Thursday, 22 March 2012

The continuing horse diary

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I understand there are many, many things going on in the world. Vaguely, filtering into the very small space of my brain not filled by horse, snippets of the budget arrived. I think the old people are extremely cross.

However, at the moment, I live nowhere near the real world. So I can’t possibly comment. I have become one of those people who used to amaze me; the ones who don’t know the news.

The otherworldly aspect is not helped by the weather. The last two days have been of dancing, dazzling sun. The oystercatchers are here, singing their drunken sailor songs. The light glimmers and gleams through the trees and over the hills, as if some lighting director in the sky has turned the dial up to Beautiful.

Scotland is a place of strong colours. It can look astonishing even on a dank day. When the glancing, amber sunlight is pouring down, everything takes on an entirely different aspect, as if it has all been polished, as if all the blues and greens are ten times deeper and more intense. There is magic in the woods when the sun dapples through them. There is hope in the air.

Red the mare, I am discovering, has two discrete personalities. In the mornings, she is antic and a fraction impatient. She is not rude, and does not barge, but she can skitter about a bit and get herself in a state. This morning, she startled herself mightily by kicking over the fire bucket. Her fight and flight is on a higher dial than normal, because she is an alien place, she has a new rider, and she is being asked to go out alone, which is usual for her. So instead of saying fire bucket, fire schmucket, she said: what the hell was thaaaattt???

I walked her about the yard a bit on foot, just to try and get her head down and her predator response back in its box. My very faint dread is that if we set off when she has fussed herself, then we walk out on the wrong foot, and then the strangeness of the environment is heightened.

Sun, interestingly, does not help. It makes everything glitter, and therefore seem alarming. Yesterday, I walked her past a proper loch for the first time. Oh, the snorting and blowing that went on. I suddenly realised she has probably never seen a large body of water in her life.

Occasionally, we have a very small, rather sweet tussle. She decides that really it is too much, and would very much like to turn around. I do not let her. In the first couple of days, I was quite bullish in my firmness. I am the boss, I was thinking. No messing about.

Now, I am moving gently towards the middle ground, the place I am most comfortable occupying anyway. (Even in riding, it seems I cannot leave my bleeding heart liberal behind.) Instead of squeezing and booting her on at once, applying all my available leg, I let her pause for a moment. I prevent her from moving away from the perceived threat, but I don’t force her towards it. I allow her to get her bearings, give her a bit of a stroke and a chat, and as soon as I sense the return of courage and forward momentum, then I apply the leg, so it seems as if it is my idea and her idea to walk on. This feels as if we are moving in harmony, which makes me happy. I hope it pleases her, too.

She is still mildly freaked out, and prone suddenly to find a small wooden cottage with a green door very frightening indeed: ‘Yes, the scary cottage,’ I say, out loud, ‘not really that frightening, you see.’ But the amazing thing is that she is not tense throughout the whole ride. She could easily be, which would be quite tiring.

A lot of horses would be all jazzed up in her situation. Her essentially sweet nature very quickly reasserts itself, and she drops her head and relaxes and we walk on or trot on in perfect confidence. At the moment, I would say it’s about 90% happy as a clam, and 10% freak. And the freaks are only such little, quickly forgotten things.

We had our first fast canter today, about two furlongs on lovely springy emerald grass. I let the reins out for a moment to see if she would tank off, but she went steady and straight, and pulled up at once at the end. That, too, is a bit of a miracle.

Later, the second personality appears. In the evenings, when I go to see her and spend about half an hour just hanging out in the box, she is quite a different person. She is dozy and still, yawning, pulling at her hay, gently curious. Tonight, I stayed with her until quarter past six. I stood next to her shoulder for a while and stroked her nose and her forehead and round the back of her ears, which I think is her sweet spot. She was so calm that she had a little rest on my shoulder, I felt her head drop onto me, and watched her eyes droop half closed.

It was perhaps two minutes. It was a tiny moment, that was all, in a very big and fast world. It filled me with a lurching, seizing joy.

