It’s Sunday 19th of June and I’m about to go on holiday with my boyfriend.
Yes, that’s right. I have a boyfriend now!
We’re spending a romantic week away together in the Maldives.
I am spray tanned, manicured and ready to go. A week of sun, sex and sangria; strolling hand in hand across a moonlit beach, whispering sweet nothings into each others ear and basking in the glow of newfound love.
It’s Sunday 19th June and I’m about to go on holiday with a horse.
To the BRECON BEACONS.
I don’t know quite how this has happened.
I had originally planned on going on holiday with the girls. Somewhere hot, cheap and sticky- a place where I could chug 7 pints of sangria, whip off my bikini and bitch slap the local pool boy with my breasts.
Somewhere I could develop third degree sunburn; spending the day in a bath of ice, like a disgruntled piece of pork, before shedding my entire skin, like some lardy, drunken snake.
Trawling through Google one night, dressed in my pyjamas and gin goggles, I found myself on a website called equestrianescapes.com.
‘Yes!’ I slurred, smiling encouragingly around my empty living room. ‘A riding holiday is what I need! Sunshine, countryside and the company of a sturdy, yet loyal equine friend. Less booze, more exercise. Fewer fags, fresher air. Out with the cock.. IN WITH THE HOOF!’
Excitedly, I started to fill in the the online application form.
A very small voice at the back of my mind reminded me that I had not actually been on a horse since attending Pony Club, twelve years ago, and that this resulted in me shitting myself on day one and having to ring my mother to collect me from the portaloo.
‘Ahh well!’ I trilled, pushing this alarming thought aside and taking another slug of gin. ‘How hard can riding be? I shall use my natural finesse and instincts as a horsewoman to see me through. Surely it’s just like swimming… or riding a bike!’
(Note- I cannot swim and the last time I rode a bike, my jeans got caught on the pedal and I was propelled into a hedge).
Eight hours later, I was awoken by an email back.
‘Hi Gabrielle! Great news! You’re booked in on our Black Mountain Weekend- two days of intense riding for the competent and experienced jockey!’
(‘What? WHAAAT?!’ I lurched in horror, last night coming back to me like some terrible nightmare)
‘This ride is not for the faint hearted, but judging by your impressive levels of experience it will be no problem!’
(‘Oh God. Oh dear sweet God no’)
‘You’ll be staying at our on-site B&B, run for over 40 years by Hilda and her husband John. Payment can be made by cheque or bank transfer. Be sure to bring all your riding gear and we look forward to meeting you next Saturday! P.S congratulations on your recent win at the Royal Windsor Showjumping Trials’
I am tired, bruised and exhausted. Every drop of my physical and mental juice has been drained, like an empty carton of Um Bongo.
I have unfortunately not even got on the horse yet.
Having set off this morning in torrential rain, I was taken on a 4 hour ‘scenic detour’ by my WHORE of a satnav, who decided to completely lose her shit somewhere in the middle of the Welsh mountains, refusing to direct me any further and simply showing my car spinning in tight circles on the screen.
However, roused by visions of the rosy-cheeked, softly spoken Hilda, perhaps bearing a steaming tray of schnitzel, I finally arrived at the farmhouse, lugging along behind me my 8 stone suitcase of riding gear.
I rang the bell.
Eventually, an elderly, red faced and rather pissed off looking lady answered.
‘Hello. You must be Hilda!’ I smiled ‘My name’s Gabrielle and I’m here for the riding weekend’.
‘WHAAAAT?!’ she hollered.
I blinked in surprise.
‘Hello! My name’s Gabrielle and I’m here for the-‘
‘WHAT IS YOUR NAME?’
‘…Gabrielle’ I repeated, by this point starting to question it myself.
She stared at me suspiciously.
‘Are you single?’ she asked
‘Christ, not this already’ I thought to myself.
‘Well currently, I am single yes. Now I must be honest, Hilda’ I said, wagging my finger in a roguish manner
‘I’m not ACTUALLY looking to date anyone at the moment. But if you leave me their name and number, I will most certainly take a look. In fact, I did quite like the look of that young farmhand who I drove past on the-‘
‘I mean did you book the single room?’
Hilda then begrudgingly showed me to my accommodation, which consisted of a single bed, Bible and something resembling a porcelain potty.
Dinner was at 7pm.
Rather than gently enticing us out our rooms with the smell of home cooked food and perhaps a crackling fire, we were summoned for our evening meal by Hilda viciously banging the ‘supper gong’.
‘YOU COME OUT NOW!’ she yelled, before storming back in the kitchen.
Nervously, myself and the three other weekend guests (a friendly looking mother and daughter and a rather lop-sided looking Frenchman) assembled round the dining table.
It was then that Hilda’s husband, John, introduced himself.
‘Bread is in the basket over here’ he said, gesturing to the table with a smile.
‘Butter is in the dish over there-‘
‘Ahh that’s better’ I reassured myself ‘Hilda may well be as welcoming as a skunk at a lawn party, but at least her husband seems nice and normal’
‘AND YOUR HANDS ARE ON THE ENDS OF YOUR ARMS! HA HA HA!’ he cackled at us all, before taking a bread roll from the basket and banging himself over the head with it.
John, it transpired, was completely insane.
Dinner time talk was rather intense, with Hilda determinedly finding fault with everything with everything I said and did, whilst John rambled along the path of the mentally ill.
‘What job do you do?’ Hilda asked me, beadily.
‘Oh look- a penis!’ cried John, spearing a carrot in his plate.
‘I’m an actress’ I smiled, pushing my food around the plate and praying for a change of subject.
‘THAT FIGURES’ Hilda replied, throwing me an accusatory glare.
‘Had any work?’ she asked.
My mind reluctantly flitted back to my most recent job- an advert for a Welsh pie company, where I had to sing the song ‘Live and Let Pie’, in the middle of Cardiff’s Queen’s Arcade, dressed in a pie outfit. Then was paid in pies.
‘Ohh, you know’ I waved, vaguely ‘this and that’
‘Very tricky career, acting’ piped up John, in a rare and unwelcome moment of lucidly ‘Most end up on the dole’
Having endured three courses, Hilda then brought out some forms for us to fill in. These asked for our height and weight, so we could be matched with a suitable horse for the weekend.
Having last night ordered myself a Chinese takeaway so large that the delivery man provided three sets of chopsticks (I was so ashamed when opening the door that I shouted ‘Food’s here, guys!’ behind me, to an entirely empty flat), I decided that it would be wise to knock off a few pounds.
‘There we go!’ I sheepishly handed over my form, having knocked off a good 3 and a half stone. ‘Christ, I hope I haven’t made myself sound TOO thin and light. Perhaps they’ll bring out a nimble young filly for me to ride. Or a greyhound’
After a disturbing breakfast of cheese and ‘cold meats’, we assembled in the yard at 8am to meet out allocate horses.
I do not look good in my riding gear.
I can’t QUITE put my finger on it, but think it may be due to this GARGANTUAN FUCKING HAT.
The other women look great in their riding hats. Really great. Sleek little velvet numbers, which fasten jauntily under the chin and are not comical in any way shape or form.
However, in order to cater for my bulbous head, I have been given something resembling a gigantic breeze block. It weighs about 2 stone and extends about 3 feet up in the air. I look like a traditionally dressed Welsh lady. Or Mr Ben off the rice packets.
Eventually, the horses were brought out.
‘Gabrielle- you’ll be riding Ester!’ said Paul, our instructor for the day
Out minced a sweet looking, nimble, black haired pony.
‘Oh how sweet!’ I enthused, leaping forward to stroke her and skidding in a large horse poo
Suddenly, Paul consulted his notes.
‘Sorry-‘ he asked, looking up ‘Are you Gabrielle Fernie?’
‘Yes’ I happily replied.
‘Ahh my mistake’ he replied ‘Good job we checked. BRING OUT JEMIMA!!’
The ground suddenly shook beneath us as a huge, a huge, muscular SHIRE HORSE lumbered in.
Having assessed my weight and clearly agreeing it to be of monstrous, crippling proportions, I have been put on the fattest horse known to mankind. In fact, I’m not entirely sure it is a horse. Maybe some rare breed of elephant. Or a bus.
Immediately sensing my fear and incompetence, Jemima stared at me with the eyes of an axe-murderer.
‘Perhaps she is a relation to Hilda’ I found myself thinking, nervously.
In fact, my Jemima was so wide, that once heaved up into the saddle (by use of a step ladder) my legs stuck out completely horizontally, in the manner of the splits.
‘Good Jemima, sweet Jemima’ I cooed, hysterically. .
To start with, the ride went pretty well.
Clearly incensed at being dragged out her stable, Jemima plodded sulkily at the back of the ride, pausing occasionally to snarl at passing children or pull entire branches off trees and eat them.
‘This is actually quite pleasant!’ I smiled to myself, patting my horse’s hulking shoulder ‘Perhaps I truly do have a natural gift for riding. This could be the start of a whole new, wholesome lifestyle!’
Then.. something happened.
Something so utterly traumatising that I will remember it to the end of my days.
There’s no easy way of putting this really…
I farted in the saddle.
Clearly thinking a nearby bomb had gone off, Jemima reared up in terror and began to gallop at breakneck speed across the field.
‘FUUUUUUUUCKK!!!!!!!’ I screamed, clinging on to her neck for dear life
‘Gabrielle!!!!’ cried Paul, now a good mile and a half behind us ‘Sit up in the saddle! Stop squeezing her with your legs!’
‘WHAT DO YOU MEAN STOP SQUEEZING WITH MY FUCKING LEGS!!’ I screamed, ducking under a passing branch ‘IT’S THE ONLY WAY I CAN STAY ON!’
Clearly enjoying herself now, Jemima tossed her head and carryed on careering to the nearest hedge.
Good god. Were we going to… jump it?!
‘Please Jemima!’ I jabbered deliriously ‘Have mercy! I’m sorry I called you fat. You’re not fat…just… just carrying a little extra Christmas weight! It suits you!’
Ignoring my compliments, she ploughed on.
‘This is it’ I thought to myself, dementedly ‘This is how I’m going to die. We’re about to take ourselves out in the manner of Thelma and Louise. Maybe they’ll make a film version of this… Gabrielle and the Fat Horse’
‘GOOD BYE CRUEL WORLD!!’ I sobbed, shutting my eyes.
Having reached the hedge, Jemima suddenly screeched to a halt and immediately put her head down to graze, whilst I sailed gaily over her head and thumped onto the ground.
I did not make the second days riding.
Instead I was taken back to the B&B on the back of a quad bike, driven, rather alarmingly, by John.
He patted my on the head in a reassuring manner as a climbed off.
‘Good boy’ he smiled ‘I’ll just go and get your lead then we’ll take you for a walk’.