Monday, 3 September 2012

Return. Home and horses and politics and swallows.

The first thing, of course of course, after the second 250-mile leg of journey, was to dash up to the mare. She does such a funny thing when I return from trips. She pretends she is very, very grumpy indeed. She turns her back and swishes her tail and rolls her eyes, as if to say: what kind of time do you call this? I josh her out of it. You silly old donkey, I say. She throws her head about as if to indicate that this is not a proper form of address for a granddaughter of Nijinsky.

After about five minutes of this, she gives in, and admits that she is actually very pleased to see me indeed. She ducks her head at me, so I can scratch the sweet spots by her ears; her eyelids flicker, her lower lip wibbles, she breathes a long, loud, rattling sigh.

By the end, we are all in harmony again. I’m ashamed to say I actually sniff her. (I really am glad there is no one about. I’m not sure what the farmer would say if he saw me sniffing my horse.) The smell is one of the things I love most about her. It’s a scent of earth and air and healthy horse, and some sweet smell all her own. I’ve been with polo ponies all week, and they are all beautiful and enchanting and have great thoroughbred bloodlines, but none of them smells as good.

That was the weekend. Now I am back at work, into my stern autumn regime. Term has started. There was no time this morning for mooching about in the field, but a quick, serious ride. After the stop-start of the wet summer, I am banking on a good September, so the mare and I can both get match fit. We do neck-reining and transitions. She makes an initial protest after her ten days’ of loafing, and then settles to her work. I feel ridiculously, stupidly pleased.

It was interesting being with the Cousin and the Old Fella during the season. Usually, my trips to the south are in the winter, when all the horses are laid off, and the Old Fella goes to South America to work. Now, it is time of matches and practise.

There must be about forty polo ponies, almost all of them at their physical peak. They are worked twice a day; exercise in the very early morning, around seven, and then schooling and stick-and-balling in the afternoon. Some of them are old playing veterans; some are young stock, just learning their trade. They are all kept out, in their most natural state, in two big herds. I think not all polo yards do this, but the Old Fella believes that horses should be horses, and they are at their happiest when getting filthy out in the open air. They can roll and canter around and the young ones have play fights. The herd dynamic is evident, in all its ancient glory: the boss mare, the strict pecking order.

Back home, I think, as I give Red her special head massage, with citronella balm to keep off the flies, that she has got a whole new bargain. She used to run with a huge pack, with all the untrammelled horsiness that involves. Now she just has one small Welsh pony to boss about, but she gets the devoted and undivided attention of one human. She loses the wild herd; she gains the focused love.

In a big professional yard, like the one she lived in, she would have been very well treated. His horses all adore the Old Fella. But he has a job to do; he is on the go literally from dawn to dusk. (I always admire this kind of hard, physical, unrelenting work, and the people who do it.) There is no time for him to stand with one horse, for an hour at a time, as I do, just rubbing and scratching and chatting.

Red seems pretty happy with her bargain. When I am grooming her, she turns her head right round, and presents her forehead for affection. In the minutes after I returned, she rested on my shoulder, and went to sleep. I could feel her dropping and relaxing, as if to say: oh yes, my person is back.

I had a lovely time in the south. The extended family gives me joy like almost nothing else. I got to ride some prime equine athletes. (I even bought special new boots for the occasion. If the Old Fella was going to let me up on his polo stars, I had to be exceptionally well shod.) But as I look out over the grass and old stone walls and the beech trees, as I hear the lilting murmur of the birds and the slow doze of the Pigeon as she rests beside me, I think: there really is no place like home.



I always like it, in newspaper or periodical articles, when they do a little postscript about things to look out for this week. Or some kind of Coming Soon.

Here are my things for the week:

The swallows, amazingly, are still here. I thought they would be gone by now. They are mustering like mad, and flying like gangbusters, getting their muscles up for the long flight to Africa. I rather dread the day when the air will no longer vibrate with the whirring of their brilliant wings, but at the same time it is one of the marking of the seasons that I love.

The political season swings back into action. I think: come on, government, plan for growth, plan for growth. I’d love to see Dear old Blighty back on her feet again. Because of my repudiation of tribalism, I don’t really care any more if a policy is Left or Right.  I mind if it is good or bad. I want the politicians of all stripes to do well, so the country can lift its head and shake off its malaise. We have been catching glimpses of glory again during these Olympics and Paralympics; it would be lovely to carry that sense that anything is possible into daily economic and political life.

My inner geek stretches itself and raises its head as the American election campaign gets into gear. I give you due warning: I shall have a very great deal to say about Mitt Romney. He is one of the most unfathomable and contradictory men I have ever observed in public life. It’s not just that the election fascinates me, it’s that I think he is one of the most complex individuals I have seen on the international stage. I’m going to work him out if it kills me.


Today’s pictures:

The road home. When I veer off the main highway for the last leg over the hills to my house, this is what I see:

3 Sept 1

3 Sept 2

3 Sept 3

3 Sept 4

3 Sept 5

3 Sept 6

3 Sept 7

Some pictures from the south:

Smallest cousin, with her faithful shadow, The Pigeon:

3 Sept 8

And Pigeon, on her own basking:

3 Sept 15

Godson, on his own lovely mare:

3 Sept 10

Old Fella, Godson, and middle cousin, also known as The Dancing Queen, at full tilt:

3 Sept 10-001

No time to take pictures here yet; have been too busy getting organised. Here is Red, from the day before I left:

3 Sept 11


  1. Ooh, ooh, oh another sniffer! I do that too. I have a lovely Labradoodle dog that doesn't shed and she smells divine. Not massively doggy and the bit by her neck where the leather collar goes...... Anyway, made the children laugh on holiday when I was 'smell starved' and I sidled up to this Labradoodle and pretending to fuss it tried to have a crafty sniff but it wasn't the same. Children were SO embarrassed. 'Mother! You weren't trying to sniff that dog were you?' General rolling of eyes....
    Anyway, glad you had a lovely time down south and great to have you back.

  2. welcome back, missed your posts!

  3. I still sniff my cat, who is just over a year old and still carries traces of kitten in his fur. The road home is comforting.

  4. Glad to have you back, and glad you had a wonderful time. Kindly warn us now if you are off to Champions Day at Ascot, LOL.

    Has the herd dynamic changed between Red and Myfanwy? When the pony first arrived, you mentioned that she was the dominant one. Once they settled in together, did Red become the leader?

    PS And if you can figure out Mitt Romney, more power to you. He may be a decent guy, but some of his backers, in my opinion, are just plain horrifying.

  5. Great to have you back and love the idea of you sniffing the horse. I too sniff the dogs. Love the comments from anonymous Sally at her attempts at secretive sniffing.

    Your views are amazing. I understand why there is no place like home for you.

  6. Smells are so important. You hear people talk about the smell of their baby's skin or hair... newly dating couples are hooked on each other's scent... I love the smell of each of my cats' fur, each has its own separate scent. Not at all strange that you should bond with Red through smell. It's very primal.

  7. Nice to have you back. Those pictures are so good - that winding road coming back home must be such a nice thing to see.

  8. Welcome home, you've been missed. What a beautiful view you have driving in - you must look forward to it.

    And best of luck sorting out Mitt Romney. Please share your thoughts. I'm completely confused by him. :)

  9. Mitt Romney is as solid as a paper doll (albeit an incredibly wealthy one). It's the people behind him, pulling the strings (to mix metaphors), who need to be ferreted out and scrutinized.
    My sister is convinced the election has already been bought and, while we will all dutifully vote, the dirty deal is already done.
    Depressing, frustrated, incredulous and gob-smacked are words which immediately spring to mind.

    I won't go on.

    Welcome home! (I'll be back on that side of the Atlantic on Friday.)

  10. Please figure out mitt Romney..... I have to vote and I can't do the thinking without getting distracted by my new pup, which is undoubtedly nicer.

  11. Welcome home!
    I so badly miss the smell of Fig, it was like toast and home and bed and something all just him. I used to bury my head in his fur when he snuggled up at night and could feel him purring through my nose.


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