‘John Wayne’s stuntmen would have baulked’

The Mixed Zone editor Sue Mott takes the plunge – almost literally – and breaks out of her comfort zone in the first entry in our series She Who Dares. Her ‘rut-busting’ adventure came during a particularly arduous trek on horseback in New Zealand last year. To discover more about the She Who Dares campaign, how you can follow Sue’s lead, and then tell us about it, click HERE

It began, God help me, as a blind date. My daughter put me up to it with promises of dazzling beauty, tremendous fun and, anyway, we were 12,000 miles from home so who would know. Even so I was deeply, deeply unsure. Then she may have mentioned something about Hugh Jackman in his Wolverine phase, and the pendulum began to swing in her favour. I went from stupendous fear to violent trepidation. So we went.

I was looking for slim, small, elegant, vulnerable. I received big, chunky, hairy, full of himself – not to mention about ten tons of hay. He was enormous, Warren. Yet bold. It was a disastrous combination in my eyes. The sort of equine equivalent of Michael Ball – ebullient, and about to burst into something violent, like song. I had never sat on a horse before without screaming. I had certainly never moved on one. Yet here we were: a gang of strangers being loaded on to a string of beasts and setting off into the wild unknown.

My comfort zone is Cheltenham in the stand with a bottle of Champagne and two ambulances chasing round after the horses on the track. Where were the paramedics here? Nothing but lowering mountains, streaming rivers, overhanging willows and the awful knowledge that I was up here, helpless, yards in the air, and Warren was down there, hoofs on the ground and in full potentially-lunatic charge.
“We’re just going to cross the river now,” said the trek leader.

I knew about the river. I was prepared. A sober walk hoof-deep through a gently meandering puddle.

“I’ll go first to find the line,” she added. “The water’s melting off the mountain slopes so it’s in full spate.” With which bombshell she plunged girth-deep into the swirling depths that frothed and roared around her like a giant Jacuzzi. I tried to compute the horror. John Wayne’s stuntmen would have baulked at this. But there was literally no turning back. One by one the horses followed, heedless of life and sanity, until it was Warren’s turn.

“Don’t worry, you’ll like it,” I heard my daughter call jovially over her shoulder, in wildly-mistaken supposition.

For the record, I didn’t like it. It was petrifying. If you looked down the water seemed to be sweeping you to your doom. If you looked up you saw how much further you had to go to some far distant shore. The only option left was to sit there gibbering in a plastic hat while Warren stumbled, waded and crashed through the waves till we reached the beach panting like shipwreck victims. Well, one of us was.

I will spare you the full documentary. We then went up things – “Lean forward!” And down things – “Lean back!” Through things – “Duck!” And over things, like the bridge that was in Wolverine (although they had to paint out the road markings). We could gaze at things – the scenery that had starred in Lord of the Rings. And look forward to things – like crossing back over the river. That went down well.

By the time we returned to the yard – 150 unforgettable, muscle-clenched, arse-numbing minutes later –I was so frozen in the saddle it took two people, both cackling with mirth, to push and pull me off. In that state of something akin to rigor mortis my daughter tried to put me back in the car. It was like loading a plank of wood into a Smart car. I didn’t bend.

“Well,” she said, once I’d been wedged. “Wasn’t that lovely?”

Where to start?

“It gives you a wonderful sense of freedom, doesn’t it?” she chattered on.

It had given me a vivid sense of impending mortality.

“Did you enjoy it?” she persisted.

“Yes,” I found myself saying.

What?

And now that we were driving safely away from the ordeal, and I’d survived – and, more to the point, not cried nor fainted nor dropped off – I was feeling rather pleased with myself. Who knew I’d be capable of such immense physical bravery? The thawing of muscles and terror was accompanied by a flood of relief and a touch of smugness. The New Zealand Riesling would taste all the more splendid tonight as I toasted my own heroics (although, actually, all Warren’s).

“Would you do it again, then?” daughter said, encouragingly.

“No,” I said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sue Mott is an award-winning sport journalist who has worked on radio, TV and the written press. Sue’s latest articles

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