Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Finding the one true note

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

It’s dirty, visceral work, looking after a horse. I come home with filthy hands. For some peculiar reason, I regard this as a badge of pride. It is as if there is an authenticity, or an honesty, about something which leaves dirt under the fingernails. My girly swot side and my old dad side are having an argument: the first thinks the life of the mind is all that; the second has no time for book learning. Then I think: why can’t I have both?

An odd thing happened tonight. I almost do not want to admit to it. I am feeling a bit fragile, because it is coming up to the anniversary of my father’s death. I know it’s only a random number, but still. I feel it. I couldn’t sleep last night for missing my departed dog, who died just after him. I always feel a bit stupid, saying that. I mean because it’s obvious. Beloveds are gone, of course there shall be missing.

It’s just that it comes and goes, and when it comes, I have an odd need to mark it. I also need to be allowed to miss. Sometimes people worry if you admit to sorrow, or try and cheer you up. But grief has to be done. I feel that very strongly; in fact, after this whole year, it may be the one thing I do know. You can’t cut corners. You can’t cheat it. It’s not bad, actually, if you just damn well do it.

Anyway, the odd thing was that I went up to the field, and the mare walked away. Because of my fragile state, I took this very personally. Oh no, wailed the inner child, she does not love me any more. It took a minute for the inner adult to pitch up. The adult was amazingly reasonable. ‘She's a horse,’ said my grown-up. ‘She’s just doing horse stuff. Maybe she’s spotted something interesting in the east. Maybe she doesn’t want her hooves picked and her rug straightened.’

Luckily, I remembered something I had read on one of the natural horsemanship sites I found on the internet. In my day, there was no such thing as natural horsemanship; there were old men who whistled through their teeth when they groomed their charges, and that was about it. I think they might have been whisperers before whisperers were even invented. Anyway, this article had said something like: if you really want to bond with your new horse, ignore it.

It was worth a try. Luckily, I had the Pidge with me, and we went off for a tremendous walk, in the complete opposite direction from Red. After a bit, we were marching. Round the field, down to the south, across to the west, beating the bounds. I did not look directly at the mare, although I was monitoring her from the corner of my eye. She affected to ignore me too; then she started looking. She shook her head and turned away and suddenly did a little canter, a demonstration of high spirits, like a bronco.

All right, I thought. Come on, Pigeon. This way. On we went.

After about five minutes, I heard blowing behind my right shoulder. Red had come over, and locked on for a moment, walking beside me. I could feel her muzzle by my right hand. I turned away and continued walking. She moved away.

We went on like this for a while, back and forth, like a dance. Eventually, she was walking quite naturally and peacefully by my side. I stopped, and kept very quiet. She lowered her head. I put the headcollar on. Then I gave her the best groom she ever had, all over with the body brush, long even strokes. I did not pet or crowd her. After this, she offered her head to be scratched, and I found the spot behind her ears, and she stretched out her neck in ecstasy.

I was really glad I persevered. In the mood I was in, I might have just given up and stumped away. I would have gone home with a fist in my stomach, that awful balled up feeling of failure. As it is, I feel still and happy.

Horses are not cars; you can’t just switch them on and off. They have moods and freaks just like humans. Everything is still very new for this one, and I think perhaps she is still testing me out, to see if I will do, to see if I may be relied on. Always leave your horse on a good note, everyone has always said, and it’s true. I feared the good note might be elusive this evening, but it was there all along. It just took a little while to get there.


No time for the camera today, so here are a few pictures from the last couple of days:

18 April 2 16-04-2012 17-42-53 4032x3024

18 April 3 16-04-2012 17-43-09 4032x3024

18 April 4 16-04-2012 17-43-31 3024x4032

18 April 5 14-04-2012 18-47-31 3024x4032

18 April 5 16-04-2012 17-43-47 4032x3024

18 April 7 14-04-2012 18-47-00 4032x3024


18 April 10 16-04-2012 17-01-31 3298x2994

Her view:

18 April 11 16-04-2012 17-30-34 2882x2799


18 April 12 16-04-2012 17-31-45 3024x4032

The hill:


18 April 15 12-04-2012 10-45-35 4002x1761


  1. I was taught to ride by a man who whistled between his teeth and was definitely a horse whisperer of the old school.He only had to walk up to a flighty creature and within minutes it would have fallen asleep with its nose on his shoulder. When you write about your father, you take me back to another age when men were men and horses were horses - if you know what I mean - and people kept diaries rather than blogs. It wasn't better, just different... Thank you though for evoking it so beautifully. And yes, grief must be grieved... it is a sign of love, Rachel

  2. Ah yes, Bird. Horses were horses, men were men (and women were thankful, we used to finish it off in Lancashire "when I were a lass").

    Small children are rather the same. If they are fractious and unco-operative just ignore them and carry on, near them but not all over them, and they come round...

    Husbands as well. When I was a teenager my parents had a row one Saturday afternoon, enough of a row for my dad to get in the car and drive off (probably as far as the village shop to buy ten fags, as he was supposed to have given up, and maybe a newspaper, now I think about it, and to smoke up a fuming fugg in a layby somewhere until he felt a bit shabby). After an hour or two he still wasn't back and the fourteen-year-old I then was grew concerned. My mother meanwhile just carried on with all that housework and gardening stuff her weekend largely consisted of, as she worked full time in the week.

    I sidled upto her and asked very hesitantly, aren't you worried he might not come back, that he might leave her...(us)?. She laughed delightedly, but kindly at my fear. She'd been married a good long time by then and I was their fifth daughter. The others were all graduated and married or as good as.

    Oh no! Your father would never leave me. He knows I could manage perfectly well without him...

    1. Sorry Rachel, mistook you for Bird. She is another horsey interlocutor who posts as Anon. My bad.

    2. How bizarre. Just done the maths, and it's 35 years on Saturday since my dad died, of lung cancer, in his own home, in his own bed, with his wife lying next to him, still awake listening to him leave this world. The next day was her birthday. He had already written her a card, and the moment when she opened it to read it was the only time I saw her weep with grief.

      And just look what the Labour Party has posted on Facebook this evening; there is some big synchronicity going on.

    3. Goldenoldenlady, what a lovely story of your parents (both, LOL, but especially of your father's death). What a pair they must have been.


    4. Thamks so much, Bird,

      They were wartime married (1941). I think there was something exceptional about that generation (and my mother's parents' one - they married in 1915, in WW1). They survived that, still together, which must have given them a terrific sense of proportion.

  3. Life has been one snafu after another on my patch, but I know how soothing visits here can be. Usually I remember as I'm collapsing into bed, but today -- well, your tales of Red have revived me in ways I don't even understand. I am not now nor have I ever been a particularly horsey person, though I did ride as a child and a teenager. But your relationship with your horse seems quite amazing to me, and as your tags (labels?) indicate, a "small life lesson" at least, actually quite a lot more. Your gifts are deeply appreciated. Thanks a ton for being here, even when you are grieving.

  4. A very soothing account of your and Red's continuing journey together. Sound advice indeed: to ignore and let her come to you!
    I ran the life-list post today, - and quoted you as planned - if you are curious it is here

  5. Being allowed to grieve is very important and knowing it is okay to be a bit fragile is too. The story of you and Red, and the stories from Goldenoldlady in the comments has really made my day.

    I also think I put a comment on the wrong post earlier (was reading all in one big binge as I often do) so please, if you read, attach it to the post with which it belongs in your head.

  6. God, she is beautiful, that horse of yours. I'd love to cup her chin in my hand and feel the bristly hairs and the warm velvety skin. Therapy on four legs, that.

  7. Rising above things and not sulking. Not everyone can do it. Sometimes it takes more strength of character than one would imagine.

  8. "Always leave your horse on a good note" could be applied right across the board...
    Always leave your __________ (particularly but not exclusively loved ones, human or animal) on a "good note"...
    It's easy enough to remember, more difficult, perhaps, to DO, however, now that I've read/ heard it, it'll stick. Somewhere in my mind.
    Thank you.


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