Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Light and shade.

There has been a death in the family. It was very sudden, and it is very sad.

There is the usual sense of rupture, of wrongness. The world should not exist without this person in it.

There is the usual daily papering over the cracks. We are, in very British fashion, carrying on. I do not mean that other nationalities do not carry on, or that they fall to the floor, ululating. It just feels like a very British thing to do. It is there, the loss, in batsqueaks. It is there in small pauses, sideways glances, moments of still. It remains, mostly unspoken, humming in us.

The sun shines, with steady, determined, yellow warmth. It shone like this when my father died, which was three years ago next week.

I think: one death is all deaths. All the Dear Departeds line up, close in my heart. One death is all mortality. I think: send not to know for whom the bell tolls.

Then I go down to the field and work the mare. She is light as air, soft as silk. We free-school in a way we have never done before, so relaxed and in tune that I shout out loud into the bright air. She looks at me as if to say: you didn’t think I had that in me, did you?

We go for a ride.

There have been thoughts to think and things to do and arrangements to make. I have not ridden for two days. I wonder, as I get on, if there will be a little spring fever, or just general thoroughbred high spirits. I sit deep in the saddle and give her a loose rein and trust her, and there she goes, with her glorious aristocratic neck stretched out and her ears pricked and not a bother on her.

We have one of the best rides we have ever had, and my heart lifts in gratitude and love.

 

Today’s pictures are a little photo essay, of a moment with the horses, and of going back to the fundamental things, which is what I always do at times like this. Watch an animal, being itself; look at a bud, a flower, something as humble and actual as a patch of moss and grass and stone. Go back to the true and the real, as unreality plucks at one’s shoulder.

After the ride:

15 April 1

15 April 2

15 April 3

Then a nice long cool-down and a little amuse-bouche:

15 April 5

At which point the sweet Paint does one of her step by step stealth moves, to see if she might be allowed some:

15 April 6

If I just stand here, very still, she might not notice:

15 April 7

She notices:

15 April 8

And then decides perhaps she has made her point:

15 April 9

And will graciously allow her small friend to lick the bowl:

15 April 10

Which she does:

15 April 12

Whilst Red has some of the good hay brought by the kind farmer:

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Another moment of hope from the filly:

15 April 16

Then she thinks better of it, and takes herself off:

15 April 17

Watched by Red, who is the lead mare, after all, and must keep a close eye on her precious charge:

15 April 17-001

A nice, cool drink:

15 April 19

And I look around, at the green things, at the growing things, at the living things:

15 April 21

15 April 23

15 April 25

15 April 28

15 April 28-001

15 April 29

At the simple things:

15 April 30

Friday, 11 April 2014

Beauty.

It’s been a long week, and I have finally run out of words. I turn my brain upside down and empty it on the table to see if there are any left, but there it not a single one.

Luckily, the red mare gallops to the rescue, putting her photograph face on in the dazzling morning sunshine, so that at least I have some pictures for you.

There are several remarkable things about these photographs.

The first is that it took me about fifteen minutes to take them all, as I trotted about, looking for angles. During that time, the mare did not move a hoof. I admit, I have taught her ground-tying, and she is amazingly clever and a quick study, but even so. There was quite a lot going on – helicopters flying over, no doubt on their way to Balmoral, men building buildings on the hill, the little Paint scooting about and yelling. Red just called back one time, a long, reassuring I’ll be there when I’ve finished posing neigh, but stayed quite still through all the distractions.

The second is how her beauty varies, from angle to angle.

The third is how her character shines forth – intelligent, kind, interested, sensitive, soft, affectionate. I am of course guilty of shameless confirmation bias, but I can see them all, scudding across her dear face like clouds over a blue sky.

The fourth, and perhaps this is the most astonishing of all, is that the pictures were taken after a fast free-schooling canter. I’d been sending her round the little paddock at liberty, and we’d done gracious, duchessy, extended walk, and slow, delicate trot, all on voice cues. It was so perfect that I’d been tempted to stop there, to end on the famous good note. But the sun was dancing and I wanted to play, so I upped the tempo. Sometimes I send her round me whilst I stand quite still, but sometimes I want to join in. Today, I joined. I ran with her, level with her shoulder, whooping and laughing, and saying come on, let’s go, let’s go. She pricked her ears and gathered herself into the most enchanting rolling canter, perfectly balanced, wild and free and yet quite contained within herself. I galloped along beside her, as if I too went back to the Byerley Turk on the bottom line.

I stepped back, asked her to stop, and she came to an instant halt, and looked at me as if to say: ‘How about that then?’

I put the halter back on, and was about to lead her off for a cool-down, when I decided to have a photo session. I wasn’t sure that this gambit would work, on account of us having just spent ten minutes of high energy, as I encouraged her to express every inch of her empress blood. But she dropped her head at once, blinked at me, and stood stock still for her close-up, when the conventional wisdom says that she is a thoroughbred who should have been too hopped up on adrenaline to do anything but cavort about with her nose in the air.

How about that?

My miracle horse.

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11 April 2

11 April 3

11 April 5

11 April 9

11 April 10

11 April 12

11 April 15

That last photograph was when the Paint Filly was calling. That is Red’s responsible, lead mare, I’ll be there in a minute face. It kills me.

Of course, as I am about to press publish, I realise that despite my best resolution to give you only some diverting Friday pictures, despite my conviction that I had no words left, I came out with rather a lot of words. I realise also that I am in severe danger of bragging about the brilliance of my lovely girl. But she makes me so happy and so proud and she deserves every good word in the world. It is self-indulgence, I freely admit, but it’s Friday, and I know you will forgive.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

A good day.

How odd moods are. Yesterday, I was spinning my wheels, beset by furies. Today, I woke smiling, and decided to take the pressure off. I would go slowly. I would not rush. I even took a proper lunch break, and went and mooched about in the field with the mares and the Horse Talker and the Pony Whisperer, who was having a delightful ride on Autumn the Filly.

‘I love riding,’ the PW said. ‘I love this horse.’

She even sang both the girls a special song.

I was ready to give myself a break, and not achieve that much. In the end, rather to my surprise, I wrote hundreds of words, did some serious editing, got all my HorseBack work done, schooled the red mare to high effect, and finished everything I had to do by the ridiculous hour of 4.38pm. (Quite often I do not finish work until after eight.)

More haste, less speed, shout the old wives in my head, telling their tales.

The sun shone, Stanley the Dog made The Mother laugh and laugh, the grass is growing, the birds are singing, the hills are blue as blue.

And the Dear Readers have lately left comments of such kindness and wisdom that it makes me smile and smile.

This, officially, gets the seal of: A Good Day.

 

Today’s pictures:

Herself is, as you can see, still very woolly from the winter. But she is getting her first gleam of spring shine. Here she is, enjoying her breakfast, which now has a new miracle product in it. Seabuckthorn, my darlings. A very kind person sent us some, out of the blue. It’s so damn good I’m thinking of trying it myself. I could do with a shiny coat. Red gives it her full double hoof of approval:

10 April 1-010

I love this picture, even though it is not her prettiest face. It’s her happy, contemplative, being her absolute self face. She is chewing the cud, like a great old heifer:

10 April 2-010

Blue hills:

10 April 3-010

10 April 4-010

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

A wail.

Mostly, in this funny space, I like to show you my better angels. I don’t want to bring you down with too much of the grubbier side of the human condition. Sometimes, as you know, I shall admit to frailty, sometimes to bafflement or grief. But most of the time I either do a version of make ‘em laugh, make ‘em laugh, make ‘em laugh, or a bit of a tap dance, or an attempt to offer some kind of idea or thought or life lesson. I really have no idea what I am doing here, and most of the time I am busking it, but I have a fairly strong conviction that you do not want too much of the mundane, because almost all humans have far too much of their own quotidian muddle to be going on with. You don’t need me adding to it.

Today though, I only have a wail.

I have completely fucked up my day. My time management is more buggery bollocks than you can shake a stick at. Due to weeks upon weeks of lack of organisation or method, I had to do something today which should have taken about ten minutes, and instead took FOUR HOURS. And it is not even close to finished yet. It has eaten my bloody day. I can hear the slurp of time suckage as I wrangle with the thing, and feel my brain twang and stretch and snap. The critical voices in my head are baying at me, convinced of my hopelessness and fecklessness and pointlessness.

It’s actually quite a small thing, I realise now, as I write this. I have not ripped off old ladies or raped the land or hidden all my savings in a tax haven.

I attempt to get my angst into some kind of proportion.

Although my critical voices are always ready to leap into action, I am usually fairly good at telling them to sod off when they get too vicious. Useless self-loathing is tiring and without utility, but a bit of a sharpen-up voice is not a bad thing. I am keenly aware that one should never slip into complacency. I believe that trying to do better is a worthy goal.

So I’m not quite in a pathetic puddle of self-hatred, but I feel very cross and tired and blank. Oh, oh, oh I wail, why can I not be one of those good shiny people who can keep things in proper files and make records and know where everything is? I’ll never be shiny, but I could give myself a bit of a polish. Hopeless, hopeless, hopeless.

Ah well. There is always tomorrow. I’ll go down in a while and stand in the field with the beautiful red mare. She does not care about organisation. She knows nothing of my tendency to muddle. When I am with her, I am filled with clarity. She will lean her head on my shoulder and breathe into my ear and I shall let my shoulders come down and remember what is important. I shall think about love and trees.

But oh, oh, oh, oh.

 

Today’s pictures:

At least I did get to see this. I really cannot complain.

9 April 1

9 April 2

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9 April 8

9 April 9

9 April 10

9 April 11

9 April 12

9 April 12-001

9 April 18

9 April 18-001

And, and, I think, as I scrabble about to save something from the wreckage, I did see the great-nieces and nephew. And one of the great-nieces decided that a perfect outfit for coming to see the horses involved CYAN BLUE VELVET. That fact alone should rescue my day with its bare hands. But there was more. The great-nephew, who is four, has conceived a passionate delight for all things floral. When I saw him this morning, he ran through a crowd of daffodils, exclaiming: ‘Oh, masses and masses of lovely flowers.’ How can I be grumpy when I think of that?

Ha, I realise, as my crabbed fingers bash away at the keyboard, today it took more than a red mare and a lurcher dog to save me. It took the Smalls too.

PS. I know this will be filled with typos, but I’m too tired to go over it again. Forgive me.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

One day.

Woke to dazzling, unexpected sunshine. The forecast was for cloud, so it felt like a present. Then I heard on the news that Michael D Higgins was coming for a state visit. I felt very happy about this, because I love Michael D, and also because I thought it would be nice for the Queen to have someone really interesting to sit next to at dinner for once. (She must have to put up with quite a lot of bores. And possibly boors, too.) Put on the Saw Doctors at full blast, in honour of the occasion.

As I listened to ‘Michael D Rockin’ in the Dáil’ I wondered how many politicians have been so beloved that a rock band has written a happy song for them. Not very many, I shouldn’t think.

I worked the mare. Yesterday’s amazement was not a fluke. Despite high winds, she still did her astonishing free-schooling voice transitions. I once again flung myself on her neck, in awe and love. She wibbled her bottom lip, as if the whole thing were nothing.

Then we had a fine ride, working on getting a lovely, relaxed canter on a loose rein, despite the wind, despite the spring grass, and I feel my joy and pride zoom off into the troposphere. Oh, oh, oh, the gifts she gives.

Up to HorseBack, for more gifts. Many old familiars were gathered. These are veterans who have come back on many occasions, and I love watching how each time they are more anchored in their sense of self. I think, as always, of the extreme mental and physical challenges they face, of the unimaginable things they have seen, and I feel lucky, and honoured too.

One of the old faces is a particularly dear one. I worked beside him a lot when I first went to HorseBack, and he was one of the first men who really made me understand what it took to see action on the front line. Funnily enough, he never spoke about his experience of being blown up directly, but described it in abstract terms. Even in the abstract, the telling broadened my horizons and deepened my understanding.

Today, quite naturally, standing smiling in the blithe Scottish sun, he told me the whole story. It just came out as part of the conversation. I didn’t have to do the usual thing of keeping my face straight and my eyebrows steady and not exclaiming, because I know him well enough not to have to concentrate on confining my reactions. Afterwards though, I was conscious that I had gone very still. Stillness is a fascinating thing. It is not my default. It is something you learn to do if you want to work well with horses. Horses adore stillness more than almost anything else. It is just as important, I reflected, with humans.

Afterwards, I drove through the ancient glacial valley to the west, where the blue mountains still had snow on their peaks. The light was lifting the landscape and throwing it into singing relief. I felt, as I always do after these stories, the atoms in my body moving about, as if something profound was shifting. I can understand and absorb and process on an intellectual level, but there is something visceral as well, something actual and physical. It is hard to describe.

I thought about living and dying. I thought about luck. I thought about stoicism and jokes and being British. (‘Must not make a fuss,’ my friend and I said to each other, laughing wryly, as he mapped the minutes after the explosion.) I thought about my horse and my dog, who was gazing happily out of the window, and this Scotland, which I love more than emeralds.

You know that I always want to draw lessons and parables and symbols out of every small thing. I am marching through the wide steppe of life, searching for signposts and milestones and meaning.

But today I’m not sure I have an easy, pat lesson for you. I just wanted to tell you about it. It was what it was. It was something.

 

Today’s pictures:

8 April 1

8 April 2

The hill. I’m so sorry, I don’t know where the hill has been. But here it is at last:

8 April 3

Monday, 7 April 2014

A bit of a ramble.

Author’s note:

This is one of those blog posts which is far too long and rambly, and in which I don’t quite get to the point. I’m also perfectly certain it has typos and other possible errors. It’s been a long day and I’m too tired to edit it. My cautious brain is saying: don’t post it; give the Dear Readers some nice, diverting Stanley the Dog pictures instead. My what-the-hell brain is saying: oh, go on, they’ll navigate their way through the thickets.

What the hell wins.

I give you full permission not to read it and to come back tomorrow when I may be more pithy and coherent.

Here it is, more woolly than the red mare coming out of winter:

 

This is a very horsey story, but, as is so often the case, I believe that my equine professor has given me a good lesson in life.

I’ve been thinking lately about all the things I do understand about the human condition. Most of the time, I find that the older I get, the less I know. Certainty seems to flee with age, but perhaps that is a good thing. It saves one from the didactic at least. But sometimes I like to shuffle through my internal files and see if there are some things I think are true.

Lately, I have decided that one of the most important of those things is to compare yourself down. Actually, I think comparisons are generally pernicious, but they do seem to be ingrained in human nature, so if one has to compare, one should do it downwards. My failing is a tendency to look at people who are much, much better at things than I am. I then feel like a hopeless case beside them. I shall never write as well as Scott Fitzgerald, or ride as well as William Fox-Pitt, or be as clever as Simon Blackburn. Might as well go into the garden and eat worms.

Then the good rational brain kicks in, and I think of the things I can do, which perhaps other people cannot, and the lashing subsides a little. This goes along with my gratitude list, which sometimes takes another form of comparison – I can drive, which is more than the ladies of Saudi Arabia may do; I do not have to walk ten miles each morning to get water.

However, sometimes I slide. This weekend, I was looking at my favourite horse forum on the internet, where people who have ex-racehorses gather. It’s a very kind group, and everyone is very pleased for each other’s successes. Just lately, people have been having a lot of successes. There have been dressage triumphs, and cross-country schooling, and working in a perfect outline. I suddenly felt terribly amateurish and second-rate. I’m just pootling about with my mare, and we shall never win any prizes. (When I get this sort of feeling, I quite forget that I do not want to win prizes.)

To compound the problem, Red and I had one of our three steps backwards moments on Saturday. I don’t know what it was – I was tense, she had had a bad night, it was the spring grass. Whatever the mystery, she was resistant and heavy, leaning all over the shop and throwing her head in the air. I had to work and work, and even though we do not have battles, it felt a bit like a horrid tussle. I did find a good note to end on, because one must always have a good note, but I was left with not much sense of achievement.

This always tends to happen when I get a bit swaggery. We have good days, and then I can’t help boasting about it, and then she shows me that my hubris will not stand.

This morning, I had a serious conversation with myself, and decided to go back to basics and work out a proper training programme. Otherwise how would I ever compete with all those people with their dressage and their rosettes? (You see already the flaw in this thinking.)

I must admit that I was slightly braced for failure. But I squared my shoulders and marched into the fray.

We started with some free schooling. This is where I take her into the smallest paddock and send her round in circles in walk and trot and canter without any halter or rope, just using my body language and a bit of voice.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, the old harmony came. Not only was she going beautifully, but her inside ear was flicking towards me, constantly listening for my next instruction. Encouraged, I sent her on into a fast canter. She remembered that it was spring, and suddenly put her sprinting shoes on. I could see the adrenaline flow through her, as she recalled her fine racing blood.

Let’s just see, I thought, if I can bring her down again. So I asked her to walk. She walked. Then I asked her to trot. She trotted. Then I asked her to walk again. She walked. By the end, we were doing three steps of walk and three steps of trot, using only my voice. Trot on, and walk on. Trot on, and walk on. It was as if there were an invisible thread between us. I don’t think I’ve ever been so amazed by anything in my life. When I asked her to stop, she stopped, and looked at me as if to say: well, of course I can do that. I, on the other hand, could not contain my astonished delight, and threw myself on her neck in a fever of congratulation. She nodded her head sagely, taking it as her due.

This is a tiny thing. It would not impress the dressage judges. It would not win any silver trophies. But to me, it was absolutely huge. It does not matter that we shall never look as shiny and smart as those show horses, or jump double oxers, or complete a perfect test. It’s pointless comparing ourselves to those who can do those things. What matters is that there, in that quiet Scottish field, with nobody there to validate or witness, we were in perfect union, in profound sympathy, horse and human crossing the species barrier.

It was so lovely in itself that there is no need for comparison. It stands alone, as a moment between me and my horse. But if I were to compare, I could be proud that some people will never know that feeling I had today. Or, I could look back at my own self, when I started with this remarkable equine, when I did not have a clue, and felt that I had bitten off way, way more than I could chew. Step by humble step, with mistakes and muddles and setbacks and all, we built a relationship. That is my silver trophy, right there. That is my life lesson.

 

Just time for one picture, from Saturday evening, of the good companions, enjoying that spring grass:

7 April 1

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Grand National Day.

It’s Grand National day. I have missed my traditional build-up, because I rode my own little National winner (that is, the National of my heart) this morning. I am always bragging about how light she is, and how I can ride her with one finger. But today, for some reason, she was ornery, and so I had to work my arse off. You can’t end on a bad note, and so back to the beginning we went, over and over, until I had her where I wanted her. I am physically shattered. I have not read my Racing Post, I have missed the Morning Line, it’s all gone to pot.

I love the National and I hate the National. Part of me thinks it is a freak show. It is absurd to ask forty horses to gallop almost four and a half miles over thirty fences. Part of me thinks it is the greatest spectacle on earth. It calls on all the qualities I admire: courage, heart, guts, cleverness, willingness, and that little sprinkling of stardust which goes beyond words. By the time they line up, the excitement will have won, and I shall be rapt.

For my gambling self, the race is impossible. Over the last three days, I’ve made a perfectly sensible case for almost every horse in the race. Usually, you can put a line through about half the field. Not this year. Almost everything comes into it with a squeak.

There is also a lot of love, as many of my best beloveds line up. The heart and head go into serious opposition. If the magnificent, idiosyncratic Tidal Bay could win, I would die from joy. But he is thirteen and he’s got top weight, and, in my eyes, he’s not an obvious National horse.
I have loved Hunt Ball for years, and it’s been a joy to see him back in England with Nicky Henderson, fit as a butcher’s dog, and running well in good races. He’s a big strong horse, and he jumps beautifully, and he’s the type who could get into a rhythm and get the trip. But he’s not guaranteed to stay, and I think the weight will anchor him anyway.

Long Run is another horse who has a big place in my heart. I’ve especially loved him since his star has declined, and I’d adore to see him shine again. He’s another who is carrying a big weight, and he goes into the unknown as far as distance is concerned. I have a little feeling he might rather love these fences, although his jumping has been reckless in the past. He’s got the advantage of a trainer in red-hot form, and a jockey, in Sam Waley-Cohen, who rides these fences as well as anyone. The National can bring out the best in certain horses; they really do love it. What is often overlooked is that it also brings out the best in certain jocks, and Waley-Cohen is one of those.

Balthazar King is a top contender for my favourite horse in training. He is so honest and brave; he tries his heart out, and he loves to jump. I think he has the talent to win this, but he had a hard enough race in his epic battle at Cheltenham, and I suspect that may take its toll. If he could win today, I would cry tears of joy, but I’m not sure he will glitter so brightly away from his adored Prestbury Park.

As for Teaforthree, I fell helplessly in love with him when he hunted round the festival like a stag to win under JT McNamara, who will be watching today from his hospital bed. He ran a blinder last year, and took to the fences as if he were born to them. I backed him a hundred years ago, ante-post, at 25-1, and I think he will be up there at the finish. My nagging doubts are whether the Gold Cup will have sharpened him up, or whether it will have taken a bit out of him, and also whether he quite gets every inch of this marathon trip. He did fade last year, but he’s got a lighter weight, and he’s a year older and a year stronger. His trainer, Rebecca Curtis, is one of the most intelligent and instinctive in the business, and I have huge faith in her, and his jockey knows him well and loves him, and he is a worthy favourite. I really would love him to win it. He deserves it, none more. But the little doubt wags its finger in the corner of my mind.

As for my lively outsider, because you must always have one, I’ve chosen another heart horse, Mountainous. He’s as genuine and honest as the day is long, he jumps and gallops and stays all week, and he won me a pot of money in the Welsh National. My fear is that in a very talented field, he might just lack that tiny bit of class, and also that he is at his very best on soft ground. They might go a bit quick for him. But at 40-1, I think the bold fella will give me a lovely spin.

In the end, though, this is all about the love, not the money. I shall watch them, as I always do, in trepidation, in awe, in crazy admiration. The thoroughbred is one of the miracles of the equine world, unsurpassed in beauty, courage, speed and strength. The men and women who ride them are a wild combination of flintiness and lightness, power and sensitivity, instinct and tactical calculation. In some ways, today, in this race, Sam Waley-Cohen is not the only amateur. Of course the professionals do it for money; it is their job. But on Grand National day, they are really doing it for love. Their hearts will be beating as fast as mine.

Most of all, I hope all these mighty competitors, these great athletes, equine and human, come home safe. They will be carrying so many hopes and dreams in their hooves and hands. I hope it will be a spectacle to savour, a day to remember, for all the right reasons.
 
Oh, and should you be interested, here are my three bets. They come hedged with caveats, because it is the National. Anything could happen.

Teaforthree to win; Long Run to win; Mountainous each way.












Thursday, 3 April 2014

A happy day. Or, Warne and Silviniaco Conti make me smile.

A rather profound and emotional morning at HorseBack UK. Sometimes there I hear stories which contain so much despair that I feel them moving me physically, as if the very atoms of my body are reconfiguring themselves.

I did all my work and then took the afternoon off for quite a different kind of emotion, as the National Hunt season threw its last hurrah at Aintree. So many of the horses I have loved were there, so many I have followed through the season, as they were up and as they were down, as they found fortune and as they met none.

I won a little and lost a little, but funnily enough the two horses who gave me the most pleasure were ones in which I only had a tiny financial interest. It was all a love thing, for very different reasons.

Silviniaco Conti is one of the most professional horses in training. I’ve always admired him more than loved him. Today, he was coming off the back of a tough race in the Gold Cup, and I thought he could not possibly bounce back in time. I had a little placepot money on him, but more for old times’ sake than anything.

He set off joyfully, bowling along in front, ears pricked, as if that gruelling run round Cheltenham was three months ago instead of three weeks.

Coming into the final stages, he started wandering about a bit. Ah, I thought, he’s tired; he’s going to pack up. But he did not pack up. His exceptional jockey, Noel Fehily, got him organised again, and the brave fella responded with honesty and guts. They were coming for him, but he would not be denied. It was a performance of pure heart, and suddenly I did not just admire him, but fell finally in love. Class and talent thrill me, but it is the bravery that moves me, and this was as brave as you will see on a racecourse.

Then, there was a different kind of being moved. In the Foxhunters’, the big race for amateurs over the National fences, there was the hot favourite, Mossey Joe, and then there was Warne, ridden by Sam Waley-Cohen. I thought Mossey Joe was nailed on, going by the book, but I had a little bit each-way on Warne for fun.

Sam Waley-Cohen is a really interesting man. He’s won the Gold Cup, the King George, and has a record round Aintree that most professionals would envy, but he is a constant Aunt Sally for armchair jockeys. These keyboard warriors, who almost certainly have never sat on a half-ton flight animal going over massive obstacles at thirty miles an hour, disobligingly insist, every time a Waley-Cohen horse is beaten, that it would have hosed up if only ‘the dentist’ had not been on board. (Waley-Cohen runs a dentistry business.)

Warne galloped off in front, having a delightful time. His jockey got him into a lovely rhythm, and saw a fine stride into each fence. Then it started getting complicated. Loose horses began charging about, rather excited to have got rid of their own jocks, and Warne had to weave in and out of them, and keep his concentration. It’s hard enough to win a race like this from the front, let alone when there are rogue animals cavorting about you. But Waley-Cohen kept his cool, judged the pace perfectly, gave his boy a breather when he needed it, plotted a true course, and won going away.

I’ve never met Sam Waley-Cohen and I know little about him. He is always very modest and polite and smiling in interviews, and I have no idea why people on the internet are so unkind about him. The most touching thing about him is that he rides with his brother’s name stitched into his saddle. His brother died, ten years ago, at the age of twenty. I’ve heard him say ‘Thomas lives and rides with me’. Even more touchingly, the trophy he won today had been donated by his family in memory of that brother.

It’s been a season of highs and lows, of dreams and reality, of hearts lifted and broken. There have been some mighty performances and some thrilling races. I’ve shouted myself hoarse and thrown all my hats in the air in wild triumph. But for the sheer spirit of the sport, for the humanity of it and the heart, I think perhaps that moment was the most moving.

Apart from anything else, it was a truly glorious ride, horse and jockey in perfect harmony, that old Corinthian flag flying.

I hope that today of all days, the doubters and the knockers might give Sam Waley-Cohen his due. He deserves it.

 

Too tired now for pictures.

Just one of my glorious red girl, mooching about under the trees, very happy indeed that she no longer has to gallop round a racecourse, fruitlessly trying to pretend that it was where she belonged. Everyone has their talent, and hers is mooching. She is world class at it, as you can see:

3 April 1

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