Thursday, 6 September 2012

In which a nice Young Gentleman turns out to have a natural seat

The weather starts low and black and threatening and then changes its mind and the clouds rise and faint hints of lightness and sky appear.

I go up to get the mare ready, because today is a banner day. It is the day The Young Gentleman will have his ride.

For those new to the blog, there is a Young Gent who works around here, and when he first saw Red he was very alarmed indeed. He had never met a horse and found the thought of them quite frightening. He would often have to drive through Red’s field with various bits of machinery and she was always taking the opportunity to do her Steve McQueen act because the poor Young Gent had no idea how to stop a half ton equine making a break for freedom.

In order to rectify this state of affairs, I made a formal introduction. I also gave him serious technical tips on how to make a horse back away. (‘Wave arms in the air, shout bugger off.’) The upshot was that the Young Gentleman and Red the Mare fell quite in love with each other. Soon after this, a surprising request came: could he ride her?

I went at once into severe, sensible mode. She was a thoroughbred, she was ex-racing and ex-polo, she was new here, she and I still hardly knew each other. I suggested, in what I hoped was not a patronising way, that we could start him off on a nice Highland pony or similar. Crestfallen was not the word. He only wanted Red.

I could not bear such sorrow in such a nice person, so I rather rashly promised that I would school her all summer so she was quiet as a lamb and then he could get on her.

The summer schooling was shot to hell by various setbacks, including weather, southern dashes to see Frankel, tack problems, teeth worries, and any number of other glitches. Red and I had only got into a serious riding routine in the last week or so, and then the gales started and she went into her bronco mode, which I find very funny, but would not do at all for a first-time ride.

There is also an interesting dynamic between us, just now. I can do anything with her on the ground, after all the groundwork and training I have done with her. The weather was our friend, in that way. Nothing like a little back to basics. But I wonder if I have not spoilt her a bit, and whether she thought her new life, after the hardness of polo, was just one long, delightful holiday, at some peculiar spa, with head massages thrown in. I’m not sure that it is just the wind that has been putting wildness into her under the saddle; I think it might be that she is making a small, spirited objection to going back to work, just to see if she can get away with it.

My new technique has been to go with the grain of the wildness, rather than against it. Instead of trying to reschool her as a dressage horse, I’ve gone with the circus mood. I also wondered if the slow work we were doing was just boring the hell out of her. So the last few days have been a riot of gymkhana games. I threw prettiness and elegance out of the window, shortened my reins, adopted the forward seat, and let her rip, whirling round my invented obstacle course at top speed, making sixpence turns and lightning transitions. This does seem to be working and it makes me roar with laughter, but it was not exactly the slow, dopey mode that I needed her in for the Young Gent.

Luckily, he is a strong young man, and not remotely nervous or fazed. Bugger it, I thought. He’s about to go back to a long year of engineering degree; the least he deserves is his heart’s wish. ‘The very worst thing that can happen,’ I said, ‘is that you tumble gently to the ground. We are only going to be walking.’

I explained a few basics, trying not to sound like the strident, bossy pony women. HEELS DOWN, TOES UP, ELBOWS IN, BACK STRAIGHT. The stern instructions echoed back to me from my childhood. (They were actually rather brilliant, many of those women, and some of them taught me well, but my God they were bossy.) I told him instead to relax, shoulders back and down, and to go with the movement of the horse. I said to look up, and to imagine he had a string at the top of his head, pulling it upwards. Then I left the rest on trust.

Red stood like a rock as he got on, and we moved slowly off, with me leading her. I could tell at once he would be fine, because he had the natural seat that some people are lucky to be born with. He did not tense up or lean forward or clench everything. He sat easy and true, smiling all over his face. Red, who only fifteen minutes before had been throwing about all her gauntlets, put her head down like an old cow pony and ambled around in easy circles.

It was a triumph. The love between the two was sealed forever. There was not so much as a head toss or a suspicion of a spook. The air was filled with delight.

‘There,’ I said, as he got off. ‘Now you can tell everyone at university that you have ridden the granddaughter of a Derby winner.’ (I can’t help it; I’m such a bloodline snob sometimes.)

He looked interested. ‘What was he called?’ he said.

I explained about Nijinsky. ‘He used to dance past them all,’ I said, ‘true to his name.’

I wondered if the Young Gent would go and look him up on the Google, and get a glimpse of those glory days in the seventies. I wondered if I had created a monster, and now the YG would turn into a horse bore like me, and be found buttonholing people all over Edinburgh and telling them about the Darley Arabian. This fantastic thought is still making me smile, as I write this.

But the main thing is that it was a day of jubilee, because The Young Gentleman had his ride. And Red the Mare looked after him as if he were made of Dresden china.

Today’s pictures are mostly of the heroine of the day:

Wasn’t I GOOD?:

6 Sept 1-003

Having a well-deserved pick:

6 Sept 5-003

Doing her very best Minnie the Moocher:


Her view:

6 Sept 9-003

6 Sept 10-003

6 Sept 11-003

6 Sept 12-003

A hen, for the Dear Reader who loves the hens:

6 Sept 14-003

The glorious stillness that is The Pigeon:

6 Sept 15-003

No hill today; my view is blocked by a trailer, and I’m too tired now to run round to clear ground with my camera. Pathetic, I know.

(It is possible that I’m a bit old for all that gymkhana action. There really was a moment today when I felt as if I were eleven years old. My poor old body is now reminding me sternly that I am forty-five. Still, I’m going to grow some new muscles and take some iron tonic and then we’ll see what I’m made of. This is what the Beloved Cousin calls me getting my dander up. That is the effect this lovely horse has on me; not just an expansion of the heart, but dander all over the shop.)


  1. Many thanks for the hen. I feel absurdly pleased that you give me a picture of one of them from time to time: it's like a small but perfect present at the end of the day.

  2. Love, love, love this entry. What a triumph and a lovely day. Makes me smile for the YG -- and for Red, who of course had the good sense to know (okay, and the training too) to do the right thing for her friend.



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