The day ran away with me like a brumby. Family, horses, work, Olympic show-jumping final, and suddenly it is after tea-time and I still have eighty-seven things to do. The problem is that I am rather in bits after watching the medal presentations. I had great hopes for the British team, especially the lovely young Scot, Scott Brash. But despite the most gallant efforts of horses and riders, there was a vital fence down, and they were out of the hunt. That is all it takes at this level: the merest brush of a hoof on a piece of wood.
In the end, though, it all worked out rather well. Britain got the team gold yesterday; it would be bad manners in a host to win every damn thing. Other riders were suddenly in with a chance, and the one who rose to glory, with a foot-perfect double clear, was Steve Guerdat of Switzerland. (That’s revenge for Andy Murray annihilating Roger Federer, wrote one of my tweeters.)
There were two particularly touching things about his joy. The first thing was that, as he rode his lap of honour to the roars of the crowd, he kept pointing down at his bonny horse, the immaculate Nino des Buissonnets. Cheer for him, he seemed to be saying; he’s the one who did it. (Tom Queally always does this when he comes in on Frankel, making sure full credit is given to the equine superstar, although everyone in racing is now so in love with Frankel that the gesture is hardly necessary.)
Then, the cameras followed the smiling Swiss out of the arena. He is a hardened professional of thirty. He has worked and strived and won many competitions at the highest level. But when he slid to the ground, he hurled his arms around his horse’s neck in a wild hug, with as much abandon and gratitude and love as if he were a six-year-old boy. The horse ducked his head, as if in acknowledgement, and the rider hugged him again, holding on for dear life. And that was when I lost all my composure and wondered if I should be able to write this at all.
Horses do just make me cry. I wept like a baby at Ascot, in front of a bunch of happy Australians, when Frankel stormed home in the Queen Anne. I sobbed like a child when Kauto Star won his fifth King George. I still remember the tears coming out at right angles when Desert Orchid fought through the ground and the weather to win his Gold Cup, all those years ago. I sometimes get a little teary when Red is leaning her head on my chest and going to sleep, as I rub her neck and murmur nonsense in her ear, just because of the beauty and the sweetness and the incomprehensible connection across the species divide.
I don’t know why they make me cry so much. I think it is because they have a purity to them. Humans are complex and contradictory and complicated. (Although I admit they make me weep too, but not in quite the same way.) Horses are gloriously simple. If you treat them right, they will do anything for you. They will even try for people who don’t treat them right at all. They will run their hearts out, and jump insane obstacles, and learn new things, and put up with vast amounts of human nonsense.
I was thinking this morning, as I worked with Red, how the wrong words get applied to horses. I’ve written of this before. People say, oh he’s a bit nappy, or rather spooky, or very naughty. I’ve said these things myself. But the more I work in this new partnership, the more I realise that, with a very few exceptions, the horse is almost always doing its best. Naughtiness or nappiness are more usually confusion, because the human is asking a contradictory question, or fear, or an ancient sense memory of pain or ill-treatment or moments of peril. (Horses, like elephants, do not forget.)
I love them because they are so willing, and so honest, and they try so hard. And for some idiot reason, that brings tears to my eyes.
Myfanwy the Pony:
Red the Mare:
Here is someone else who tries hard. In contrast to yesterday’s melancholy display, today she is happy because I THREW THE BALL: