I have always loved new hobbies and horses. Then, two years ago, my equestrian dream came true | Hobbies

gwhile rowing, I considered myself a “horse girl”. I knew the importance of keeping your heels down and your back straight, how to braid your horse’s mane for dressage, and that real horsewomen cleaned the stalls themselves. I could navigate the feverish politics of a stable, handle the intensity of the competition, and understand why everyone was looking at the new girl sideways – she had to earn her place.

Of course, I had never been in a stable, let alone ridden a horse. I didn’t have stylish jodhpurs folded in my closet, well-worn riding boots zipped around my calves, or a favorite gelding to give apples and Polo candy to as treats. My equestrian knowledge came entirely from reading books, starting with the wholesome Pony Pals and Saddle Club series at the local library, to taut thoroughbred novels that follow the lives of young jockeys in Kentucky racing. Although I grew up in the suburbs of Brisbane, Australia, within a half-hour drive of several stables, I never once thought about asking my parents for riding lessons. It would take moving to London in my mid-twenties, a pandemic lockdown in the big city and that old clichéd desire to “reconnect with nature” before my equine dreams would come true.

As a child, I found the world of horses elusive, untouchable. I was a teenager who imagined myself as a knight in shining armor, so envisioning myself as a prize-winning jockey shouldn’t have been too creative. Yet the domain of horses seemed more out of reach than a fantasy kingdom of elves and squires. I thought I was more likely to be part of Arthur’s Round Table than to be a dressage rider; I started lifting weights at age 12 just in case the call to wear chain mail came in the mail. No one questioned why preparing for combat seemed more realistic than aspiring to a life of leisure, but that says more about Australia in the 1990s and 2000s than it does about my personality.

Instead of horseback riding, I pestered my poor migrant parents to take lessons in a myriad of other unaffordable extracurricular activities. I begged to take acting classes, running classes, training on a stringed instrument (according to the music teacher who looked like an older Amy Winehouse, my giant hands were perfect for the double bass). From karate to choir to squash, I was obsessed with learning new skills. If only that translated into a penchant for mastering them.

My dream of being the next Serena Williams was shattered in elementary school when I proved incapable of returning a single tennis ball, my talent lacking so much that my mother booked me a visit to the optometrist . When the results came in – dangerously nearsighted – she returned to the field one last time to brandish my new glasses in the coach’s face and inform him that I was not “bad”, but that I was suffering from a ” health problem “. She had fewer excuses in ninth grade. Just five weeks into the volleyball season, she quit, refusing to drive me to another game. I was so bad at this sport that I embarrassed her, she said, unable to bear the shame.

But my mother’s lack of faith in my athletic prowess did not dent my confidence. Incompetence has never been a barrier to my love of new hobbies. I take my hobbies seriously; not in the sense that they become a professional activity or another aspect of life in which I feel obligated to “succeed”. I take seriously the hobbies that are hobbies, the fun things I do in my meager free time to spark joy, provide me with stories, and fuel an ever-inventive imagination. After all, the hero’s journey doesn’t really work if she’s great at the beginning, does it?

In my early 20s, I made a personal commitment to learning a new hobby every year. I keep things light; there is no obligation to continue once the year is over, or even to see the year end, unless it is particularly enjoyable. The commitment is to stay curious, seek out new activities, and stick with the game. Sometimes I choose hobbies that I’ve wanted to try for years, like sword making (yes, I’m aware of the current Middle Ages theme here). Others are more of an anthropological adventure into an unknown world, like when I bought a learn-to-ski package for my 27th birthday (there was another black lady learning to ski on the mountain and we quickly became friends).

At the start of 2022, after the last round of lockdowns ended, I knew I needed a change. After months in a studio in east London, I craved vast, green spaces, movement and connection without pixels. The time had come for me to realize my equestrian potential, the time to become “not just a girl” but “a Saddle Club girl!” » Soon after, on a gray morning, two subways and a 20-minute walk from home, I found myself standing in front of a paddock, in skinny jeans and borrowed boots, ready to live out my horse-riding fantasy.

After the ride, my fingers were numb from lack of blood circulation, my muscles burned, and the thick, dark mud of the paddock covered the backs of my calves. Was it magic? I spent an hour sitting several feet in the air, an instructor yelling at me in a way I hadn’t spoken to in years – shorten the reins, leg forward, lean back , arms down, leg forward, leg forward, LEG IN LOUNGE! – as I trotted around the arena in a shameful attempt at a circle.

But as I drove, the sun emerged lazily from behind the fields. A cold mist hung languidly over the paddock and my warm breath was visible in the air. After the lesson, I warmed my fingers on a cup of hot chocolate and petted my horse until it was time to go home.

Was it magic? You bet your lucky horseshoe did.

After the trial, I purchased as many courses as my freelance income would allow and returned. Rain or shine, I carved out hours in my day to ride the subway to the end of the line and walk into an alternate universe, where muddy boots were welcome and unsmiling young riders were part of the charm. Horseback riding took me out into the natural world, disconnecting me from the freight train of anxiety that was coursing through my body that day, and brought me back to life. Horses, I would learn, were prey animals, extremely sensitive and dependent on flight to survive. If you were stressed, they would be too. The horses forced me to pay attention to my breathing, to my body, to the present. Whatever was tearing my life apart on the way to the stables, by the end of the journey it had become insignificant and I could face the world again.

Having started in the paddock, it wasn’t where I wanted to stay. I wanted to walk freely, roam the fields, push my horse and gallop into the distance, letting the wind blow through my hijab. I wanted to do a “hack”.

It turns out that hacking isn’t just about a computer break-in. It’s “the fun act of riding for light exercise,” the ticket to becoming a true lady of leisure. Word on the trail was that the best hack in London was in Richmond Park. So, as soon as I could confidently walk, trot, and gallop, I headed west.

Hacking in Richmond Park means waking up at 6 a.m. to take two subways and a bus across the city, sharing the car with bleary-eyed shift workers and ghosts. It’s about riding the horse you’ve been assigned that day, praying that they’re comfortable, being confident in your abilities even if they’re not. It’s about greeting your classmates, but not doing much beyond small talk, unless you’re one of the regulars on a Tuesday morning and everyone is ready for a quick hour. It’s watching deer as if you were a 19th-century aristocrat, waiting until they have crossed the path to trot through the brush and brambles. It’s galloping on the rugby fields in summer, galloping around the new trails in winter and gazing at the city skyline when the weather clears, counting your lucky stars, you’re alive, and here.

I haven’t made many equestrian friends yet, but that’s okay (I’m still the new girl). Most of the time, I have met former riders who have become professionals who are finding their way back into the saddle. I wondered if I would meet more amateur people but, according to an older rider, “the real rich people own their own horses”. She took weekly walks with her best friend of over 20 years. “We’re amateurs,” she said, her words carrying a note of apology. I smiled, wanting the blood to return to my fingers as I grabbed the cup of hot coffee. Amateurs, I thought. There’s nothing wrong with that at all.

Talking About a Revolution by Yassmin Abdel-Magied is published by Penguin Random House at £16.99. Order it now from guardianbookshop.com

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