Sunday, 1 April 2012

In which a Dear Reader rashly asks a question

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I always like inventing new traditions on the blog. They almost never last, but I am marvellously excited about them at the moment of invention. Sunday is usually a day for pictures, because it is the day of rest after all, and I like rest. But with the horse, I am up every day by seven, so there is no more lounging about in bed like Lady Muck. This means I have more hours, and therefore time to type.

So, I thought, perhaps Sundays should become Answer Readers’ Questions day.

One of the things I find hard about blog etiquette is the comments. You leave such charming and funny and thought-provoking comments and I want to reply to each one. I do not always have the time, and then I worry that I shall have replied to some but not others and fear someone will be offended or feel that I have been discourteous. This grows particularly acute in the case of questions. It’s one thing when someone says something kind and I do not say thank you, it’s quite another order of magnitude when a polite inquiry is made and there is silence de glace.

Also, sometimes the question needs a long answer, too long for the confines of the comment box. I am fatally addicted to long answers. (I can’t remember if I told you one of the best pieces of advice I ever got, from my brilliant and wise friend The Playwright. It is, if in doubt, say 50% less than you normally would. It sounds a little odd, but it’s gloriously empowering. Also, if you are a chatterbox like I am, rather restful. And good for honing one’s listening skills. Sadly, as you see, I have not yet applied it to the blog, which continues rambly and tangential.)

So, this may be a new Sunday tradition. It’s this Sunday’s tradition, at least.

One of the Dear Readers asked about the horse being at livery. This, interestingly, links up with another Dear Reader’s query from a while ago, about why it took so long for me to get a horse.

This provokes, I am afraid, a very, very long answer indeed.

The not having a horse thing is quite odd, now I think of it. I love them, I know them, riding them is one thing I can do pretty well. I was trained in dressage and cross-country; I did a bit of show-jumping; I even learned side-saddle, although I never really got the trick of it. (The Sister was the side-saddle queen. You should have seen her. She looked like something out of a Sargent painting.)

It wasn’t just that, growing up in a racing yard, I was put on a pony before I was two, and never got off again, it was also that our mother believed that if we were going to ride, we should do it properly. So off I went to the legendary Mrs Payne, recently sadly departed, who made us go over cavalettis with no irons and no reins. You had to do it with your arms crossed. Looking back now, that amazes me. It was a brilliant learning technique though; it taught you balance and strength and how to ride with your body. It was also very good for inculcating the excellent habit of never getting on your pony’s mouth.

I loved it all. I was good at it and worked hard at it. It taught me many valuable life lessons, mostly about dedication and determination. It all stopped when I was fourteen, and we moved abroad. Then there was London, and boys, and later university and work and my giddy twenties.

When I came here, I did think about a horse, but where I live is not set up for equines. There is no stabling and the fields by me are full of sheep and cows and Virginia the pig. There is a livery down the road, but I had always associated riding with looking after your own horse in your own place. The idea of farming it out to a strange yard went against every grain.

Then my father died. He was an old horseman to his boots. One of the Dear Readers has suggested that I am channelling his spirit a bit now, with all this new equine life, and I think there is something in that. There is also the acute sense of mortality, which still runs strong in me. (I hope and think it will settle down a bit, as time passes and soothes, but just now it lives vividly in my mind.) I have one skill in which I was trained from very early childhood, and I am not using it. The more I thought of it, the more I was acutely aware of a sense of waste. I hate waste.

As the vague thought sharpened and deepened, I went south, and there was Red, in the Beloved Cousin’s field, waiting for me, like a sign. So I made the radical decision. Livery would be fine, I thought; lots of people do it.

Livery, it turns out, is not fine at all. If you have grown up in a yard, it’s a jarring shock going into someone else’s set-up. They have all their ideas and you have yours, and there are the wild spaces in between. The riding is magnificent, through a wild glen, but there was a profound sense of disconnection and not belonging from the first.

I am very bad at asking for help. I have a morbid fear of any kind of neediness; I hate the idea of being demanding or dependent. I am used to doing things for myself. In a stroke of luck, the Landlord caught me on a bad day, and saw that I was finding difficulty in the new place, and that it was making me sad. He is very protective of his family, and we are family; he took one look at my face and said, ‘I have a field’. He was so stirred by the situation that he said ‘Why don’t you just ride her up tomorrow?’

I did look at the ordnance survey map, but I think seven miles across country is too much for Red and me, so early in our relationship. Imagine the possibility for mountain lions. So a nice woman with a box is coming to collect the mare next week. The field for which Red is destined is enchanting, rich with grazing. (A problem with the livery is that there are many horses there, and the paddocks do not have much grass. Red prefers grass to hay, and roams rather dolefully over the slim pickings. I attempt to comfort her with apples, but she needs good growth, which she shall now have.)

Her new paddock sits under the blue gaze of my favourite mountain, a sleeping giant called Morven, which stands alone, with its flat top, like something rising out of an African plain. It is three minutes up the road. The mare shall be with my smallest relations, the great-nieces and nephew, who are yearning for her. It is the perfect solution. It’s the next best thing to having her outside my window.

So, that is the Dear Reader answer for the day. (It really was shockingly long; I do apologise.)

It has been a lovely animal day. I took the Pigeon to see the mare. Red, safe in her superior size, blinks at the dog, and then ignores her. The Pidge circles around, still getting used to the vast red creature, a mixture of interest and slight uncertainty.

There was one very funny moment when I was doing the horse love, scratching behind the ears, chatting, stroking, murmuring affection. The mare was doing her little head dance, where she presents her face to me for scratching, swings it away, swings it back again. I turned, to see the Pigeon gazing in silent reproach, with a what about me look on her face. When we got home, I took her up to see Virginia the Pig. I gave the old dear some pig nuts, and chatted to her for a bit. Turned round to see the Pigeon face, now completely fed up, clearly saying: oh, no, not the bloody pig.

So now I must do a great deal of Pigeon love to compensate. A throw of the stick, and handful of biscuits, a rub of the tummy, and the thing shall be accomplished. That is my task for the day.

Now for your pictures. This is the time of year I grow obsessed with blossom. Down on our village green, one set of cherry trees is not yet out:

1 April 1 01-04-2012 08-35-53 4032x3024

Whilst opposite, these beauties are in full blaze:

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There are daffs:

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And some lovely tree trunks:

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And here is my glorious girl:

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I'm afraid you may be getting rather a lot of eye pictures. I adore her eye, with its elegant lashes, and the little white kiss mark above:

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Oh, that face:

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Sweet Virginia:

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Pigeon doing pig-face:

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And horse-face. You do see what I mean:

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I took her on a tremendous rabbit hunt, to cheer her up:


Until the dear old tail was waving like a flag again:

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The hill, under an uncertain sky:

1 April 20 01-04-2012 09-16-20 3339x2490


  1. The Pigeon's pig-face and horse-face made me laugh out loud. SO eloquent. Wonderful stuff, and I am so glad that Red is bringing you such happiness.

    1. Cassie - you know that Pidge so well by now. Her slightly grumpy faces always make me shriek. :)

  2. You needn't apologize for length; the telling is all so delightful. I like your "new" traditional of answering reader questions. I struggle with how to handle comments, mostly answering them in the comments but never knowing if the author sees it. Your love for both Red and Pigeon is wonderful.

    1. Diane - the comments thing is a perennial fret. I did once ask the Dear Readers, and a lot said they did come back to check. That's why I always worry if I skip a response. How kind you are about the dog and horse love; it consumes me at the moment, as you may be able to tell.

  3. Glad to hear that Red will come home. There was an intimation that perhaps the livery wasn't perfect when you said that they were displeased with your bringing in your own vet.

    A question of rather businessy curiosity, not something that requires any thought or eloquence: in your section of Scotland, is the weather temperate enough for Red to live out all year, or will she have a stall for inclement weather and/or nights? I know horses that remain out all winter long, but they are very hairy broodmares, not elegant riding horses. Your photographs are always so beautiful that it's hard to tell if you're freezing to death in, say, January, or just chilly now and then.


    1. Bird - it does get bloody cold. We had a mild winter this year, but last year it was minus sixteen for days on end. Also, we get hard north-eastern winds. Luckily there is amazing new rug technology, and we are going to build Red a special shelter. Even more luckily, The Landlord builds things for a living.

