Sunday, 22 April 2012

A rather long horse story.

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Very occasionally, the blog feels like a bit of an effort. I am tired, or cross, or filled with aches, and the spit spot part of my brain is saying, come along, there must be something for the dear readers, and I have nothing. Then I stare at the screen with a kind of mulish despair and just put up lots of dog pictures and hope you don’t notice.

Sometimes, I cannot wait to sit down and tell you things. (This is quite peculiar, when I think of it, but that is part of the mystery of the blog.) Today is one of those days.

Because of the weather, the mare and I have not ridden for a few days. It’s so sodden and horrid and it’s not as if I am getting her fit for some great competition. On the other hand, I felt a bit grumpy and was oppressed with a slight sense of failure. There must be routine; they like routine; everyone who knows anything about horses says they like routine. And my legs were getting stronger. And we were getting used to each other. So the not riding felt a bit sad.

Still, there may have been a silver lining. The groundwork is really important, and I might not have done it otherwise. And she had been getting a bit fussy, the last time I rode, so maybe the going back to basics was good.

This morning, I managed to find the one shaft of sunlight in the whole week. It was literal and metaphorical. The rain stopped for five minutes, and Red was at her absolute sweetest and dopiest when I arrived. She came ambling to me, presented her head for scratching, leaned gently against my shoulder, graciously took a bit of apple. She loved her grooming (sometimes she can take it or leave it); she stood like a rock, eyes closed, dozing, while I tacked her up. Everything was more perfect than wit could devise.

Then I got on, and there was the fussing again. I had wondered if it were the tack, and rigorously checked saddle, girth, every inch of the bridle. Everything fit perfectly. I had run my hands over her back, again and again, in case there was soreness. There was none.

What happens is she tenses up a bit, behind the saddle, and plays about with her head. It’s an effort to get her going forward. There was a moment when I thought there was really something wrong, and I almost gave up. But her ears were pricked; if she were in pain, she would tell me. I decided to press on.

Round the field we went. Fuss, fuss, fuss. She wanted to go one way, I told her to go another. Suddenly, something interesting happened. A hundred thoughts had been running through my head: mostly that I was doing something wrong. My confidence, which is pretty good on a horse, had wobbled a bit. Perhaps all this talk about my remembering my ancient instincts was nonsense, and I had no clue what I was doing. But the interesting thing was that, all at once, the confidence came rushing back.

I decided that this was not a disaster, but quite funny. I started talking to her in a joking, teasing way. You silly old thing, I told her. Come on, we can do this. My shoulders, which I realised were a tiny bit tense, came down; I felt my body and legs long in the saddle, I sat right down into her. Even when she jumps about a bit, I don’t shift; I fit her very well.

We did a trot; we did a canter. She half tried to cock her head and do a bit of a plunge and a race; I convinced her that was a very silly idea indeed. After a couple of goes, we were doing collected trot, and collected canter. She had stopped mucking about with her head; she was listening to me.

The next most important thing was to get her to stretch her neck out and relax her back completely. I wanted to get her to ride out on a long rein again, like we did at the beginning. There’s a good half mile bit of straight, so I took her out of the field, and we went down that. Tiny bit of a fuss, momentary stop and stare, then on, on, and down came the head, and suddenly there was the lovely forward momentum I had been looking for. There was the happy swinging stride. There was the harmony. There.

I have a theory. The regular readers will know I love a theory. I think that there are many phases when you get a new horse, and a horse gets a new human. First of all, Red has been used to being ridden by the best horseman I know. Second of all, she is now living a very different life than the one she was accustomed to. We had to go through the settling phase, when she was uncertain and nervy and needed enormous reassurance from me. When she was not spooking, she was very good indeed, almost submissive.

Now, I think the nerves have gone. She knows the place, likes the sheep, is familiar with the dog. She knows I am her person. So now, I think she is seeing what she can get away with. It’s not naughtiness, it’s horsiness. She might have been the slowest racehorse in Britain, but she was a racehorse. She’s not some dear old cob; she’s got champion’s blood in her veins. She is asserting herself, and measuring me. Also, she is a mare, and mares can have moods. There was a wind blowing when we set out, and that alone can lead to a bit of dancing and prancing.

It took about fifteen minutes for her to see that she could not freak me out. I just sat and rode her on; I let her get the devils out of her. And then the decision was made, and she started to move easily and happily.

I think there will be a bit more of this. There will be a step forward and a step back. I’ve said before that I love that she is not a novice ride. I love that she makes me draw on my resources. Her essential sweetness means that she is not frightening, but that thoroughbred spirit means that she will throw down challenges. The lovely thing is that it is exactly what I can take, no more, no less.

My suspicion is that in a few weeks, as the weather gets better, and I get stronger, and she gets more and more settled, she will start going along like an old Labrador. I shall look back and miss the early, glitchy days, when I really had to ride, really had to think.

Yesterday was a funny old day. I felt ill, felt sad, thought of my dad. I spent the evening with my family. I had almost chucked, I was feeling so seedy, but in the end I took my iron tonic and went. I was never so glad I did anything. It was exactly what was needed.

Then, today, I had two hours of loveliness with my horse. I had a little bit of challenge, just the exact right sense of achievement, and then, the profound love, which makes my heart feel like a flower blooming in springtime.

It was a pretty rash decision, suddenly to get a horse after thirty years. I did not especially think it through. I acted on whim. But sometimes life does send you what you need at the exact moment you need it, and I think this is what has just happened. I smile as I write this; I smile as I think of her. She is a very, very dear person indeed, and I love her madly.


Again, I'm afraid it is too horrid now for pictures. Everything outside looks as if someone has thrown a bucket of dirty washing up water over it. So here is a random selection from the moments in the last week when there has been a shaft of light:

22 April 1 20-04-2012 09-56-47 3024x4032

22 April 2 20-04-2012 09-56-57 3024x4032

22 April 4 16-04-2012 17-42-56 4032x3024

22 April 5 16-04-2012 17-43-19 4032x3024

22 April 7 14-04-2012 18-47-21 4032x3024

22 April 7 14-04-2012 18-49-54 4032x3024

22 April 8 20-04-2012 10-01-46 3024x4032

22 April 9 12-04-2012 10-40-21 3567x2761

Red's view:

22 April 15 16-04-2012 17-30-24 4014x735

The lovely girl:

22 April 16 17-04-2012 17-40-06 1666x1676

The other lovely girl:

22 April 17 17-04-2012 18-04-42 4032x3024

She came with us on our ride today; she is getting used to what she clearly thinks of as a huge red dog. All the same, she is passionately glad when I jump out of the saddle and am down on the ground again.

Love this noble face. Oh, the nobility:

22 April 18 12-04-2012 10-40-37 3024x3882

Last known sighting of the hill, lost in the dreich:

22 April 19 20-04-2012 09-57-47 4026x2010


  1. I have run out of relevant responses to your lovely posts involving Red. Please don't misread that as my not being interested or intrigued or mightily impressed. It is simply that you have nailed something spot-on, and I not only have no questions, but not even observations to add. Could say one more time, "well done," but that is almost becoming a broken record. ;-) Remarkable. Oh well, one more time anyhow: well done.


  2. People love theories - they make us feel like we know what's going on. In my experience, however, horses will always surprise you. And they are naughty, they are - sometimes. Which is as it should be... hell, so am I! So call it whatever phase you like, I'm betting that for the duration of yours and Red's relationship, you'll be coming back to us with tales of "guess what she did today". Which I look forward to with great gusto. Hugs to Pidge.

  3. The photo of the lichen covered wooden chairs is beautiful.

  4. Glad you were able to spend the evening with those you love and who 'know' yesterday, and that today was a good day. There will be many, many more to come.

    PS Thank you for explaining about Red's mane.

  5. Reading about Red reminds me of when I was a young girl and completely mad about horses; read every book I could get my hands on, coveted the jodphurs and blazers my cousins lived in and dreamed of one day having my very own Black Beauty. I'm living it all again and it's wonderful. :)
    Do hope you're feeling better soon. Take best care of yourself xx

  6. Love that last photo of the hill, in dreicht. While I love the colours of Scotland in the sun (or slightly overcast), the damp moodiness of the hill having a sulk is rather something.

    And yes, Red is testing you. Like a rescue dog that is on their Very Best behaviour for the first few weeks, she's now thinking, well this is for keeps, better see what I can get away with. I always feel much more comfortable when this stage is reached (yes, slightly weird of me, but I do like to know what I'm up against and just how much *I* have to learn).

    Good to know that you've managed your way through the last few days. Sometimes there is no way through suffering except persisting, and there is a distinct awkwardness to being on the other side of the planet!

    Mental image of Fearghus on the bed - well, full grown Irish Wolfhound, so think of sharing it with a Shetland pony that is affectionate. He doesn't bite, but he does have an ear fetish and can get any earrings out....

  7. Me again - the 'Anon' who wrote about losing her partner. This time I just want to say I love the picture of horse chestnut leaves. Do you know the Craig Raine poem in which he says young chestnut leaves look 'like little vultures'? The perfect description, I think of it every spring.
    (I might as well shed the veil of anonymity, my name is Deborah.)


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