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: