When a colleague asks if my upcoming lesson at the Bukit Timah Saddle Club (BTSC) will be my first time on a horse, I’m not sure how to answer. I’ve ridden once before, but so unsuccessfully I’m not sure it counts.
Arriving at the BTSC on Fairways Drive, I meet with instructor Anthony Lowry. Anthony assures me that horse-riding can be enjoyed by anyone, regardless of skill level. I finally find a hard hat big enough to fit over my unruly hair, and then we meet my steed, a former racehorse named We Are On. The prospect of riding a horse that once galloped at lightning speed is exciting but scary. I just hope the name proves prophetic – much better to be On a horse than Off it.
Once I’m in the saddle (with some assistance from a step), Anthony adjusts the stirrups and runs through some basics: holding the reins properly; getting the horse to move and halt. A leash is then is attached to We Are On’s bridle (that’s the equipment found on the horse’s face, by the way) and Anthony leads us to a large grass plain. I start to relax and allow myself to bop to my horse’s rhythm. “Learning how to ride is about feeling comfortable, confident and balanced on the horse’s back,” says Anthony.
Next, Anthony teaches me how to “steer”. It sounds easy enough – you just pull in the reins on the side you want the horse to turn to – but We Are On doesn’t always respond. Anthony gets me to practise by directing the horse to go in circles and semi-circles until I feel more confident.
The lesson progresses to trotting, and then standing up and down, much like cowboys in Westerns. The key is to place pressure on the balls of your feet while simultaneously pushing your heels down. It’s tricky to balance on a moving horse, and even harder to remember all the tips Anthony has given me. But slowly I get the idea.
After more horseplay, we head back to the stables, passing a group of kids having lessons. “Riding is becoming increasingly popular in Singapore,” Anthony tells me. “More people are trying it as an alternative form of keeping fit. Many schools even offer riding as a co-curricular activity.”
Back at the stables, I swing my right leg over my horse and attempt to dismount. Even this simple feat can be a challenge for someone who’s as flexible as a box. Nevertheless, I make it safely to terra firma, where Anthony offers his congratulations to me (and my horse) for getting through the lesson in one piece.
• BTSC runs an eight-week beginner course in horse-handling and riding. The minimum age for lessons is seven, but pony-rides are available for children aged four and older.
• After the beginner’s course, riders can sign up for another eight lessons, known as a Trial Term. The following step is to become a member of the club.
• Approximately 70 horses are privately owned by members of the BTSC. The horses are ridden and exercised daily, and they also take part in regular dressage and show-jumping competitions. The BTSC hosts the FEI World Jumping Challenge each year.
Bukit Timah Saddle Club, 51 Fairways Drive (off Eng Neo Ave)
www.btsc.org.sg, +65 6466 2782