Tuesday, 24 April 2012

A very, very shaggy horse story; or, lessons I am learning

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Author's note:

Although this post is all about not apologising too much, I do think it only polite to give you a warning for extreme length.


As the regular readers will know, one of my blogging instincts is to apologise. Sorry this is too long, sorry this is too short; sorry there are too many dog pictures or too many horse stories or too much political rant. Sorry this is all about me.

Saying sorry is sometimes the most important thing you can do. In fact, I sometimes say sorry when I am not in the wrong, for a combination of emotional and utilitarian reasons. If that will solve the fight or the problem and I have to choose happiness over pride, I choose happiness any day and twice on Sundays. I always, always apologise when I am clearly in the wrong. No hedging, no excuses, just: I won’t do that again.

On the other hand, the borderline apologising of the over-sensitive (of which band I am a paid-up member) can be quite tiring. If people are constantly having to say, oh don’t worry, it’s fine, it’s all right, eventually they run out of patience.

So now I think: I must have the courage of my convictions. I was about to start this with the usual caveat that, oh dear, it seems to be yet another horse story. And some of you do not know horses and have no interest in horses, and how dull it must be for you, and how I try your kind patience.

Then I realise there are three things I think about this. One is: if I can tell it interestingly enough, then it does not matter if you have never seen an equine in your life.

Two is: if I can give you some decent prose, then it should be all right. There are some writers who write of subjects in which I have no interest at all, but I read them because I like how they write.

And three is: the old rule which I tell my students over and over, which is never, ever pander to or second guess your readers. The golden rule is write something which fascinates you; as someone much wiser than I once said, if your writing doesn’t keep you up nights, it won’t keep anyone else up either. In other words, if you are riveted by your subject, then chances are other people shall be riveted too.

That, as my friend The Man of Letters always says, is the throat-clearing part out of the way. If this were a book, I would go back in the second edit and delete every single one of those opening paragraphs. In professional literature, throat-clearing is a terrible faux pas. The rather lovely thing about doing a blog is that it is an amateur thing, in the sense that I do it for love, not money. So I leave the throat-clearing in, because for some strange reason I like that you get me with warts and all.

So, today’s horse story.

One of the things that fascinates me about having a horse is the thing of moods. Because we are so early in our relationship, it is very important, for the building of trust, that the mare senses I am calm, cool, confident, in control. Her prey instincts go back ten thousand years; for her to put her faith in a new leader is a profound act. It is not a given, it is not automatic, and just because she does it one day does not mean it is the end of the story. There are some people who say it takes at least a year for the real relationship to be built, a brick at a time.

This is why I do the groundwork; it is why each day I almost feel as if we are starting from scratch. So when I go up to her, however filthy I might feel, I must at least try to fake the good feelings.

This morning, I had a troubling email; it is an ancient sore, one of those ghastly running dramas that presses all one’s old buttons, and can send one into a tailspin. When I arrived to see Red, I was furious and upset and tense as a drum. I walked into the field, trying to steady my breath and remove the hard fist of rage that sat, low and ugly as a toad, in my stomach.

At first, she trotted towards me, so eager and happy that it broke my heart. What a welcome, I thought, delight edging out the fury. I gave her a carrot, spoke to her, and she locked on and walked with me to the gate. What a miracle, I thought; she is fixing me, on my raging day. I thought the bad feelings had been driven out, but she is cleverer than I, in some ways, and she must have sensed something, because suddenly her head went up, and she cantered away.

Grumpiness returned, like a tidal wave. Oh God, I thought, I’m going to have to do the bloody stomping about the field, pretending to ignore her, until she comes back to me. The Pigeon had not come with, so I was on my own, walking through the sodden grass, singing a half-hearted version of Brown-Eyed Girl. Red did her little ignoring game, staring out to the east as if hoping someone more interesting might arrive. I attempted not to feel hurt.

I walked and chatted to myself and sang the stupid song. (I thought the singing was important because it might drive out my own demons, and would also let her know that I was there, but not coming after her.) She came back to me for a moment, then was off again. We moved far away from each other, and then she did something she has not done before. She moved herself into a fast canter, right towards me, at full tilt. I watched her carefully, stood my ground, opened my arms calmly, and she slithered to a halt right in front of me. I was ready to step aside; I can be quite brave with her, but I am not reckless. It might have been playfulness, or it might have been a test.

All right, you silly old thing, I thought. You are having some fine game here. I walked away again; she followed. I am your trusted leader, I thought; I stood up very straight, levelled my shoulders, lifted my head, breathed.

And suddenly there was her soft muzzle at my right hand, and we were again as one. I put the halter on and gave her a good groom, and suddenly all that antic spirit went out of her and she closed her eyes and lowered her head and dopily let me scratch at the sweet spot behind her ears.

I tell you all this because I think it is such a life lesson. I had to get rid of all my black feelings, because she is a horse, and she does not understand about emails and stupid people doing stupid things. She just knows that I am her person, and if she senses I am cross or fearful or tense, she will assume that there is something out there in the field to be tense or afraid about.

I think: bloody bastard email; she thinks: mountain lions. So it’s not just that she makes me feel happy because she is so dear and beautiful and funny and interesting. She makes me happy because even on a rotten day I have to fake calmness and confidence that I may not, in fact, be feeling. And, after faking it for a bit, I find it becomes real.

