The problem with having animals is that they paw and nip and scratch and yip at your heart. If my creatures are not happy, I find it impossible to be sanguine. Also, there is the fatal disadvantage that they do not speak English. You cannot say to a dog with its Disney face on: I am just going to the shop and shall be back in twenty minutes. The dog thinks: I am being abandoned and shall so die.
Today, there was a classical example of the be careful what you wish for cautionary tale. The sun came out. The sun came out. Scotland looked gaudy and glorious, like a gloomy old lady who has suddenly got her mojo back and remembers the beauty of her youth. After moaning about the dreich for weeks, I should have been delighted. I should have danced a little dance. Instead, I shot out of bed in a state of high anxiety and zoomed up to the mare to check on the fly situation.
Red, I discover, is not just a duchess, she is the bloody princess and the sodding pea. If a fly so much as bats its wings in her direction, she feels it. It’s her posh thin skin. Her eyes were tender and weeping; her body shivering and contracting with the beastly fly menace. I settled her as best I could, rushed back for breakfast and vital pieces of work, and then went to the internet for fly remedies.
Should I get sheets, masks, sprays, supplements? People say horse garlic is good; some swear by cider vinegar. Everything cost about eight hundred pounds and besides, it would have to be delivered. Before I slaughtered my credit card, I went to my new spiritual home, the Horse and Hound forum, to see if there might be answers. Bath the eyes with cool tea bags, said the clever people there.
All right, I thought. Let’s try home remedies first. I got the tea bags. I also found some lovely calendula balm which I had bought from a brilliant woman in Cirencester craft market on one of the trips south to the Beloved Cousin. I doctored this with citronella from the chemist. The lady in there was very smiley and understanding when I explained about the horse problem, and sold me her entire stock of citronella oil without batting an eyelid.
Back up to the poor afflicted horse I dashed. The pony, who has the marvellously thick skin of the Welsh mountains, and does not notice the flies, watched with interest as I got out my lotions and potions. Red was not happy; all her veins were up, in the thoroughbred way, and she was pawing at the ground and shaking her head. Bloody sunshine, I thought savagely, brushing away the ghastly feasting horseflies (which really do hurt, and had even drawn blood) with murder in my heart. I need some nice broken cloud and a good wind off the mountain to clear these beasts.
The eyes were bathed. I anointed the mare’s entire body with my new preparation, which turned out to be the stuff of legend. It soothed her poor skin, and the flies seemed wary of the citronella smell.
So it was, that I ended up in a sunny field, at eleven-thirty in the morning, giving my horse a massage. I am not really that hippy dippy; I do not believe in horoscopes or homeopathy or all the other bogus things beginning with H. For all my faith in love and trees, I cling to empiricism. The old horse people would have shrieked had they seen me, massaging my mare. And quite frankly, had she not been loving it so much, I would have felt utterly idiotic. But her dear head went down and her lower lip started to wobble and her eyes fluttered shut and every muscle in her body was saying: thank you.
I found a tense, cross horse, and I left her dozing and dopey. Along with the empiricism, I have a strong utilitarian streak. I love ideology and theory, but I love what works. This made up on the hoof treatment worked, better than I could have dreamt. I did not have to spend many pounds, I just had to spend my time. That seems like a huge metaphor for the good life.
The only problem is that I am now resolved to do this three times a day and if my agent finds out she will shoot me. Something will have to give. No more peeks at the four-thirty at Haydock in the afternoons; up two hours earlier in the morning. The schedule shall have to be ruthlessly re-jigged. But I shall do anything, any damn thing I can think of, to keep that glorious creature happy.
The sun may not please the horse, but it does make the colours in Red’s View sing:
I found this old mare tight with tension, and left her with her dopey old donkey face on:
The famous lower lip, the absolute barometer of her moods:
And the miracle of the tea bags – tea bags – meant that the dear eye went from puffy and pink to beautiful again in under fifteen minutes. Who knew? Well, except for every single person at the Horse and Hound:
The Pigeon obviously would much rather be chasing a stick, but if I insist, she will kindly put her Greta Garbo face on for the camera: