Posted by Tania Kindersley.
So, finally, finally, the great day dawned, and Red’s small companion arrived. A very kind lady in Drumoak is lending her to us, since the pony is now too small for her previous rider. She is nineteen years old, Welsh Section A, and eleven hands three inches. She does not yet have a blog name, as I am leaving this decision to the great-nieces.
I had been fretting more than I realised about my mare being on her own. She has been used, her whole life, to being in a great herd. Polo ponies not only live and do their professional work in groups, even when out for exercise they go in packs. You see one person riding, leading two horses on each side. And, beyond that, horses are herd animals. They are not designed to live alone.
In nature, the horse on its own is not only incredibly vulnerable to predators, but will usually have been shunned because of illness or lameness. In the wild, horses are pretty ruthless; one weak link can slow down the herd, and they will always choose survival of the fittest, in its most literal sense. Actually, ruthless is the wrong word. That’s a human word. In the world of animals, it is just what they do, to get by.
The more I think of it, the more I think what a miracle my little mare is. I have developed a fatal habit of mooching around the horse forums, late at night. I can’t tell you the horror stories one reads of new horses who will not settle. The same refrain occurs over and over again: he was perfect when I tried him, and then I got him home, and three days later he FREAKED OUT.
Then follows a terrible catalogue of barging, biting, rearing, napping and other bleak occurrences. The owner loses confidence and questions every aspect of her capability. Maybe I should never have got a horse at all is the cry.
Apart from a few spooks, a bit of walking away in the field, some momentary jumpiness, and a couple of fussy riding days, Red has been a model. She is polite, kind, and amazingly biddable. She is easy to do. She excels at groundwork. Three times out of five, she will follow me without a halter. Considering the absolute upheaval of her world, the loss of every single thing familiar to her, from routine to person to environment, I cannot quite believe how lovely she has been. But the more I think of it, the more I think that she must have been lonely.
When the little grey pony arrived yesterday, Red put her head over the gate, and whinnied. It had such a yearning fall, a mixture of excitement and heartfelt greeting. She had never seen this creature before, but it was as if she was saying: you have come at last.
We brought them gently together, and Red blew through her nose in ecstasy, touched her nostrils to the pony’s, sniffed her all over with blatant joy, nuzzled her withers in the classic horse greeting. Then a look of pure relief and bliss spread over her face. I know I should not anthropomorphise, but there is absolutely no other way of describing it. It was as if her entire body was suffused with delight.
It did not take long to see that they were made for each other, so we let them go, and the determined little Welsh person, dwarfed by her big thoroughbred friend, trotted off in front, with my red champion following along behind like an eager puppy.
‘Well,’ I said. ‘There is absolutely no doubt who is the alpha mare in that set-up.’
In the evening, I went up to see if I could make a bond with the new pony. It took a while. She was skittery and uncertain at first. Some people might have thought, oh, that naughty little pony, I’ll show her who is boss. Small ponies have a reputation for being stubborn and difficult, and I’ve seen people be very cross and sharp with them.
I thought: this poor little thing has been hurled into a strange environment, and does not know me from Adam. Of course she is going to be mildly freaked.
So instead of cornering her and intimidating her, I walked round and round, in figures of eight, keeping a polite distance. I talked out loud and sang a song and said her name. I approached and then retreated, to show clearly I was not a predator. It took quite a long time. I let it.
I sat on the ramp of the hen coop and allowed her get used to my still presence. After about twenty minutes, she let me come up to her. I gave my hand to sniff; then a carrot. Then I moved away again. I repeated the procedure. Only then did I put on her halter and lead her around, so that she could get used to following me, and could see that she had nothing to fear.
What was particularly sweet was that, all this time, Red was watching from the gate with some anxiety, as if to say: don’t alarm my new friend. Once I had them tethered together, nice and relaxed, I scratched their ears and rubbed their necks and chatted to them for a bit, and felt, almost insensibly, this new dynamic of three start to establish itself. It was a rather extraordinarily lovely feeling.
It’s been another ridiculously nasty day, so I just went up, to check on them both. They were ignoring the rain, and happily grazing, side by side. I went up to Red, scratched her, crooned to her, gave her some apple. The small grey let me approach quite happily this time. She is still cautious, but not, it seems, afraid. Then I walked back to the gate. I did not call them, or expect them to come. I heard a shuffling rustle behind me. There was Red, head low and swinging, and the tiny pony, ears pricked, following me, in single file, all the way across the field. I laughed out loud, in sheer pleasure.
The rain falls and falls, and after days without a glimpse of sun, low spirits are seeping into my soul. I’ve been wrangling with my book all morning. This third draft has been proving very difficult and I get only tiny, flashing glimpses of achievement. I feel like I’m rolling a stone uphill. Some books are like that. But it is serious, it is my professional life, it is what I do for money, and, very occasionally, some kind words of praise. In some ways, it has been what I define myself by. But, oh, when I turned round and saw my beautiful thoroughbred and the funny little furry Welsh pony following me like that, I thought: I could not feel happier or more triumphant or more privileged or more complete had I won the sodding Booker Prize.
Some pictures from yesterday. Today, it is raining too hard. This is the sixth or seventh day in a row there is no hill visible.
There was, however, A PONY:
I took a couple of snaps with my drama tone setting:
Then there were their views:
And, of course, the dearest face of all:
I think she might be saying: one big red dog is absurd enough, but another huge white one??????
Or, she is just wondering whether, if she looks adorable enough, she may persuade me to give her some biscuits.
Or, she is contemplating the Universal Why.