Saturday, 12 May 2012

In which I learn a good life lesson

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

HORSE STORY ALERT. Those of you with equine allergies, move slowly to the exit.


The reason I write about the horse, at the moment, is not just because I am fascinated and entranced by this new addition to my life, but because she teaches me so many life lessons. There was a big lesson today, and it was oddly mirrored by the computer, when I got back, as if the universe was not sure I had quite got it, and needed to hammer the thing home.

The sun shone for the first time in days; the temperature rocketed up to twelve whole degrees, which after the measly fives and sixes we have been having felt like the south of France. Time for a ride, I thought.

Because I have been doing a lot of groundwork, I thought we should start with that, even though I really wanted to leap on. Feeling slightly smug at my goodness in delaying gratification, I put Red on a long line, and tacked her up, and walked her about in the big west meadow to get her nice and relaxed.

Everything was going beautifully. Look at me, with my natural horsemanship, I was thinking.

Then, suddenly: wig out.

The wigging was actually quite alarming, the first time she has made me at all frightened. She was jumping around like a bronco, up on her hind legs, like that bit in The Horse Whisperer when the horse goes a bit loco, and Robert Redford has to call on all his resources. I did not have time to think what would Bob do, but just did my best to hold on to her.

My alarm was mostly that she would break free and hurt herself by stepping on the rope. But it’s not funny having a half ton horse go back like that, because you lose connection with them, mentally, and you have absolutely no control, but just have to hang on until the moment passes, and hope to hell they don’t step on you or knock you over.

Luckily, it did pass, and I got her back to my side and soothed her, and stilled my own beating heart. Most important, most immediate thing was to remove all traces of my own inner alarm, so I could deal with hers. Fortunately, I had been reading Temple Grandin’s brilliant book about animal psychology the night before, and I had, by great good luck, reached the section about fear. Fear is the prey animal’s driving force, and the more highly bred they are, the nearer the surface it is. Red does not have a mean bone in her body; so I had no doubt that what had just happened was a moment of pure horse panic.

Someone had left a mystery gate open last week, and she had got out of her own paddock into the west meadow, and by the time I discovered the great escape, and got her back, she was in quite a state. My guess is that while she was out, she got a fright, and she was reliving that this morning.

It was my job to fix all that. So, round the field we went, calm and quiet; I had to do a lot of deep breathing and be the certain in charge person. She stayed very, very close to me, sometimes leaning her head against my arm, which suggested to me that she was in need of reassurance. I reassured the heck out of her.

That took about half an hour. Then I wondered if I should ride. In the end, I decided yes, otherwise the doubts would linger. So, doing everything unbelievably gently and slowly, on I got. After an initial reluctance, on she went.

The very lovely thing about her is that although she is prone to get herself into an occasional fuss, it does not last; she reverts very fast to her default mode, which is sweet and gentle. So it’s not as if I have to deal with a horse that is  hotted up and dancing about all over the place, just because one thing spooks her.

I contemplated merely walking her about for a while, but I decided that a little more boldness was called for, so I sat deep, kicked on, and cantered her on a long, loose rein, leaning back in the Western manner. This was pure instinct on my part; I wanted to let her feel that I was so relaxed I didn't know what my name is. In return, she gave me the most lovely, rolling, forward-going canter we have achieved so far. It felt like flying. I didn’t even have to pull her up at the end, she came back to me quite naturally. After an hour, I was so sure that I was riding her with no reins at all, and she was loping along with her head down, all terrors forgotten.

Then there was a lot of grooming, a lot of love, a lot of apples. There was the thing I adore the most, which is when we stand together, and she leans her head on my shoulder and dozes off, whilst I stroke her face. I could not believe it was the same horse from an hour before.

The thing I took from this was determination, and patience. There was a moment when I thought, after the bronco display, all right, I’ll just stop. The wind is up, she’s got some freak in her, I’ll put her back in the field and come back tomorrow. But I knew I could not do that; we had to unravel whatever knot it was. And we did. I felt as much triumph as if I had climbed the actual mountain, which stood looking over us impassively, with snow on its peak.

The patience came not just with spending two hours working with her, but also applies in the wider sense. It’s only six weeks. Six weeks is a long time to a human; it’s nothing to a horse. I think I’ve got her all settled and at home, but she is still raw with newness. The alien environment is still alien.

She has to get used to strange people coming and going; the farmers on their tractors, the shepherds herding the sheep, the young fellas on their quad bikes who roar up to check on the ewes. She is ninety percent a joy and delight; my guess is the trust she has in me is about ninety percent too. That last ten percent is what we have to work on, and it will take all the deep patience I have.

I could have got a dear old cob, who would just plod along and never do anything unexpected (although all horses may have their moments of madness). It is a bit nuts to get a thoroughbred, after thirty years. But I am so glad I did. I really like the challenges, because I get this soaring sense of achievement afterwards.

When I got home, just to make sure this great life lesson was learnt, the computer had its own wig out. Everything in my life is on this stupid computer, and it decided to do the black screen of death. I’m not going to bore you with the disk check and endless rebooting and the rolling waves of panic in my breast (the book, the book). It is enough to tell you that it took three hours to fix, and involved a lot of long, nervy staring at the screen as it, slowly, fitfully, reluctantly, brought itself back to life.

Bloody hell, I thought. I’m not sure why the serendipities and contingencies and whatever agency orders things decided that today was the day I got a vast, unrelenting lesson in patience, but I would like them all to know: I really did get the message.

Everything in modern life is geared to impatience. Technology means that humans tend to expect things to happen at the touch of a button. There is no button with a horse. There is endless thought and repetition and slow, constant learning. I was reminded today that the button on the computer is not instant, but fragile, and prone to sudden catastrophic errors; that my expectation that things should just work is misplaced.

Instead of being cross that the machine takes so long to do something, I am now passionately, profoundly grateful that it does anything at all. Instead of wondering why I got a horse who used to race for a living, and will occasionally hear her wild Darley Arabian ancestor calling to her, I am fired and delighted by the challenge.

I am filled with awe and wonder that both the mare, and the machine, came back to me.


Some garden pictures for you:

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12 May 2 12-05-2012 12-47-58 3024x4032

12 May 3 12-05-2012 12-49-59 3024x4032

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12 May 6 12-05-2012 12-51-56 4032x3024

Hard to believe this dozy creature had her wild west moment:

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12 May 9 12-05-2012 12-32-14 4032x3024

But this was the Darley Arabian, her first ancestor, so perhaps it's not so surprising:

Her view, rather wild itself today, under a big sky. Perhaps she thought she was in Wyoming:

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The Pigeon, who is descended from a long line of salty old sea dogs from Canada, disdains such temperament, but basks in the sun instead:

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My hill:

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  1. We need the book, Tania... You have got constant online backup, haven't you? Do ask if techie support required.

    And I so love the idea of Red nodding off on your shoulder like a child at the end of a long exciting day.

  2. What a wonderful post!

    And your pictures are beautiful, thank you so much for sharing them with us.


  3. Wonder what was in her mind--what sparked her moments of terror? Thank heavens she has you and the pony and the Pigeon. Speaking of which, wonder what the Pigeon thinks of her new friends, and if there is any species to species communication going on there too?



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