When Leo had his ninth birthday last November, I decided that I had hosted my last kids' party. Eighteen years of cakes, jelly, party games and piles of washing up came to a gentle but definite halt: there was no point in putting in my twenty. “Tell that to Zenon,” Sophia had said when I announced my early retirement to my older children. But “I'll think of something,” I had replied.
Riding was part of my childhood. Never as accomplished an equestrienne as my sisters, I was, nonetheless, pony-mad, and began riding at four. Except for a time in Hawaii where there were no nearby stables, I rode until I left Ireland in my mid-twenties.
Cyprus is not a horse place. Donkeys have always been a part of the furniture, draught animals since time immemorial, but the few horses on the island are either on the race-track or the preserve of a (mostly English) horsey set in a few scattered saddle clubs. The climate and environment are harsh and feed is expensive, so horses have not been a part of my children's lives as they were a part of mine.
His eyes lit up immediately, so I called Anarita Equestrian Centre, open for a year or more in a village about thrity minutes drive away, where we went for pony rides after Leo's party. But Marlene said that they did not have enough suitable ponies for five of us (Zenon and two friends, Leo, and me) to go for a quiet hack in the countryside. She suggested that I call Pat at Aphrodite Hills – the saddle club attatched to the nearby InterContinental Hotel.
Pat had enough quiet horses for us all, and enough helpers to lead the boys. We settled on a date three weeks hence (Zenon's birthday falling, this year, on Orthodox Easter Sunday); a time that would allow us an hour on horseback, cake back at the stables, and a reasonable hour to hit Gino's La Sardegna Pizzeria in town for a celebration meal; and a price (discounts for being local and a group of five).
Zenon chose two friends, Loucas and Marcos, to come with us, and we showed up in plenty of time. Pat and several young ladies fitted us with hard hats, and introduced us to our steeds. Leo had a smart-looking little grey Welsh pony called Mr Bojangles, and I had a rather classy looking dark brown mare called Twizzle. The others had solid looking bays and a chestnut of around 14 h.h., which looked quiet but a long way from bored riding-school gee-gees.
We spent a peaceful hour riding along a track through olive and carob groves to a look-out from where, on a clear day, the view stretches from Troodos to Akrotiri. Each of the boys chatted with the girl who was leading him, and I – when I wasn't out in front because of Twizzle's longer stride – chatted with Pat, discovering that her son had been in Sophia's class and was also at drama with Zenon. There is no escape in our small community! Everyone is linked somehow, either through relatives or school or neighbourhood or afternoon classes.
Arriving back we did some exercises in the arena, then enjoyed Zenon's choice of cake – New York Sweets profiteroles – which we shared with our patient 'leading ladies'. While we were eating, one of the girls resaddled Twizzle and rode her around the arena, practising for an upcoming dressage test. From quiet trail horse, Twizzle metamorphosised into a nicely balanced show horse, and watching her revived dormant memories that I patiently shoved aside.
Collecting Best Beloved and Alex – Sophia was at work – we rounded off the day with an array of Gino's pizzas and I dropped Marcos and Loucas off at their respective houses just before nine in the evening.
I was a little unsure of how the boys had enjoyed the unorthodox celebration, but both of mine were enthusiastic and, according to their parents, Loucas and Marcos 'haven't stopped talking about horses since'.