Ah, the hubris gods are flexing their muscles. Oddly, I quite like it when they do this. I had been getting a bit swanky with the mare. She had been in such a good mood lately, and we had been doing marvellous things together. I’m afraid I got a bit cocky. I thought that we had entered a whole new miracle realm of communion and understanding. We were as one, horse and person. I may even have congratulated myself, in the privacy of my own head, on my own equine skills. I’m ashamed to admit that I was reading a good Monty Roberts book last night, and thinking, idiotically, yes, yes, Monty, I really know all that.
Buggery bollocks, said the mare this morning, when I went up to her. Ha ha HA, she said. You think you’re all that; well, let’s see. The wind was blowing hard, and the wildness was in her; she rolled her eye at me, kicked up her heels and was off. So much for joining up; so much for our unshakeable bond. As the small Welsh person watched quizzically, Red roared round the field, jumping, twirling, squealing, doing corkscrew bucks and sixpence turns and sudden stops. Ha, she was saying; let’s see what you make of this.
Actually, she was not saying that at all. She was just being a horse. I let her. It is a lovely thing to watch; I can’t quite express the glory of a thoroughbred in full, untrammelled cry. She floats over the ground. She dances and plays, challenging the wind. I swear she hears the ancient voices, calling to her from the plains on which her ancestors roamed.
I do think she is watching me though, to see what I make of all this. She roars back towards me, comes to a streaming, shuddering halt in front of me, and looks right at me. I stand very, very still, as if to say, well that was very amusing but if you think you can freak me out you are wrong about that. We contemplate each other for a while. She shakes her head. I grin at her. Then back to school we go.
It took me an hour to get her where I wanted her. I took her right back to the most basic basics. I write of this so often, and so often I forget it. One of the best horseman I know, who trains the most obedient, beautifully mannered horses, told me not long ago that he does twenty minutes of basic groundwork before he gets in the saddle. It doesn’t matter how long he has had a horse, or how much he has taught them, every day, he goes back to the beginning. Nothing is taken for granted.
This is such a stupidly good lesson for life that sometimes I want to give that mare a prize. It’s also a really, really good rule for writing. Sometimes I get a bit hubristic about that, too. After all these years of practice, I occasionally believe that I really do know how to carry a tune. Look at me, with my rhythmic sentences and my feel for language and my playing with the form. Then I shall wake up, sit at the keyboard, and feel as if my fingers are dipped in glue. I can’t remember how to tell a story, or frame a paragraph, or even what word to type next. My mind is wiped blank; my imagination is mired in mud. I can’t see it.
Just as with the horse, I have to go back to basics. I have to be dogged and persistent and not take anything for granted. I have to remind myself that really, I know nothing. The hubris gods take me out behind the woodshed and give me a good pummelling and so they damn well should.
Now, a little chastened, I give a big sigh, and let my shoulders come down. I’m going up to HorseBack UK now, the brilliant operation I have written of before, which uses horses as part of a rehabilitation programme for wounded veterans. I shall see people who really are going back to the beginning, learning how to live a new life with an arm gone, or their legs missing. The beginning, I think: it’s not such a very bad place to be.
Some very quick pictures, because I am running late.
My bronco, in full cry:
And back to her most butter would not melt state:
And The Pigeon, who would never dream of doing circus tricks, just as long as I throw that ball for her: