‘You’ve got your essay on your back, then?’ said the stable yard owner as I headed out with Darcy on our morning hack.
I have taken to wearing a hi-visibility vest even though I swore I would never join the Day-Glo brigade: large women on fat cobs plodding very slowly down the road in so much protective gear they look like they are going to fight the Taliban, not walk round the woods slower than a snail.
I swore I would never make myself look like them. I have ridden blithely along the country lanes of Surrey to reach the common for years and I have never had a problem with motorists, unless you count the loud-mouthed chav who wound her window down and yelled at me for not paying road tax.
Mainly, though, car drivers are courteous, or at least pass me with more than an inch to spare.
But then the whole cycling thing happened. Oh look, I don’t mean people on bikes. I mean cycling: the mania for pedalling as fast as possible, getting high as a crack whore on adrenaline and not slowing down or stopping for anyone.
Blame Bradley Wiggins, or Lance Armstrong, or middle managers wanting to dress up as Spiderman at the weekend… In any case, they come in their hordes and pedal until their veins pump them full of a toxic cocktail of endorphins. And in this compromised state, they would rather cycle straight through a horse than untie their feet from the pedals.
One day, I was tootling up the lane on my pony, cars slowing and passing with a wave, the next, or so it seemed, I was riding in the middle of an amateur Tour de France, running the gauntlet of thousands of Would-be Wiggins’s pedalling like billy-o.
They come around the horse in formation, sometimes both sides, and I have had one or more of them actually brush my legs, or worse, the sides of the horse.
It was actually still survivable while I rode the pony Gracie, who is a wily soul and learned very quickly how to dodge out of their way.
She barely blinks when a cyclist or 50 come speeding past us downhill, or when they loom like aliens over the brow of a hill hurtling towards us in a tidal wave of Lycra, trailing fumes of endogenous opioid neuropeptides and peptide hormone.
But then I began riding my young thoroughbred Darcy. The first time I took her out to get to the common, I heard a cycling club coming towards us seconds after we had ridden through the gates of the stable yard. That soft whirr of wheels puts chills up me now every time I hear it. As they rounded a corner and headed down a hill towards us at top speed, I felt Darcy stiffen. I called out: ‘Please slow down! Please!’
They showed no mercy. One after the other they came, and as each one sped past with me screaming, Darcy span a full turn. But she was turning while moving rightwards across the road like a spinning top, and so as each cyclist sped past, we were getting inevitably closer to the point where I would collide with one of them.
And still they came. The last one just got round us as we almost hit a car.
Two years on, I am still training her to bear one bike going past her slowly. I only have 300 yards of quiet lane to go from the back gate of the stable yard to miles of off- road hacking on sandy tracks. But to do that tiny distance, taking barely 20 seconds, I have to call out to anything from one to 50 cyclists, slow them down, and explain that they might die if they don’t listen to me.
So I hit upon the idea of a yellow vest, which I wrote on in black marker: ‘Cyclists Pass Wide and Slow!’ Then, after a few rides with cyclists slowing to read the vest and being quite understanding, I thought I would add more: ‘Cyclists Pass Wide and Slow! Bikes give way to horses! Know Your Highway Code!’
At which point I had gone too far. I looked mad, and people started to remark on me as I passed by. There’s that woman with the essay on her back.
It is only one step to me going about in a sandwich board. But I would enjoy that too. You may see me soon on Cobham high street, outside Waitrose with the Big Issue seller, next to the racks of geraniums and small, ready made-up patio tubs more expensive pound for pound than gold. There I will be, inside a board bearing the message: ‘The End of the World Is Nigh! Cyclists Slow Down!’
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