Posted by Tania Kindersley.
Last night, from absolutely nowhere, came the Railway Children tears. (For those of you who have not seen the film, there is a scene at the end when Jenny Agutter rushes down a station platform, crying ‘Daddy, my daddy,’ when her absent father returns.) When I really miss my dad, I weep Railway Children tears, which roar up from my stomach and swamp me. I think I’ve been missing him for a bit, but I was too busy getting on with things and being stoical to pay attention. Last night, it all caught up with me. It’s over a year now, but I think perhaps this is how these things work. It’s sometimes shocking how something so long past can still hurt so much, but it also feels oddly natural and inevitable.
I woke late, shriven by the acknowledgement of grief. Today, for the first day I can remember, the sun shone for at least five hours. I dashed up to the field, took one look at my horse, and got on her.
I have not ridden for almost three weeks, on account of the weather and being away. The problem with this is that I have too much time to think. The thoughts are not pretty ones. I decide I am too old and unfit and have been away from horses too long to be dashing about the country on my own on an ex-racehorse and polo pony. I decide I am not a good enough rider for my brilliant mare. I think perhaps I am not as confident as I think I am. Because I have been reading so much about horsemanship, I am more than ever aware of my limitations.
I got on. I remembered that a saddle feels like home to me. Trepidation fled.
This was just as well, because the mare took one look at a line of trees with their anti-deer jackets on and decided they were perfectly terrifying. My new technique, which I made up on the spot, is to ignore these shows of temperament. She tenses, throws up her head, tells me with every inch of her body that she is convinced she is in dire jeopardy, and I kick on and sit low in the saddle and tell her there really are no mountain lions. The worst thing I could do is enter into the drama with her.
We went out into the wild hayfields, the furthest we have been from home. First of all, there was a perfectly shattering broken gate, which she decided she physically could not pass. Then there were some absolutely startling cows. I hate to say this about my perfect mare, but she is a little bit windy. Luckily, this gives me a proper job to do. My job is to soothe and reassure and stay steady and strong. We got past the gate, and the cows. She was still very tense and zoomy. She does find this new landscape quite alarming, and I don’t blame her. It is so far from what she has known, and the rolling open spaces and high mountains are exactly where I would expect to find lions, if I were a horse.
I came back from the ride flushed with triumph. This made me laugh quite a lot, because if the serious dressage people or the collected horse people could have seen us, they would have marked that ride as a disaster. Red was all over the shop, head in the air, going off a straight line, pulling at the bit, often too distracted by possible predators to listen to my aids. But I was not aiming for a perfect line or a rounded shape; I was not yet attempting ideal responsiveness. That will come later. When we ride more regularly, then I can concentrate on proper schooling. All I wanted her to do, in what is still a strange environment, with a person who is still a new rider to her, going out alone, which she has never done before, was to relax. I wanted to get her head down and her back loose and long and her mouth soft. And through sheer dogged patience and determination, I did, and we ended up riding gaucho-style on a long rein through those long green fields, in a lovely, rolling lope.
It was a really messy ride, and I adored it. I love that I have a high-spirited, interesting horse, who challenges me constantly. I felt oddly lucky that I could count all the positives, rather than seeing the negatives. I love that she gives me a serious job to do. I love the rather surprising fact that I seem to be up to it, even though today I would have won no marks from any judge. We fit each other, my girl and I, in some strange, mysterious way, and that feels to me like a gift.
Pictures taken this evening, in the lovely, low, Scottish light:
My dear mare:
My glorious Pigeon: