Today, I had the best ride ever on my mare. We have had good rides before, but lately it has been a bit hit and miss. There was the fussing thing with the head, which I could not quite get to the bottom of, and also a tension behind the saddle. Was it just ordinary thoroughbred temperament? Was it reaction to a new rider? Was it some kind of physical discomfort? Was it a test?
One by one, I ticked off the physical and practical probabilities. Over the last few weeks, I have had the brilliant man from Perthshire to deal with her back. He stretched her muscles and soothed her sore spots. I got the clever woman from Logie Coldstone to come and tend to her feet. The delightful saddle-fitter from Keith arrived to fit the perfect saddle. At last, yesterday, the Alpha Vet pitched up to check her teeth. There was some undignified rasping. A huge metal object, like a wrench, goes right into the back of Red’s mouth; her duchessy side does not think this is appropriate at all.
The vet gave me a bit of a quizzical look. After all, he had done her teeth only three months ago. But still, I was not taking any chances. It was belt and braces all the way.
This morning, the sun came out and I tacked her up and got on. I was a little wary, because if, after all this, there was still a glitch, I could only conclude that it was me. I was a rotten rider and she was pining for the light hands and perfect seat of The Auld Fella.
We went off very slowly. There are young cows in the hayfields now, and I was not risking some kind of madness of crowds, even though the farmer says I may ride among them. We stuck to the gentle tracks instead, and travelled at a stately pace. Red shook her head, tested the bit, thought for a moment, and then let out a great equine sigh of relief. She stretched herself, put her head down, and fell into a glorious, easy lope. It’s very difficult to describe the difference, but it was immense.
We beat the bounds, in ecstatic harmony. It was as if I had been driving a car with the handbrake on, and now suddenly someone had noticed and taken the damn thing off. I felt a faint, haunting sense of guilt. I had not understood how she could be so good on the ground, and so tight and not easy under the saddle. All that time, I think now, she had been in some kind of uncomfort. I don’t say pain, because she is perfectly clever enough to have bucked me off, if something had really been hurting. Also, we did have good moments before, so it cannot have been too awful. My suspicion is that a combination of back, saddle, and teeth had been bothering her, and the bother was increasing as time went on, and, by the end, it was as if I were asking someone to run a marathon in a pair of tight high heels.
Now, I had given her the equivalent of a pair of lovely old All Stars, and she was as happy as a pig in clover.
There were about twenty-seven interesting things that I drew from all this. One is that horses really will do pretty much anything for you, even if they are not in their optimum state. Something was amiss, and she had been trying to tell me, and it took a while for me to get it, but she still did go on and do her work. (This makes me feel a bit teary and humble.) The second specific equine thing is: it’s really easy to be a good rider if you are on a happy horse. Today, I was like William Fox-Pitt at the Olympics; I could have given Charlotte Dujardin a run for her money. When your horse is moving easily forward, filled with joy and momentum, you pretty much just have to sit up straight to be brilliant. All my jittery confidence came zooming back; the revitalised Red reminded me that I could do this. The third thing, which may apply to horses and life, is: check everything.
That is my life lesson, the check everything thing. With horses, everybody says it: teeth, back, saddle. That is the mantra. All these things involve organisation and finding the right person and making appointments. People do not call back and there is the matter of time and logistics. I had rather hoped it was just something between the mare and me, so I had been a little dilatory. In the end, it was the checking of the basics that made all the difference. I’m always banging on about how one should say the thing; now I add to it the idea that one should do the thing. I finally dialled all the numbers, took the sterling advice, and now it is as if I have a whole new horse.
Poor Red, I thought. I really was a bit slow on the uptake. I blessed the bad weather, which meant we had not been riding that much, and the days that I chose to do groundwork instead. I blessed the fact that I had taken the time to get to know her, so that I could see if she was throwing her head and being a bit mulish there was more to it than temper. (She does not have any temper; she has a streak of wildness in her, from her fine blood, but her default setting is sweetness and willingness.) I was glad I had read all that stuff that told me I must listen to my horse. I have angst I did not listen more carefully, quicker, sooner. But we have got there in the end, and the lovely thing about the mare is that she does not hold it against me.
We rode back in such harmony that I let go of the reins and did special stretching exercises with my arms whilst she guided herself home. I felt her move under me with grace and ease. The future spooled out in front of us, glittering with promise.
I felt towards her, as I so often do, a passionate gratitude. People talk about the once in a lifetime horse. There is always one, that stands above the rest, that catches your heart like no other, that can never be matched. I think that she is my once in a lifetime horse. She is my Frankel, my Kauto Star, and I can’t quite believe my great good fortune.
Red the Mare:
Who, along with her departed sister, is my once in a lifetime dog.
PS. Wrote this at the end of the day, rather tired. It’s not my finest piece of writing, but my eyes are crossing and there is no time for an edit. I just really did want to tell you this little parable, so forgive my clumsy paragraphs.