I got up gingerly, like a curmudgeonly old lady, checking for aches and pains. But the sun was shining and I had things to do and I was bored of being what my father used to call a Minny Moan, so off I went.
It was a HorseBack UK day. My chaise longue joke went down very well so now I really am part of the furniture and I don’t feel I have to be on my best behaviour or try to impress anyone. This is a delightful state to find oneself in, but it is oddly easy there, because the whole point of the place is to make people feel comfortable.
Comfort is a word that can be overused; it can slide into sentiment. It can have a pious ring to it, even something slightly patronising: to comfort the afflicted has the faintest whiff of de haut en bas. But comfort in its sense of ease is a lovely, true thing, and that is what you find there, under the shadow of the blue mountains.
There is no sense of one-upmanship; everyone does what they do very well, and without fuss or fanfare; the people who are visiting learn what they learn, and take what they need. One of the veterans said to me today: ‘No one is competing to see who has the worst wound.’ I thought that was interesting, especially as this group was composed of the ones who wear their scars on the inside. They do not have artificial limbs; they have wounds of the mind. From the outside, you would never know. They are charming and funny and wry and dry and articulate. I wonder if that makes it more complicated, somehow.
The funny thing was that there were some acclaimed sporting gentlemen there today. (I think they might be a secret and so shall not reveal their names or discipline.) I was very excited by this and it was part of the reason that I took my iron tonic. But in the end there was so much there to fascinate, the veterans told me so many interesting and honest things, the horses were so delightful, and every single conversation I had was so riveting, that I barely had time to shake the tall, athletic fellows by the hand, let alone admire their tremendous physique.
Still, it is absolutely brilliant that a great sport is interested in such a good organisation, and from the athletes’ smiling faces I guess that they shall be drawn back to the place as I am. As I left, my stamina feebly shot, one of the sporting gents was levering himself onto a wooden horse, and being instructed in the art of riding Western, to general waves of merriment.
I smiled as I drove home. Up at the horses’ field, Red the Mare was dozy and affectionate and faintly comical, as she sometimes is. I had been fretting, lately, about the logistics of setting up her winter quarters. ‘You know what?’ I said to her. ‘It’s just a few decisions and a bit of fencing and a new water tough. I had the perspective police good and proper today, and I marked them well.’ She nodded her head wisely, as if she could have told me this all along, if only I had had the sense to ask.
Just as I was finishing this post, feeling rather weary and wondering how my tired mind would come up with a galvanic final paragraph, an email with a short link fell into my inbox.
I opened it to discover that two women called Chrissie and Susie are walking 780 kilometres with rucksacks on their backs, over the ancient pilgrims’ route from France to Spain, all to raise money for HorseBack UK. I gazed ruefully at the iron tonic. I don’t think even an industrial vat of it would get me that far. So now I don’t need a good final line. I have two remarkable women instead. Seven hundred and eighty kilometres. ON FOOT. I swear I shall never complain of fatigue again.
The link to the Incredible Walking Women is here: http://heslop-allen.vpweb.co.uk/?prefix=www
HorseBack, as always, is here: http://www.horseback.org.uk/
Pictures of the day:
The tidiest tack room I have ever seen in my life:
Four wise professors in the University of Everything:
Work in the arenas:
The view to the south:
With Gus the foal looking on:
And inside, there is a sporting gentleman on a very splendid wooden horse:
Finally, my own girls, in sepia today, for no special reason except that it brings a waft of Edwardian elegance that pleases me: