James Delingpole

It really must be a mid-life crisis. I’ve fallen in love with a pony

Riding a hunter is all very well. But Potato the polo pony makes me feel like Alexander the Great

25 April 2015

9:00 AM

25 April 2015

9:00 AM

Because I’m reckless, stupid and irresponsible, I normally get landed with the biggest, most obstreperous hunters. But the other weekend the riding school boss, Jane, decided to allocate me a different horse to ride. It was a smallish grey called Potato.

‘What’s he like?’ I asked one of the regulars. ‘Oh he’s lovely!’ she said. But I didn’t necessarily believe her. One of the things I’m learning about riders is that they lie through their teeth about how nice particular horses are. Something to do with the convention that misbehaviour is always the fault of the rider, never the horse.

‘He’s not very big,’ I complained. ‘How does he jump?’ ‘He doesn’t,’ my friend explained. ‘He’s a polo pony.’ Now I was starting to get quite sulky. I’m not saying I’m obsessed with jumping or that it doesn’t make me afraid. But I do know I need to do a lot more of it if I’m to be ready for next season and get my book Mister Delingpole’s Sporting Tour underway.

So I got onto Potato. I hardly needed the mounting block. And I looked at the riders who’d bagged one of the hunters, towering above me, thinking how unfair it was that they could have a go at the post and rails and I couldn’t.

I steered Potato towards the water trough to give him a drink. Every time I do this, I find myself thinking of the old adage, because it’s so true: you really can’t make a horse drink if he doesn’t want to. Potato did, though. He drank with ponyish enthusiasm and I began to warm to him.

Not as much as I did once I’d ridden him into the first field. ‘Woah!’ I declared to anyone who’d listen. ‘This pony is totally awesome!’ And he was too. Riding a hunter — a big, sturdy horse bred to jump over huge hedges and keep going all day — is like driving a Range Rover: big engine, lots of power, but a bit crap if you’re trying to nip in and out of tiny parking spaces. A polo pony, on the other hand, is more like a hot hatchback, such as that ludicrously inappropriate Golf Four Motion I acquired for next to nothing the other week. Instead of taking ages to get going, as my regular mounts Ted or Freddy do, this little number was nimble and responsive: just a slight squeeze and — vroom! — off he’d shoot. And the cornering! Wow! ‘I’ll tell you how to turn a polo pony,’ barked Jane. ‘How? How?’ I asked excitedly. ‘Shorten your reins a bit, put them in one hand and just turn your body.’ So I did. Wow and double wow! ‘These things can turn on a pin!’ I said.

And so sensitive. One of the maddening things about learning to ride is the myriad hours of frustration you have to put in kicking and squeezing reluctant nags to no avail. But a polo pony is a flattering beast. He makes you feel like one of those riders you see on TV, in control and in command, so that when you launch your lightning escape from Lord Baelish’s henchmen you just know they’re never going to catch up with you. ‘I expect Bucephalus was just like Potato,’ I mused.

Afterwards, Girl reported back to her mother. Apparently, I had behaved quite appallingly. ‘Dad was the most embarrassing thing ever!’ Girl said. ‘He was going round and round in circles saying: “Look at me, every-one! I’m practising my polo turns!”’ I’m afraid she wasn’t exaggerating. And the next day was even worse.

So determined was I to extract full value from my hour’s ride on Potato (£20! What a bargain! Is there any other pursuit where you can have that much fun for 20 quid?) that I began breaking all the school’s unspoken rules. Rule number one is that you only do stuff like cantering or jumping when Jane says you can. But I’m afraid I was naughty. At the end — desperate for a last canter, which is so different from a hunter’s canter, less like settling woozily into a comfy chair in a gentleman’s club after a magnum of claret, more like trying to outrun the Zulus at Fugitive’s Drift — I pretended I’d sort of lost control and let Potato hurtle at breakneck speed towards the gate, reining him in just in time to stop him crashing into the flank of one of the little ones on a pony.

There was much tut-tutting from the grown-ups. ‘Well that does at least explain why we had a rider fly over his head last week,’ Jane observed drily. ‘He does come to quite a sudden halt.’

Why am I telling you this? Well, it’s partly to keep you up to speed with my on-going midlife crisis, partly to urge those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of riding a polo pony urgently to consider doing so before you pop your clogs. And partly so I can dwell in melancholy fashion on what a bloody tragedy life is for those of us whose natural mental age is round about 14.

Yes, I know we all feel younger than we are. But some people are very comfortably middle-aged even in their early twenties and unfortunately for me, I’m not one of them. As I (very) fast approach 50 I’ve acquired many of the attributes, it’s true: receding hair, an increased fondness for tweed and Viyella shirts, a burning hatred for almost anything that happened after about 2007. That’s all just surface, though. Proffer me a bag of MDMA, give me the keys to a rorty Golf, put me on a pony that makes me feel like Alexander the Great and that’s it, I’m gone, mate. Forever young; forever doomed.

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Show comments
  • davidshort10

    Given that just about everything Delingpole writes is about being middle-aged and not being particularly successful and not being nearly as well-off as his friends despite his advantages, shouldn’t he be moved to the back and given a column entitled ‘Mid Life’?

  • blandings

    “It really must be a mid-life crisis. I’ve fallen in love with a pony”

    Look dude, you gotta deal with this. Some speccie kid is taking the p¬ss.

    • Verbatim

      He’s probably all forlorn, and milked the cow with the crumpled horn, that chased the dog and worried the cat that lived in the house that Jack built!
      (See my earlier posting on falling in love with a sheep.)

  • Robertus Maximus

    I moved away from London not having experienced, for a good twenty years, any creatures other than the ghastly humans of every nationality under the sun flooding into, and trashing, my area. I have since fled and nothing gives me greater pleasure or is more therapeutic than to take some carrots and apples down to two horses who live in a field just a couple of hundred yards away. Even in the depths of winter when I am covered from head to toe in warm clothing they somehow recognise me even when I walk straight past their field. They immediately gallop towards me, which was very startling at first, and eagerly await their treats, kicking the gate if I take too long cutting up the apples. They do, however, remain a complete mystery to me but their wildness is part of the attraction. They are not aggressive, they don’t pose a threat to my existence, and there is no malevolence hiding behind their eyes – in fact they are everything so many humans of today are not. I feel a calmness in their presence and I am so glad to be rid of my former life in that once most wonderful city – London.

    • Planet Vague

      What you describe is clearly more often than not an age appropriate alternative to the hustle and bustle of many metropolitan areas – new kids on the block will keep flooding into London and there’s nothing one would even bother contemplate doing about it, other than perhaps to making that choice as attractive as possible. This straightforward approach keeps the blighters off the fields and gives you the peace and quiet you undoubtedly deserve in return.

      • Robertus Maximus

        I think what we are seeing now is very different. Older people have always had dreams of retiring to the seaside. My family have lived in London for three hundred years but, even though many were fairly well-healed, the attraction of London was too great for them to leave. I, and most people I know and knew in London and of varying ages were fine until Tony Blair’s “immigration policy” brought hitherto unimagined “delights” to the neighbourhood coupled with an aggressive hatred for the established population. Everyone I know is clearing off or has cleared off. My friend’s Irish boss, only in his 40s, is packing his bags for Ireland as his area in West London is too threatening for him to leave his family there. When have we ever heard of the expression “White Flight” until recently? I would never have left but for New Labour and what their local party took great delight in doing to my area. It was naked hatred of decent, law-abiding people – even their own working class was despised by them. It was London’s “hustle and bustle”, as you say, which always attracted me. What we have now is certainly not just “hustle and bustle”. Best wishes to you and thank you for your comment.

        • Planet Vague

          Not everyone will base their lifestyle choice on the culture that surrounds them. Some will need to take their personal financial situation into consideration.

    • CommonSense Matters

      Safe as horses. We’re all going to die you know, I thought I ought to mention this salient fact in your idyll. There is more to life than horses.

      • Robertus Maximus

        If I were you I’d cancel this summer’s holiday in that case as you’ll probably be dead by then! My word, you must be the kiss of death to any party with your cheerful outlook.

        • CommonSense Matters

          The point which you have missed is that avoiding life is the pursuit of avoiding death. Depends on the party.

  • Violin Sonata.

    Do you have the physique for hunters James, very foolhardy indeed.
    Well if your going to partake in the lofty sport of polo, ‘ bonding’ with your little pony
    is imperative. Hugh Bonneville also plays polo I believe- do you mix in the same
    circles ?
    I suppose this is a more environmentally friendly mid- life crisis then a 1959 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider. The Watermelons will approve.

  • Verbatim

    Reminds me of the Woody Allen film when Gene Wilder falls in love with a sheep.


    • Violin Sonata.

      That was so funny. But don’t send James to lidl ‘ my lidl pony’ horse meat
      and all that.

  • ChristopherChantrill

    I’d say, James, that you are doing your Fatherly Duty to embarrass your daughter, as every father should.

  • meltemian

    I’m envious!
    My avatar (now sadly deceased at the ripe old age of 32) was a bugger to get started and even worse to stop!!!!!!!

  • Frearsco

    15 comments and counting and all focused on horses and age. Personally, I liked the bit about MDMA … although I’m sure that’s one of many lines the author would enjoy.

  • FrankS2

    Well, at least it was just a pony, and not a pony tail.

  • monty61

    What a tryhard. I stopped reading after two paragraphs.

  • RonRand

    Pass me the sick bag.