Monday, 4 October 2010

Of horses and birds

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

It is so tempting to do politics, but I am afraid that there shall be politics all week, what with the Conservative Conference on a 24 hour loop, so I am going to spare you for one precious day.

I have been grumpy lately; over-tired, with an incipient cold, slightly depressed by a constant stream of bad news, from the shambolic Commonwealth Games, to the entire country of Ireland teetering on the brink of utter economic collapse, to the new terrorist threat. I fell into bad sleep patterns and suffered an inability to complete the most basic domestic task. There was a moment when all I did was watch The West Wing and dream that real-life politics might be like that. Where is heavenly Martin Sheen when we need him?

Then, for no apparent reason, I woke this morning at dawn with all hope renewed. I have no idea how this happens. I have made some small study of the human psyche, but I am always baffled by the flow and ebb of moods. My mind, which had been sluggish and recalcitrant, was suddenly filled with ideas: for the book, for the blog, for a new secret project. (It is always very important for me to have a secret project, I'm not sure why.) Not only that, I appeared to have recovered my ability to do practical things. I did the laundry, tidied my bathroom, ran errands, took my mother a present, had an excellent conversation with my stepfather about the Second World War, made chicken soup, and even completed an overdue and slightly dreaded telephone call.

When I come over all Pollyanna-ish, I like to mark the things in a day for which I am grateful. Today, the first thing was that I awoke to the sound of birdsong. It means nothing in the grand sweep of human experience; it's just my twittering avian cousins, probably expressing unworthy get off my patch sentiments; but all the same, it felt like a great gift. Many people wake to the sound of sirens or diggers or lorries; in inner cities, the dawn chorus is the crash and roar of rubbish trucks, the plaintive wail of car alarms, the tick and growl of the bus. I get birds, and the wind in the trees. I don't take that for granted.

I wonder if I have the animal kingdom to thank for my renewed vigour. I don't watch the flat racing much any more; it is such a ruthless commercial business now that it does not give me the same thrill as the jumping does. But since I was brought up in a flat stable as well as a National Hunt one, I occasionally go back to my roots and tune in for the really big races. Yesterday was the Arc De Triomphe, the last mighty championship of the season. It is famously a rough, tough race, requiring speed, stamina and a forensic ability to pick a way through the huge field. I very much wanted a horse called Workforce to win. He had romped away with the Derby in June, in magnificent style, smashing the course record and making everything else look ordinary. Then he finished a humiliating second last in his next outing, and has disappeared from the racecourse ever since. To get him back from such a rout would take a training performance of spectacular skill. I wanted to believe that he was a true champion, and he would show his great brilliance one last time, but hardly anyone else agreed with me. The odds were all stacked against him.

As the race unfolded, it looked as if the doubters were correct. Workforce cantered along towards the rear of the field, not looking particularly happy. At one point, he was actually going backwards. Ah, well, I thought, it was too much to ask. Round the final bend, he was blocked in behind a wall of horses. For a moment, it seemed as if he had nowhere to go. Then a gap opened up, and his young jockey kicked him through it, and suddenly they were starting to gallop, picking off one horse after another. Still, he's left it too late, I thought, as they all roared into the second last furlong. But Workforce picked up, moved into another gear, and miraculously squeezed between two horses, 'as if he had grease on him' as one commentator said afterwards. It was a narrow space, and only a brave horse would not hesitate to take it. Then he hit the front. He is a big, bonny animal, and his great stride raked over the soft ground. But a bold Japanese horse beside him would not be denied, and kept running on. At this point I started shouting 'Come ON, my son,' so loudly that the dogs began barking, obviously thinking that some disaster was unfolding. After all this, I thought, he's going to get beat. But it turned out Workforce was a champion after all, and he stuck his nose in front and kept it there, flashing past the post the winner, by a neck.

Only six horses have ever won the Derby and the Arc in the same year. To win such a huge race after two months off is almost unheard of. There is something inexpressibly magical about watching a truly magnificent creature go out and do what he was bred to do. He made every single endorphin in my cross old body dance. Perhaps it is Workforce I have to thank for the fact that this morning I woke up and heard the birds.

Workforce AP

Workforce Arc AP

(Photographs by the AP.)

If you want to have a look, and can get the BBC iPlayer, you can watch the race here. Fast forward to the 1.05 mark. Workforce is running on the inside rail in green and white colours with a pink cap.

And here are a couple of autumn pictures for you, to start the week:








  1. Nice to have you back. I loved the horse story, and the pictures but I miss the dogs.

  2. I loved it too - beautiful horses racing with courage and style make my eyes fill with tears.

    On a completely different subject, I think it was you who recommended Nuxe dry oil? If so thank you very much, it's magic.

  3. Nice to have you back. And to hear the mood has lifted. I think like you say these things elude us and the light shines through for no discernible reason. I'm just glad you found that light. The West Wing is a wonderful place to retreat to.

  4. Not only would I have been yelling at the television, tears probably would have been streaming down my face as well.
    I really love these "heroic" events where, against all apparent odds the horse (or person) with the great heart and pure determination wins.

    Thanks for relating/ relaying this.
    Pat (in Belgium)

  5. How well you describe the lethargy one can sometimes descend into! - I felt that over the last three days but today revved up and sluiced out the kitchen, and took quite a lot of things-I-will-never-use to the bin. And some less mundane things!

    Racehorses are among the most beautiful creatures in creation, along with pumas, butterflies, deer, Siamese cats - of course, everyone has their favourites.

    Random thought: in films depicting old battles the cavalry is shown riding ?Arab-descended horses, whereas apparently they would have ridden horses which were more like small carthorses. I suppose carthorses wouldn't look as good on screen! - anyway, not many of them around, now, sadly. I think the Arab horse came to Europe in the 18th c...?

    It was really interesting to read your description of the race: the relationship of horse and rider.

  6. Wasn't it a glorious performance? I love your retelling of it.

    I quite often wish that The West Wing was real. At least that way I'd be convinced that the politicians were doing things for genuine reasons.

  7. You have been much missed. Your beautiful words, your wonderful photographs, your intelligent thoughts. Whenever it gets gloomy (and we all do), know that we'll be happier when you return.

  8. Mystica - dogs you shall have.

    Lillyanne - thank you. Yes I did recommend the Nuxe. Isn't it heaven?

    Siobhan - so glad I am not the only WW addict out there.

    Pat - yes, yes, the heroic horses always make me cry like a girl.

    Vivien - so glad you liked it. Very good point about the charging into battle; yes, they would have ridden heavy horses. And, as I remember, the first thoroughbreds from the three great Arab stallions were introduced to England sometime in the 1770s. (Could be wrong about that date.)

    Alex - I DREAM of The West Wing being real.

    Cassie - what an incredibly kind thing to say.

    Lovely welcome back comments; thank you all so much.


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