Tuesday, 12 June 2012

A rather amazing thing; or, I tell an inordinately long horse story and attempt to draw life lessons from it.

Posted by Tania Kindersley.


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:

12 June 1

12 June 2

12 June 3

12 June 5

12 June 9

My lovely girl, having a well-deserved pick and a doze:

12 June 10-001

12 June 10

The other Lovely Girl, with her dreamy face on:

12 June 12

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:

12 June 15


  1. This got my small brain cells working - there is nothing more unpleasant than a hoss that throws its head around and it sounds a though Red is doing it to annoy you (and it's working!). Also it can be bloody dangerous - you don't want your face meeting her neck.

    Eons ago I had a retired polo pony and I rode him with a martingale - whether or not it was a standing or running one I cannot remember (we are going back 40 years here ...). Did the Auld Fella ride her with one? Perhaps you could borrow one and see if this sorts out the problem and if it does then go and get one.

  2. Return of the Native - so interesting about the martingale. Yes, he did ride her in one for general riding, and then of course in polo they have more tack than you can shake a stick at. Oddly, today I rather radically took the martingale off and just rode her in her snaffle. I wanted to get her, and me, as relaxed as possible. And it really did seem to work. Apart from a couple of half-hearted shaking attempts at the beginning, she went kindly and sweetly, with no head action at all. So, fingers crossed. :)

  3. Oh, I am pleased for you. Soon I am going to write on my blog about my riding lessons, just taken up as an adult learner at the age of fifty-five. When it is done I shall put a link on here. Then you will all laugh. I mean, really, really LAUGH!

  4. Oh you have The Committee too. I also have the Defence Lawyers, vigorously arguing my case, frequently when there is no case to argue.

  5. Oh yes indeed: The Committee, the Defence Lawyers, the lot. Judge and bloody jury. Every mistake endlessly analysed by the lot of 'em. Except, oddly enough, when I'm swimming.

  6. Great post... and I will admit to a secret giggle at you calling someone "The Auld Fella". Why? Well, in the movie "Withnail & I", the lead character refers to his tallywhacker as "The Old Chap". Which, you will admit, is rather similar. Hee hee heeeeee!

  7. ...am a strictly not animal person, but swear to god, your 2 are just fab and i want them in my gang...

  8. Divine posting! Totally relate. In every way. I have an Appaloosa here in Tanzania ... And a very similar relationship with him...I adore all your stories, especially Red ones...and Pigeon ones... Three dogs on the hill here! Gorgeous blog. Thanks! X j

  9. Wonderful...and oh, that photograph of the lichen covered tree trunks...love, love, love.

  10. Wonderful - the post and the pictures.

  11. Tania, thank you for letting me know about the issues with my blog address. There was a problem with the helenahalme site before, but I thought I'd sorted it out. It's to do how it loops from my we provider to wordpress to blogspot…boring, boring. Thank you for trying, what you could do is to have the address as www.helenahlme.blogspot.com which should still work, while I try to sort the problem out.

    You're so kind to have me on your blogroll without these problems!

    Helena xx

    PS. I don't seem to have your email so that's why I'm corresponding here! Lovely post, I wish I could ride! xx

  12. Stash -- and remember -- this feeling (while cantering through the tall grass), so that, if and when the voices get bolshy, you can more easily tell them to stuff it.
    I keep sending mine "on vacation" (easier said than done, I admit). Those inner critics are the worst!


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