A brilliant woman arrived after that, who is going to help me with the mare. Because I have been away from horses so long, I need someone to come up for a couple of hours a week and do some groundwork exercises and generally tell me if I am making any egregious errors. I am working off old instincts, and some of those instincts may be wrong. We talked for a long time about general horse stuff, and Red the Mare stuff in particular. The really lovely thing is that the brilliant woman sees horses in the same way that I do, as mysterious, essentially wild creatures whose ways we should try to understand, for communion to be possible.

A lot of people think that all this getting into the horse’s mind thing is airy fairy nonsense. They see horses as servants, here to do what we want them to do. If an animal acts up in any way, it is always naughtiness, and should be dealt with with force. Kick ‘em, or whack ‘em, or get your stick out. That’s how you let them know who is boss.

I hate and loathe that idea. I am relearning how to think like a horse, to see the world through a horse’s eyes, to remember the ancestry of the horse, partly because I think it is a much more effective way of achieving the ends I seek, through mutual trust and consent.

But partly I think it is mere good manners. I would not go abroad and shout at foreigners in English, outraged if they mulishly refused to understand. No more would I march up to a horse and impose my human ideas on it. If Red decides to give me her trust it is a thing of rare privilege. The very least I can do is respect her point of view, tune myself into her horsey old mind, attempt to speak, however haltingly, and with however bad an accent, her glorious foreign tongue.


The weather continues to be appalling. Dear old Red is toughing it out in her new technology rug, very stoical. But it's too blah and bleak for pictures, so here are some old ones.

I discovered a new function on my camera called something like dramatic tone. It produces this rather pleasing effect:

24 April 1 20-04-2012 10-02-05 3024x4032

24 April 2 20-04-2012 10-02-22 4032x3024

24 April 3 20-04-2012 10-03-00 4032x3024

24 April 5 20-04-2012 10-01-37 4032x3024

No need for dramatic tone with this beauty:

24 April 1 12-04-2012 18-16-35 3162x3012

I know the gatepost is in the way, and it's not artfully framed, but she looks so sweet I could not resist showing you.

Here she is, rather more artfully arranged, in elegant sepia, as if from a dusty old photograph album from before the Great War:

24 April 11 16-04-2012 17-01-18 3493x2935

Oh, that jawline. No wonder she thinks she is a bit of a duchess.

And speaking of the aristocracy:

24 April 10 16-04-2012 17-31-40 3024x4032

No hill today; it is still obscured in lingering cloud. One day, one day, it shall come back to us.


  1. A wee thought: your readers wouldn't return if they (we) didn't like your writing. But they (we) do, so they (we) do. No need for apologies. xx

  2. Blonde - how very kind you are. I really am amazed at the generosity of the Dear Readers; it never fails to bring a smile to my face.

  3. Please don't begin your blog with apologies, darling. Ever. It's like opening the door to a beautiful woman in a ball-gown and having to listen to an account of her journey on the Jubilee line before you're permitted to kiss her. I'm sure the dear readers agree.


    The Playwright.

    1. Dear Playwright

      Here! here!

      And no feebly feigned humility either (what a wonderful frock, oh this old thing, had it aeons, etc etc) when we say you, your dog and horse are stars in our eyes

      The Dear Readers

    2. The Playwright! What are you doing here? You are saying naughty things. Evening frocks on the Jubilee Line indeed. (Am laughing like a drain at the thought of you breaking cover like this.) xx

    3. Goldenoldenlady - You are so kind you make me BLUSH. Thank you.

    4. A lady must always blush at compliments - or pretend to very well. Once we can successfully fake sincerity we have pretty much got it made!

    5. I wish I'd read The Playwright's comment before I fired off mine. Laughed so hard I nearly spit coffee all over the laptop screen.


  4. On the run today, so won't be able to settle down and read till tonight - but two things. One, you needn't apologize. I can say that with confidence in advance. And two - wow, does Red look every inch her Thoroughbred heritage (her sepia shot). Lovely.


    1. Bird - so glad you appreciated that photograph. Took about eight of her like that she looked so splendid.

  5. Not to worry; I'm not put off. About attitude: I have a young friend who owns a kennel. A lot of responsibility, occasonal heartache. When the phone rings she smiles before she picks up. Tells me people can hear if she's smiling or not.

    1. Joanne - Smiling technique is brilliant. Thank you.

  6. I am not interested in horses, never owned one, never ridden one, not sure I've ever seen a real live horse in person. Your enthusiasm and genuine interest is infectious however and for the first time ever, I took a punt on the Grand National and watched with bated breath for the lovely Seabass to romp home.
    You have no obligation to write anything other than that which interests you and you alone. You are providing entertainment far superior to that found in almost all magazines and some newspapers, and you're doing it for free. Blogs which exist purely to please others are nowhere near as enjoyable, so please don't stop doing what you do.

    P.S For the record, I'd never much liked dogs either and I cried when the Duchess died.

    1. Jen - that is a completely, completely brilliant comment and I love it and thank you. Especially for the last line.

  7. Ha! I love seeing part of your extra-blog life erupting into the comments!

    I also love the way the story of Red unfolds a bit more each day. I have been wanting to ask you if you have seen the documentary film Buck. I highly recommend it. Buck Brannaman is an amazing horse trainer in the U.S., described as having "shaman-like skills." He travels around the country teaching people to listen to their horses and work WITH them, explaining the horse's point of view (mountain lion!) and helping them learn a lot about themselves, also, in the process. I watched every last deleted scene, interview, and credit, it was so good.


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