top of page
  • Writer's pictureblkdogpublishing

The Woman Horse Thing by Julian Roup

What is it about women and horses? There is an affinity, some would say a love affair, that goes on between these two. There is something special in the relationship women have with horses. They seduce each other. I’m just not sure who leads the seduction, the girl or the horse. Safe to say it is a partnership that is magic to observe.


I think the horse empowers women, and at the same time entrances them with its beauty, gentleness and grace, qualities that so appeal to women. Horses in turn respond to a gender which does not try to dominate them, but which creates a partnership of equals. The horse’s instinctive intuitiveness echoes that of women, and the two get on like a house on fire.


You can have a relationship with a horse, which you can’t with a car, and women are good at the relationship thing. I do wonder about this though, after all, isn’t the horse the quintessential strong, silent type? Perhaps as this breed of men has died out, with the arrival of The New Man, horses have filled that old niche?


Women feel safe on a horse. There are places no woman would venture on her own without a protective dog for company, but on a horse, a competent rider can outrun trouble. No wonder this partnership flourishes.


But it is strange that men are hugely in the minority in a sport that is so physical. Why is that? Boys, it seems, prefer engines, but it wasn’t always so, was it? At the end of the day, the love affair between women and horses is their secret and their pleasure and most men can only scratch their heads and wonder.


I have been lucky to love horses, as they brought me into contact with a world of women. To an inarticulate youngster, having horses in common with girls was a great help. And, as confidence grew between boy and girl, the mutual passion for horses allowed one a freedom to enthuse and a means of discovering a world together, slowly, on horseback.


Growing up in the Cape, as I’ve said before, bestows great blessings. This incomparably beautiful piece of earth, an amalgam of mountain and sea, vineyards and white colonial homesteads, a mix of Provence and Africa, must surely be one of the most enchanting places to grow up. For a horse-mad boy, it offered endless vistas, new horizons, new possibilities.


I rode my ponies and then my horses on the beaches, I rode them round the periphery of racecourses – Kenilworth and Milnerton – I rode them up through Cecilia Forest to the top of Table Mountain. Imagine it, a 16-year-old boy half way up a three-thousand-foot mountain on an eager thoroughbred, looking down on the backs of gliding raptors. It was intoxicating. I galloped up Long Beach behind the Cape Hunt pack, the hound music echoing off mountain cliffs.


And my home turf was the Cape Flats – a harsh, rugged sand-dune country that once lay below the sea, now a dry, dessicated place, home to Port Jackson trees, snakes and tortoises, on whose fringes poor farmers scraped a living market gardening. At its one periphery, the sea, with two mountain ranges framing it. To one side, Zeekoeivlei – Hippopotamus Lake. This was my own private landscape, and to this day I dream of its heat shimmer, even as I toss and turn in wintry Sussex. I once more see the dunes whose outlines were my signposts, and the indistinct paths made by woodcutters. I would ride alone, always alone, watching the country pass, at one level, and at another, watching myself, and my horse, pass through it – a self-admiring actor/audience of one.


The sheer, hellish heat was made manageable by the south east breezes, and by the water I packed in my saddlebags. If the sea was our destination, I would unsaddle and swim the horse, not too deep, for the bay teemed with shark, including Great Whites, for whom we would have made a banquet, a change from seal.

I would return from those rides like some ancient mariner, looking in wonder at the pedestrian, everyday, ordinariness of suburban life that had continued even as I’d crossed my Xanadu.


One day, I crested the great king-dune that ruled the rest. To one side it was being eaten away for building sand, making a great slide for a brave horse and a silly boy. As I sat up there at a crossroads in my life, I saw the future. I did not know it, but I saw my wife.

Janice was riding a polo pony called Plucky, how appropriate that name was, now that I know the girl turned woman. She was a good half-mile off, alone too, in that sea of sand and scrub. She looked up, saw me on the skyline and quite deliberately turned the horse away and cantered off. She made good her escape, until we met again years later, at university.


Now, many years later her horse, Dexter, stands with Chancer, their fortunes linked by a boy who saw a girl in sand dunes, in another country, another continent, another time. Our history leaves a wake as white and turbulent as a ship’s, but amid the turbulence there are the tracks of horses, thousands of them.


On Sundays I take our daughter riding at a nearby stable that has good, safe ponies and a gentle patient teacher. I watch her, at 10, falling in love with this special world and find it hard to believe that some boy may be watching, watching, not seeing the future, just a girl mad about ponies, learning the woman-horse thing.


A horse will carry a woman to places she might hesitate to walk alone, into the wild, the deep woods, or at night. the horse is her safety net, her partner, and in that trust freedom blossoms, a freedom that is the gift of the horse to women.


In her powerful and remarkable book ‘Pip Pip’, author Jay Griffiths writes about wilderness. My belief is that wilderness is also something women tap into when they are on horseback. However domesticated we think horses are that is to misunderstand their nature as prey animals. They will bolt, buck, rear, bite and kick to escape anything that frightens them, that wild instinct to survive lives deep within them and it is what you have beneath you when you venture out into the wild on the wild spirit of the horse.


Griffiths writes: “Wilderness is a ferocious intoxication which sweeps over your senses with rinsing vitality, leaving you stripped to the vivid, your senses rubbed until they shine. It is an untouched place which touches you deeply and its aftermath – when landscape becomes innerscape - leaves you elated, awed and changed utterly. Forget the lullaby balm of nature tame as a well-fed lawn, here nature has a lean and violent waking grandeur which will not let you sleep…. It is an aphrodisiac; it is a place of furious fecundity - not virginal but erupting with the unenclosable passion at the volcanic heart of life.”


Kapow! She knows what she is talking about. Women on horseback are shape-shifting into another form, allowing them access to wildnerness leaving manners and civility and civilisation as far behind as a dying planet. No wonder they love horses.


This is an excerpt from A Fisherman in the Saddle by Julian Roup. For more information click here.



bottom of page