'Why the Long Face' by Anne Summerfield


She shouldn’t have laughed.  But in cartoons, in comedy sketches, on You’ve Been Framed, what was funnier than the rider clearing fence perfectly without horse?  The cheeky look on the pony’s face, a long-toothed grin and a twinkle in those wide spaced eyes, observing the soaring arc of rider’s trajectory, legs still barrel-wide, heels pushed down and hands clinging onto reins as though that would somehow save the day.  Fence poles remained firmly in place, while the rider’s backside made sudden contact with the ménage floor, generating a cloud of grey dust and the impression, final touch, that he had farted.
       She shouldn’t have laughed though.  Clearly.  No one else made any kind of sound from their open mouths.  And then people were dismounting, rushing over, a flurry of, ‘Are you all right?’ and, ‘Are you hurt?’ with glares in her direction.  But once she had started to laugh it seemed she could not stop, and though she put her gloved hands over her mouth, even tried to stuff her fist between her lips like some kind of glottal mute, there was nothing she could do to contain herself.
       ‘Oh, do shut up,’ Wendy, her riding instructor, snapped. ‘You’re not helping at all. It could have been you. Imagine how you’d feel.’
       She tried to imagine.  She tried hard, attempting to conjure the sensation of soaring through the air, of gliding over the striped poles, of being almost weightless.  Would it be worth the pain of landing for the joy of being free to fly?  No more worrying about heels down, hands low, knees close to the saddle and the fear of sticking your bottom out.  Only then could she stop laughing, and feel the pain of envy, of wishing for just a moment she could have been –
       ‘And you can take that daft look off your face,’ Wendy continued, ‘we all know just what you’re like now.’
       But in her mind she was soaring, soaring, away from the dust and the smell of pony sweat, flying to a place where she understood the rules and she belonged.

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