Friday, 6 April 2012

A small test

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Author's penitent note: I do hope to write about something apart from horses at some time in the future. Until that day comes, I can only apologise.


The ebb and flow of this new relationship with Red the Mare fascinates me. I find it so interesting I almost want to retrain as a horse psychologist, if there is such a thing, and write books about nothing else for the rest of my life. (It is so, so lucky my agent does not read this blog.)

This morning, on the ground, everything was absolutely calm and lovely. Easy catch, happy grooming, no bother on her as I tacked her up, stood like a statue as I got on. Yes, yes, I thought happily in my horse-filled head, progress. The Whig view of history. Tremendous.

Then, out of nowhere, we had a little battle. It would not have looked like a battle, from the outside, which was quite lucky because the entire window cleaning squad were at work, looking out over the paddock from their high ladders. I love the window cleaners. They are a family, father and sons, the youngest really quite small, and they work harder and more cheerfully than anyone I know. The mere sight of them lifts my spirits. I did not want them to observe me looking like an absolute idiot.

Here is what happened. The mare stopped. She does not do anything naughty; never tries to stand up or whip round. She plants herself, and this is where I am reminded that it is bloody difficult to get half a ton of horse to do anything it does not want to do. She was not frightened, although she had been looking about, head in the high alert position. I felt her neck; when she is scared, you can feel the pulse beating there. There was no beating terror.

All right, I thought. She has done this once before, although that was on the ground, going into her stable, and I remember thinking it was a bit of a test.  Since she is so newly arrived at this second home, I think she is running the test again.

We are still in very early days, the trust is building, but she is pushing the boundaries, seeing how much of a herd leader I really am, wondering if I am truly in charge. It was absolutely vital that I win this, but in a quiet, gentle way. There’s no point just kicking away, it desensitises them, and feels stupid and amateurish. Nor do I, at this stage, want to resort to the stick. It is a battle of wills; I must win with my mind.

Luckily I remember the turning in circles thing. Turning in circles is brilliant for many problems. If a horse is spooking just for the hell of it, sharp turning brings the concentration back to the rider. It also keeps the feet moving, so the horse must think of that, rather than whatever it is making a fuss about. For stopping, it generally works, because after a while they get really bored of going round on the spot, and will do almost anything else to alleviate the dullness.

Round we went. I used a lot of leg, behind the girth, and neck-reined her. She is trained to turn on a sixpence, and so she does. One way, then the other, then back again.

Then I ask her to walk on.

Not bloody likely, she says. She sticks out her wobbly lower lip. I detect a flash of mulishness in her eye.

Right, I say. Circle, circle, circle. I love you and adore you but I am in charge and that’s all she wrote.

Walk on, I say.

What an absolutely excellent idea, she says.

And off we go, as collected and balanced as if we were in the dressage arena.

Going down the hill, she tries it one more time, just in case. Not a chance, I say. Circle, circle; lovely forward walk.

Then it could not have been better. In order to emphasise what I had just done, I schooled her round the fields, instead of going for a long hack. We did figure of eights, slow trots, extended walk, collected canter, one fast canter, but not for long. It was not a day for haring about the place, but for control. The more she knows that I know what I am doing, that she must pay attention to me, the happier and safer she will feel.

I hope I do know what I am doing. I am remembering things on the fly, trusting my old, rusty instincts a lot of the time. But then I think: that’s all right. It does not have to be absolutely perfect equine brilliance. It just has to be good enough. We are muddling along together, step by step.

The strange thing is that I quite like the fact that she gives me tests. It makes me think; it gives me something serious to aim at. I rather respect her for having a bit of a stubborn streak; she is no pushover. And when any little glitch is overcome, it gives me a disproportionate sense of achievement.

After the ride, she is always at her absolute dearest. All the excess energy is out of her, and she goes all dopey and dozy, and drops her head against my chest, and seems ready for the love. (She does not always want to be patted or stroked that much before the ride, as she is getting stoked up for work, I suppose.)

The World Traveller brought the great-nieces out to see her. They are very, very small people indeed, but Red dipped her head down to their level and breathed gently through her nose at them. I always find it a bit risible and platitudinous when people write about eyes sparkling, in books, but the children’s eyes really were sparkling, shooting out delighted points of light as they gazed in wonder at the mare. They put their little hands out, and most delicately and with utmost tenderness, stroked her nose. She stood very, very still, and let them.

That’s your family now, I told her. She seemed pretty pleased.

It was one of the sweetest things I’ve ever seen.


Some quick pictures for you:

My lovely girl:

6 April 1 06-04-2012 10-34-49 4032x3024

6 April 2 06-04-2012 10-35-35 2155x2437

It makes me laugh when the Pigeon does demure:

6 April 4 06-04-2012 10-36-00 3024x4032

And then – stop fannying around and get inside and give me my biscuit:

6 April 5 06-04-2012 11-37-46 4032x3024

Which I dutifully did.

Easter hyacinths:

6 April 7 06-04-2012 12-16-43 3024x40326 April 7 06-04-2012 12-18-12 4032x3024

Red's view:

6 April 10 06-04-2012 10-35-21 4032x1477

6 April 10 06-04-2012 10-35-24 4020x1536

There is a place not far from us called Queen's View, because it was where Queen Victoria liked to gaze over Scotland. (One of the funniest things about this neck of the woods is that it has little brown signs everywhere with Queen Victoria's head on them. I don't know why this amuses me so much, but it does.)

My hill, almost certainly never looked at by the old Queen:

6 April 15 06-04-2012 11-38-32 3481x2419

I hope you are having a happy Good Friday, and eating lots of hot cross buns. I certainly did.


  1. Red looks gorgeous - very like a mare I had many moons ago! Had never heard of the circling trick but it makes perfect sense. Will certainly try it when my current steed has a 'moment'. That may well be tomorrow...

    1. Anon - so glad you like her. Oh, those moments; I think all horses do have them. It's the equine mystery.

  2. Channel 5 showed High Society this afternoon, the perfect Bank Holiday film. The Husband had never sat all the way through it before, but I "obliged" him to do so, right up to the last frames where Louis Armstrong declares "End of Story!" I think Grace Kelly did the best tipsy and hungover acting I have seen a lady pull off. LADYlike tipsy and hungover is way beyond the remit of most women. She was not most women.

    I thought of you and the Princess Pidge, but I guess you were too busy with horse, family, book, etc to catch it...

    1. Goldenoldenlady - how clever you are. High Society is one of my favourite all time films. So agree with you about Grace Kelly, I think it was her finest hour. My best bit in the hangover scene is where Uncle Willy arrives, looks up at the tweeting bird, and says: shut up, you FOOL. :)

  3. Well done. I'm learning, reading your blog.

    And isn't Red getting prettier by the minute? Her hedgerow mane and forelock are growing out nicely and even learning to lie down now. ;-)



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