The awful, impatient, instant gratification part of me wants her to fall in love with me at once, and remain dazzled and starry-eyed for ever. One of my weaknesses is that I rely far too much on a sort of superficial charm. I think I have a terrible subliminal belief that I can win pretty much anyone over with a joke and a smile and a bit of gush and compliment.

I switch into Nancy Mitford mode, and employ Radlett shrieks. ('You angel on earth, not Fuller's Walnut?' &c.) It’s always a terrible shock when it does not work, which it really sometimes does not. I am met with stony faces and blank stares, or even looks of horror or slight fear.

Thing is: you can’t charm a horse. The horse is one of the most authentic creatures on the planet; its sensory perceptions are deep and honed. You can’t fool or flannel it. It will give you its affection and trust, but you damn well have to earn it.

Not a bad lesson for me, as I move into the second half of my life.

And of course there is the love. I had a bit of a coup de foudre, ever since I first saw the Beloved Cousin's old fella walking Red towards me up the drive. ('There's this horse in the field,' he had said; 'you can try her if you like.)

Now, initial infatuation is shifting into proper love, with deepening knowledge and the simple passage of time. I'm seeing her straight and seeing her curly. The flame flickers and glows and burns bright.


Camera still hors de combat, but luckily there is the Geograph website, where photographs are posted under Creative Commons, so you can get a little idea of what I am looking at.

This was Red's first loch:

22 March Boathouse by Phil Smith from Creative Commons

Lovely photograph by Phil Smith.

And this is what we see looking south, at the beginning and end of the ride:

22nd March looking south by Alan Findlay for Creative Commons

This was obviously taken in high summer. You have to imagine it with bare trees and much more purple and brown, and horses all rugged up.

Photograph by Alan Findlay.

Soon, soon, the photography shall return, and you will have many, many pictures of the new addition.

Oh, and talking of people who make my heart beat faster, here's an old girl who is not being neglected just because someone else has come into my life:

22 March Pigeon 03-03-2012 17-01-52 3024x4032


  1. Once again, such a lovely, peaceful, sensitive piece. Thanks.

    Boy, do I envy you! ;-) Enjoy.


  2. It maybe unforgivably nosy (but then, you don't have to answer...) but how did it come to being during your vist to Glos that you went suddenly from riding out a little red mare of a morning to - seemingly all of a piece - rapturously owning her?! Was it by magic?

    I don't mean I'm curious about anything to do with filthy lucre and commercial exchanges, but how was it she was offered to you? I had to make many phone calls and have a few knock-backs and disappointments from owners/breeders etc before I ended my search for The Dog. But perhaps you weren't looking for a horse at all. Was it more that the horse found you?

    1. Not nosy at all. I had been thinking of a horse for a long time. The Beloved Cousin's Old Fella works with horses. I asked his advice; he said he'd got a nice mare in the field. I rode her; loved her; made him an offer. Seems like it was meant, really.

  3. I do love that you know Red 'straight and curly'. That's true love. :)So looking forward to some more photos.
    Not for a minute would I think you could neglect The Pigeon. How could you, with those beautiful eyes?

    1. The camera will be back soon. I can't WAIT to show you pictures.

  4. One of my favourite ever posts you've ever written. I'm staggered. Teary eyed. In awe of your prose. And I don't even like horses much! Do I need to visit horse island too? Lou x

    1. I do think horse island is a very lovely place. Who knows if you might one day go there? :)

  5. I wish you had a "reaction box" with LOVELY.
    Ride on!

    1. That really is the nicest thing to say.

  6. I had a thoroughbred not too long ago. Your post brought back so many memories of riding him and getting to know him. Thank you.

    1. The riding is absolutely lovely. But I find, slightly unexpectedly, that it is the getting to know which is bringing the most joy.

  7. I do always love your writing, but there is a real sense of peace to your horse tails, perfect for a Sunday catch up, and perfect for soothing a rather frazzled mind. Thank you.


Your comments give me great delight, so please do leave one.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin