Saturday, 17 March 2012


Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Well, the auld fella could not do it. The schooling fall had clearly taken its toll; after stretching at the water, Kauto Star started tying up. His action faltered, he fiddled his jumps, that great joie de vivre of which I have spoken before faded. Ruby Walsh very quickly pulled him up.

He cantered back past the packed stands, whilst the race went on without him.

The Beloved Cousin, who was there, called later that night, as I sat in my room with my disappointment.

'Oh,' she said. 'It was quite extraordinary. People were cheering and throwing their hats in the air. No one was watching the race. They just clapped and clapped for Kauto Star as he came home.'

I was incredibly glad that she told me that. You did not get a sense of it from the television. It made it, somehow, all right.

He did not retire lame; he was not wounded; he returned with his old ears pricked. He could be a bit of a showboat, on his day. I guess that he knew, as much as horses ever know, that the applause was for him.

This morning I went to see my horse. We rode for almost an hour, very steady. She is quite alarmed by some aspects of her new home: woods and mountains, a farmyard with every manner of thing a horse might shy at, from flapping dustbin bags to bright blue pipes. It's that curious mixture you get in the country – a view of the glen so sublime it cannot be described with paltry words, and then all the mess and muddle of a working farm with its outlying cottages.

Interestingly, Red will walk quite calmly past flapping washing on a line, but freak out at a shiny water trough. This was a test. She is not naughty, or mean. She was genuinely alarmed. Horses are prey animals; she probably was looking up at the wooded hills and expecting a mountain lion to leap on her quarters.

There was an interesting moment when she started reversing (in a very impressive straight line, and at speed) down a hill. The shiny water trough was too much for her. I sat tight, stopped her, stood for a moment, turned a small circle, and beaming mental signals of safety at her, got her to walk on. I was not sure if I could do it, but I did. Hands and heels, but mostly, reassurance.

'There are no mountain lions here,' I told her.

Past the terrifying object, I congratulated her with long strokes up the neck, so that she would feel she had done something very clever.

All these are things I had half-forgotten. The ancient instincts, learnt in childhood, come back.We are feeling our way together. It is oddly touching. If I can get her to trust me and rely on me completely than it will be one of the best things I ever did.

A smiling woman in a car made my day. She stopped to let us go past; her window was open, so I paused for some polite conversation. What a lovely day, we are new here, that kind of thing. She beamed up at me. 'What an absolutely beautiful horse,' she said.

That chased away the lingering shadows from yesterday, in one stroke.

In the afternoon, more of the family came up to regard the new addition. She was dozing in her field, in the fine Scottish sun. It was lovely to see her all dopey and relaxed, her eyes half closed. She will settle in soon enough. I think she is being bloody brave, miles away from her old friends in the paddock, and all the familiar landmarks she has known for the last six years.

We shall go along just fine.

I wish I had pictures to show you, but the charger is still absent. 

Here is a little Kauto loveliness for you. He did not have his day yesterday, but nothing can erase the soaring delight of his two unexpected triumphs earlier in the season. He gave us joy, and we loved him well.

Cantering back, ears still pricked:

17 March by Tom Jenkins

Wonderful photograph by Tom Jenkins for the Guardian.

And Ruby, a man of courtesy and grace in defeat, tipping his hat to the crowd, as they salute the great champion:

17 March Kauto by Reuters

Photograph by Reuters.


  1. What freaks four-legged "people" can be so random. Our terrier doesn't like it when our feet disappear into trousers or jeans as we are putting them on and then reappear at the bottom. He also doesn't like it when we tear off and shake out a new bin-liner. But most of all he will NOT tolerate an animal on the television, even if it is only the most fleeting glance, or a cartoon, perhaps just a few moving lines to denote it. When he was a pup he'd rush from the room yapping to see where it had gone when it left the screen.

    He's ten years old this very day, and a little calmer about some of those things but very much more territorial. Terriers are like that. Always making their presence felt.

    Oddly though (re the TV, again) an entire shoal of darting fish will not bother him, a shark even. If it lives under the water it's no skin off his nose, I suppose.

    Red has left home and gone away to boarding school, I guess, possibly without having the comfort of lots of tuck in her trunk and her favourite dolly and teddy. A wrench, and she needs to know how this new place works, the pecking order of seniority in the new herd, and to realise that the headmistress (YOU!) is a really, really good sort and that matron (also YOU!) knows just how to make hot chocolate her favourite way.

    After that extended metaphor of shameless anthropomorphism - from the woman who gave her dog a birthday card this morning - I'll get my coat...

  2. YOUR Kauto Star. What a star brave little Red is.

    Didn't feel better yesterday until I read the first paragraph of a Guardian story. It made me think of you, and you probably have already read it, but if not - here it is. It made me cry, but happy tears.

    'If the 2012 Gold Cup was Kauto Star's last race, it is not his performance that will stick in the memory, but the applause that rolled through the stands as it became clear that Ruby Walsh was about to pull up one of steeplechasing's greatest champions. There were no groans as punters realised that their money was staying in the satchels. Instead, this was the sound of National Hunt racing saying thank you and, probably, goodbye.'

    PS Now that things are back to normal, how is the beech avenue, minus one of its members?

  3. I don't expect to have tears in my eyes about one horse let alone two. I shall put it down to fatigue after a trying journey.

  4. I also find it touching when a horse arrives in a new home. Especially if he is alone, without a buddy in the field. Reassurance is needed, as you clearly know, and then comes that wonderful part as each of you begins to understand and make aquaintance with the other - a precious experience.

  5. I know absolutely nothing about horse-racing and precious little about horses themselves (save a couple of pony-keen years when I was little) but your writing about them keeps me utterly gripped and often rather moved. Thank you for expanding my horizons!


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