bolder.

As my brother sought the perfect cross between Arab and Boerperd, we were spoilt for choice when selecting a horse to ride.

It never crossed our minds that our guests might not have been exposed to horses and could be terrified being perched 1.5m off the ground on an animal weighing more than half a ton, with two dangerous ends and a mind of its own.

We would happily invite friends to join us on our annual three-day ride over the edge of the Drakensberg, not even considering whether they would be able to endure a minimum of eight hours in a saddle as we ascended and descended the Dragon’s tail.

It was a rude awakening for me when my new love voiced his concern about mounting a horse and learning to ride. It was beyond my comprehension that someone who has covered vast distances on dirt roads, testing the power of motorbikes, could be nervous.

I made a deal that if he learned to ride a horse, I would try a motorbike. What could be so difficult about getting onto a machine and determining the speed and direction of travel?

I quickly came to the realisation that motor bikes are tricky.

After a couple of runs up and down the driveway, I was bold enough to attempt a change of direction without putting my feet on the ground.

I lost my nerve in the middle of the turning circle and came crashing down. I am not sure what hurt the most – my ego or my body.

Now kitted out with motorcycle boots, protective gear for chest, elbows, and knees, gloves and a helmet, I have to give this iron pony another chance.

I’ve been told it takes years to build up the stamina and skills to handle a motorbike well enough to challenge someone to a race.

With a horse, you are seldom given a choice whether you want to race or not, as the beast breaks into a canter to keep up with the pack.

*You can learn more about the joys and challenges of life in the countryside on Karoobewoners – a series made just for you by BrightRock – on Tuesdays at 21:00 on KykNET, channel 144 on DStv.

Rene Vosloo

Change expert, Rene Vosloo, believes that the big change equals big opportunity.

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