      And you were clever to spot the vet thing. I can't tell you the dismayed faces. I think there are livery rules no one ever told me, and I unwittingly broke virtually every single one....

    2. Lucky Red - a 'home' built for her. ;-) Thank you for the info; I couldn't imagine, far north as you are, that it wouldn't get very cold, but wasn't sure that there wasn't a warm current or something that would make a lot of difference.

      Forgot to mention - of course I love the Pigeon photos, but also got a huge kick out of Virginia the Pig.

  4. Tania - thanks so much for answering my question! I'm really glad you've found a better home for Red, it sounds perfect all the way around. The kids will be SO happy, too.

    I have the same riding background as you, stirrupless/armless cavalettis included (except I never actually showed), so I am living vicariously through you regarding horse ownership, a lifelong dream of mine apparently destined to remain so. On Long Island, boarding/owning a horse is astronomically expensive, and... well, there you have it.

    The "horse face" on Pidge is hysterical, and completely obvious, even to us folks who do not see her in person every day. Oh, the drama! 8-)

    1. Marcheline - so glad you enjoyed the horse-face. It makes me laugh every time I look at it. She is not going to give up her top dog position without a fight.

      I did wonder as I wrote of it whether any of the other Dear Readers had gone through the cavaletti experience too. So funny. I do hope one day you win the lottery or meet a kind person with a field and then you can ride again.

  5. Hope Red shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well, if and when Scotland gets its threatened "5-10cm of snow" this week! EEEK! She may have to tolerate hay for a few more days if it falls and settles where you are.

    In SE England we are sitting in pub gardens and getting sunburnt, but even here they may get some snow on the Downs and in the Chilterns. We are off to our house in mid-Wales for a week or so leaving Herts tomorrow and I am going to make sure I pack waterproofs and boots, as well as sunglasses and sandals, as I am utterly thrown into confusion now and have no idea what to expect and where.

    I asked would Red be hard by you or at livery, several weeks ago. Thanks for the very full answer. I was guessing there was some friction with the livery stable management, by the mood of a few of your posts last week. We all want your having Red to be unsullied and unalloyed joy, so hip-hip-hurray for The Landlord and his benificence.

  6. Will Red have a friend in the new field?
    I made this link to show you Red's doppelganger:
    The links should go to the same pic, the app gave me a choice, not sure which one would work. Unfortunately, the some of the beauty is obliterated by my big bum!

  7. First quick glance at the birch trees and I thought it/ they were an abstract painting.
    Love Pigeon's "horse" face (one image worth 1,000 words!).
    And thoroughly enjoying all the details (never too long) of your horse experience. Mine (horse experiences) never got passed my teens and boys (sigh! And, in south Florida, we rode the "lazy" western or bareback -- hardly dressage!). Living vicariously is the term, I believe!
    Thank YOU!

  8. Good news! I had wondered about all this, but didn't quite make it into question mode myself, so I am glad that someone else did and that you answered. And while I do like the advice about 50% less...for myself, anyways...I don't think you need to fret so much about length. (If we all start complaining, then maybe you can.)

  9. So happy for you, and Red - always desperately wanted my own horse (exercised a friend's daily, got as far as building a stable but parents were not into the idea at all). All this vicarious pleasure makes me want to re-read Flicka, Silver Brumbies ..:)

  10. Quite understand that you can't answer all comments. I don't answer all the comments to my blog either, there just isn't enough time to do everything.
    May I just explain why I like to stop by here? First of all I so enjoy your writing, and secondly I am loving your accounts of getting to know Red and riding again. Sadly I will never be as good a rider as I would have liked. Never had the proper teaching when young, and now I'm not brave enough to do all I want. I still love to ride out and can jump a bit if required. My daughters have had the proper teaching (including jumping without stirrups, reins and eyes shut!) and through your beautiful writing I can see them on their horses and feel again my pride in their savoir faire.
    Thank you and please keep those beautiful pictures coming.

  11. I know nothing about horses but I can see that you are very happy. Red obviously is. I only hope Pigeon does not feel left out. She has had your undivided attention and now she has to share. Also the pig is gorgeous! I never thought I would hear myself say this.

  12. The picture of the fed-up hound is one of the funniest things I've ever seen.

  13. I am so glad you found a new home for Red. A proper home. I love this answer.


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