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:
The lovely girl:
The other lovely girl:
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:
Last known sighting of the hill, lost in the dreich: