My best times at school were those outside the classroom. Sports and physical education (PE) were a regular part of daily activities. Boarders were expected to have extra curricular interests and my parents chose music and horse riding, neither of which I had done before. Neither my mother nor father ever played a musical instrument nor been on the back of a horse yet these two activities became part of my week. Maybe I chose them, I do not know. Mrs Chitty took the riding lessons at Kaptagat and I remember being frightened of both her and the horses.
The day pupils left after lunch on Fridays and boarders dispersed to various activities: music lessons or practice, extra academic lessons or sporting activities like tennis, hockey and in my case, horse riding. I was the only boarder to take riding in the junior school during my time at St Andrews which meant I rode with girls from the senior school. In the early stages I was paired with a more experienced rider and spent a happy hour gleaning interesting information about life in the senior school. Their matron sounded like a good sort and I was envious knowing that soon I’d be under the scrutiny of Matron and her small-eyed assistant, Mrs Bouwers.
I transferred my fear of Mrs Chitty and her large steeds to my new riding instructor, who similarly strode about barking instructions at the stable hands and less experienced riders in her class. I told my father she had the biggest bottom I had ever seen and he felt she was probably a good rider and felt with that kind of anatomical blessing she was sure of a ‘good seat’.
If we simply rode the horses I may have enjoyed the lessons more but our instructor insisted we limber up beforehand. To a ten year old being so far from the ground and expected to perform gym-like routines was terrifying. Fortunately the routine lasted the first ten minutes and then we left on our ride. By the time we returned to school I was relaxed and starting to get the feel of the horse and reigns and was comfortable. However, by the time the next week came around I was equally frightened.
I was not gymkhana material and the instructor soon left me to the care of older riders. My parents were pleased with the reports from the riding instructor and after the first term I settled in to a comfortable routine and soon lost my fear of the horses and our instructor. Friday afternoons were to be looked forward to as a time to catch up with the senior school riders as well as the opportunity to carry snippets of information back to my friends.
Although we rode for no more than an hour the preparation beforehand and the grooming routine at the end pushed our horse riding time to more than three hours. The stable hands made sure the horses were properly taken care of and especially vigilant when we dismounted, removed saddles and other riding tack and in how we groomed the horses before handing them back. I enjoyed the responsibility and instruction on how to complete each of these tasks.
I never got used to how my body felt after an hour on horseback: my body seemed to have shrunken and my legs bowed, and ached. The walk back up to junior school was a long uphill haul but I knew that when I did get back to the dormitory Matron would allow me an early bath and hair wash. Sitting in the locker room struggling to with the knee-length riding boots was the final exertion before my wobbly legs carried me up the last flight of stairs to find Matron.