I am standing in the freshly swept stable block of the world's only "extreme riding" school. It's a cold sunny morning -- out in the yard, water tanks are iced over, the sand in the paddock is solid -- and 26-year-old Daniel Fowler-Prime is about to give his first horse-surfing lesson.
Fowler-Prime is a horse stuntman and the only thing I know about him so far is that he has a world-class repu-tation among film and TV companies for falling off. His company's recent credits include The Da Vinci Code, Kingdom of Heaven and Spooks, and he's just got back from a jousting-and-falling job in Dubai. "I forget the last time someone asked me to get on a horse and stay on it," he says.
But Fowler-Prime has diversified. Last year, he and some friends invented a new extreme sport, combining the classic thrill of riding through the surf, with the booming new sport of wakeboarding (where a surfer performs stunts as they are towed behind a speedboat).
"It's exhilarating -- like environmentally friendly wakeboarding," said Denzil Williams, one of Fowler-Prime's collaborators. "You're harnessing two of nature's powers: the power of the horse and the motion of the sea. It's great not to have a loud, noisy engine, and horses bring an unpredictability to the sport. I did it with one horse that was steady, but the next was like a wild stallion."
In November the local television station captured Fowler-Prime and Williams practising, speeding at 40kph across the flats of Watergate Bay in Cornwall in south-west England. The footage was so compelling it prompted inquiries from as far away as South Africa. So great was the interest that this spring, Independent Horse, Fowler-Prime's company, is launching week-long courses to learn the sport. Soon horse-surfing could be the latest must-try beach sport for young thrill-seekers.
The courses start next month, with one per month through the summer, but I'm getting a preview. So far only two people in the world have horse-surfed, so it's with some trepidation that I begin the training to become number three. It starts nowhere near the sea, but in a cold stableyard in Uxbridge. Instead of a surfboard, there's a skateboard with soversized wheels (properly known as a mountainboard).
First, out comes Rohan, a handsome gray who stands at 16 hands (about my head height). Next Fowler-Prime gives me a black, padded body protector, a confusing web of netting and pads. He tells me to climb into it "like a straitjacket" and I deduce I'm the only one of us who's not well acquainted with straitjackets. I blow up Rohan's nose in greeting, then shake hands with, Fowler-Prime's business partner Samantha Hilton-Jones, who's riding. "There are three people in the team," says Fowler-Prime, "you, Rohan and Sam." I already have an inkling who he might be most fond of.
"He's a professional, Rohan, that's the only way of describing him," says Fowler-Prime proudly, as we walk to the paddock. "We do a lot of jobs together, just me and him. I trust that he is not going to make a mistake, and he trusts me. He's very level-headed but he's still a horse. He gets excited when he knows he's going to be doing some running."
It soon becomes apparent that Rohan is not going to be doing much running this morning. In the sandy 20 meters by seven meters paddock I wedge my feet under the board straps, hold the rope and prepare for my first HMB (horse mountain board) experience. Rohan moves and we're off: jolting over the bumpy sand.