Posted by Tania Kindersley.
WARNING FOR LENGTH, AND EQUINE OVERLOAD.
What with the book and the filthy weather and the lack of time, I have not ridden my mare for many days. Now the book was done, it was time to get back in the saddle.
I had been doing a great deal of groundwork with Red, and this is a very, very good thing in itself. It builds up the trust between us, and also it lets me get to know her. We are, after all, strangers who have only been recently introduced. I still don’t know all her quirks and moods, and she certainly does have them.
But, there is absolutely no point in having a thoroughbred if you are just going to keep it as a pet. You need to get on and ride. The problem is, the thing I could not admit to anyone, hardly even myself, is that my confidence had taken a little knock. The last time I rode her was not a huge success. She sometimes does this fussy thing with her head, and she was doing it a lot on that last ride, and it had stuck in my mind.
I had thought of various different reasons: it could be something muscular, some form of discomfort. But I kept checking her and checking her, and there was nothing. She does it when she is not wearing tack, so it was not the saddle or bridle. I did think it might be an avoidance tactic. She does have a stubborn streak, which oddly I rather love (I admire her for not being a pushover) and I wondered whether this was her form of resistance, just to see who was really in charge. But, made stupid with the deadline stress and lack of sleep, I started entertaining the horrid thought that it was me.
You see, she’s been used to The Auld Fella, my cousin’s husband, from whom I bought her. He is the best horseman I ever saw. He was born in the saddle; he comes from a long line of horse people. He learnt his trade in the wild plains of Brazil and Argentina. And now, Red has me.
Well, I started saying to myself, you think you are all that, with your good seat and your upbringing in a stable, but really you are a middle-aged woman who has not seriously been on a horse for THIRTY YEARS. That nasty inner critic began telling me that I had vastly over-estimated my own abilities. Ha, it said, you just think you can leap on Nijinksy’s grand-daughter and pretend you are Ruby bloody Walsh? (The inner critic is very rude indeed.)
I could not admit this to anyone. It started to become a huge thing in my head, as the perspective police took a sabbatical. The only way to shut it up was to get back on.
Today, the sun came out for five minutes, and so I did get back on. I did some proper groundwork, and got Red into the right frame of mind, and then I took a deep breath and gently eased myself into the saddle. Up went the head. Shake, nod, fuss fuss. In my mind, it had become a thing; once I was in the reality, it was nothing. She’s just being a bit silly with her head; it’s not the end of everything. I actually laughed out loud at her. You think this is going to work? I asked her. She rolled her head about, as if to say: it’s worth a try. I rode her on and relaxed my body and put her into some tight circles, left and right, to show her that I was not having any bloody nonsense. I sat deep in the saddle and called on my old instincts.
And then, like magic, everything was all right. It was as if she had come to some kind of decision. I took her out into the big meadow, and rode her on a loose rein, gaucho-style. She let down her back and walked out for me, as if she had never had a mulish thought in her head.
I pushed her into her glorious, long, rolling canter, doing what I call the cowboy canter, where I sit right back in the saddle, open up my shoulders, look up to the sky, ride her with one hand, and pretend I am on the prairies of Wyoming. (Too much My Friend Flicka at a young age.) She was so relaxed and responsive that it took only a word and a twitch on the rein to bring her back to a walk.
When I jumped off, I thanked her. Horses don’t generally respond to sounds that much, not in the way dogs do. If you watch the really good natural horsemen, they almost always work in silence. I do tell her well done, when she learns something new or is especially clever, but I don’t know if it means anything to her. Today, though, I said Thank you, thank you, out loud, and she did look quite pleased with herself.
I tell you these horse stories because they are never just about the horse. I think there really are life lessons, buried away in here. I’ve written before about how much my mare has taught me about patience. Today, she taught me something about determination and trust and belief in oneself. She taught me that I really can tell that inner critic to bugger off. I let something grow large in my head; the remedy to it was to get out of the head, and into the visceral and physical. She gave me the Nike lesson of Just Do It.
I’ll never be as brilliant as The Auld Fella, but that’s all right. It’s not a competition. I can be good enough for my dear mare, and we can roll along together, in harmony, and have fun and not be graded by the Committee. (I do sometimes feel as if I carry The Committee in my brain, where they set up with clip-boards, pursing their lips and marking me down on every error.) I have been away from horses for a long time, and I have forgotten a lot, and I need to be humble and admit I have a lot to relearn.
Today was so particularly amazing and wonderful and joyful because the lovely red horse took my bashed confidence in her delicate little hooves and gave it back to me, all polished and new again. As we cantered through the long spring grass, it felt like flying. It was actual and metaphorical, this flying through the bright June air and, after weeks of hunching over a computer, battling with my writing demons, wrangling wrangling wrangling that damn manuscript into shape, that feels like a bit of a miracle to me.
And now, some pictures for you:
My lovely girl, having a well-deserved pick and a doze:
The other Lovely Girl, with her dreamy face on:
Doing all this work with Red has made me realise afresh what a miracle dog the Pigeon is. She will sit, stay, walk to heel, chase a ball and give a paw for a biscuit. Everyone who meets her loves her. She is immaculate, and I should never take that for granted for a single moment.
The hill, very stately today: