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The Demographic Shift - 32

Something pretty weird has been happening to me. I think it's more of this late-youth regression. To be honest, it started a while ago but came to a head just recently and, well, it involves horses, writes Gordon MacMillan.

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Odd, right? You know, for the 30-something guy to get this thing... for horses. Before your imagination runs wild, it's nothing kinky and it doesn't involve gambling. Somehow, the smell of fags and desperation just isn't that appealing. I'm sure that will come later.

I guess you could put it down to being more of this demographic shift, but frankly turning into a combination of my 10-year-old sister and my eight-year-old self wasn't something that I had counted on. I was really hoping for something more.

My sister, like so many girls, loved horses. Riding them, pictures of them, horsey friends, horsey holidays, et cetera, et cetera. It wasn't cool in the slightest but pony club ruled. Jodhpurs, chaps, a hard hat and a riding crop, which I'm sure bred an ability by a generation of girls to stamp their foot testily, as if to say "what kept you?". Good question. I could be making that last bit up. It might have only been the horsey girls that I've dated.

Me: "You want to do what?"

Her: "Horseriding, I thought we could go for a weekend, what do you think?"

Fortunately, over the years I have managed to mask my "are you totally insane" look and transmute it so it reads just like my "oh that's such a brilliant idea, I'd love to" look.

Some of the things we do for women, I tell you. Did I say something about desperation? The prospect initially of all that hay, getting kicked or thrown by some snorting horse did in no way appeal. I mean, come on, smelling of horse shit isn't any fun, is it?

Besides, I was an urban guy whose interests at the time were in no particularly order politics, pop culture, cigarettes and alcohol. What they really wanted was the guy who could gallop, who was outdoorsy, owned wellies and had a desire to live in the middle of nowhere. Crikey, I don't even know where the middle of nowhere is (directions anyone?). Oh scrap that, I do. That's right, I have friends who live there on the side of hills in huge houses and I have mocked them on this site several times. As I shall do again. It's true that people do spend a lot of time looking in the wrong places.

It's funny what dating women you have nothing in common with will get you. That was four years ago. Cut to me a few weeks ago and there I am charging around on a rather big American Morgan horse in the November sunlight on a ranch in Arizona, kicking up a cloud of dust, with nothing in front of me except small trees and a dozen types of cactus and I'm possibly having the time of my life playing at being a cowboy. Those cows, I tell you, are not as stupid as they look.

Having gone riding, I trot back into the stables, I talk quietly to my horse and stroke him and he rubs his head on my face and then I unsaddle him and set him loose in the corral. My boots and my clothes are covered in dust. I have Wranglers on and an old LL Bean plaid shirt. I take off my hat. That's a black felt hat that I simply had to get pretty much the moment I touched down in Tucson. Sorry, I couldn't resist it. I don't look anything like Yul Brynner. That's where the eight-year-old me comes in.

My sister had the horse thing but, like every good kid on the block and being representative of a certain generation, the eight-year-old me had a felt cowboy hat, a holster and a cap gun. I shot everything and my favourite movie was John Wayne's 'The Cowboys', chiefly because the cowboys in it were just kids. Then one day I got caught out in a thunderstorm with my grandmother on the way back from the park. My hat got ruined and I cried for days (apparently).

Then, of course, there was Willie Nelson. I think I had some kind of breakdown when I was revising for my Os as I found that listening to my dad's Willie Nelson albums really did the trick, well you know more or less, the straight F in maths aside. A year or so before this had been whiny crap. Me? I wanted to listen to Confusion by New Order ("You just can't believe me..."). Not sure what it was, but there was something in those mournful songs about those "Lone Star belt buckles and old faded Levis", "smokey old pool rooms and clear mountain mornings" not to mention thing about "Cowboys are special with their own brand of misery". Own brand of misery? That sounded particularly appealing to a surly teenager.

So horses. Who would have guessed. And even back in England, I don't mind being out and having a twenty-nothing girl apparently shouting at me to put my heels down, elbows in, to keep my shoulders relaxed, to shorten my reins, check my diagonal and being told to look at Charlotte whose posture is considerably better than mine, but then it would be, because Charlotte is only 10.

And really the hay and the dirt is really kind of OK in a funny way. Clean boots become something of an anathema. It isn't exactly like I've been holding out on anyone, last year I did want to go to New York and bemoan the fact that my friends live in the middle of nowhere, it's just that now I want to go to Wyoming and Arizona or Devon, just as long as there are horses, and it's possible to kick up dust. I just don't want to be there all the time, you know, not just yet.

The Demographic Shift is a regular column on Brand Republic as Gordon MacMillan charts his own demographic timebomb.

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