Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Of mortality and dogs and perspective police

I woke this morning feeling slightly hemmed in by death. It is of course, all to do with the dog. (Ah, the bathos.) She has an ear infection; I took her to the vet; the word tumour was spoken out loud. It is not certain, but there is a worry. I do not know what this means, but I don’t like the sound of it. We have another appointment on Friday.

I realise suddenly that ever since my father died last year, and then my other dog on the night of his funeral, something in me has been clenched and tense, waiting for this one to go. She is fourteen; she is a very, very old lady. Of course I pretend everything is normal. One can’t live one’s life just waiting for loss. I employ various techniques of denial. I treat her exactly as if she were a hale young canine, playing with her, watching her hare after her ball, giving her a good gallop each morning. She loves to run, and I think it is good for her. I am not going to patronise her by treating her like an old age pensioner.

But in the back of my mind, in the pit of my stomach, is the horrid knowledge that these are the twilight days. It is not very butch of me, but I freely admit it sometimes makes me frightened and sad.

Still, the day had to go on. The temperature was a frigid minus two, but the sun was shining like gangbusters. The horses were happy and bonny; the mare, in particular, was at her most graciously and gloriously sweet. (Perhaps she knows, the idiot part of my mind wondered. But of course she does not. It’s just that she loves this cool, still, sunny weather, and she is getting used to having her new herd member, and things are well in her world.)

I had breakfast with my family, and then drove up to HorseBack, where they were doing one of their fascinating leadership courses. Men who are building oil platforms in Dubai, or figuring out the intricacies of plumbing in a well in the North Sea, come to spend a day with the ex-soldiers and the horses, listen to talks, do challenging exercises, and learn the art of being a good leader.

‘I’ve done some of these before,’ one of them said. ‘Most of them are death by powerpoint. But this, this is real.’

I liked that, since half my life is a drive for authenticity.

I got, as always, the good conversation. I love it especially when the veterans tell me little snippets of army life, of military training, of the way their minds work. I like the language they use. ‘When I got whacked,’ one of them said today, referring to the moment when both his legs were blown off. I’ll say that is whacked.

The boss took me down to see the horses, who have been moved into a new field. The herd is so relaxed that most of them were lying down in the sun; a fine bay Thoroughbred was stretched out on his side, as if he were lounging in the South of France. I’m not sure I ever saw such a happy bunch. They do good work, and they get to live in the most natural, sociable way, not locked up in arid boxes, but out in a group as their evolution intended.

There are always good stories. I got a dilly today, about training for the Newmarket Plate, and a visit to the famous Cheveley Park Stud.

‘Wow,’ I said to my friend E, co-founder of the whole HorseBack enterprise, who told me this. ‘I dream of seeing those great sires.’

Thoroughbred stallions are very, very rarefied creatures indeed. They grow great and muscled with age; their job is to cover mares, and they are fired with testosterone. They are animals to stand back from and admire.

‘The thing is,’ said E, of a celebrated sire, ‘I just wanted to give him a cuddle.’ For all the world as if he were her tiny black Shetland, Jack, instead of a mighty horse who commands tens of thousands of pounds for each mare he is sent.

‘You didn’t?’ I said.

‘Well,’ she said. ‘Yes, I did. He was an absolute softie.’

I went away, as always, happier than when I arrived. I’m supposed to be working for them, but sometimes I think that they are doing more for me. One of the instructors said to me today: ‘It’s very hard to be in a bad mood here.’ She is right. It’s not just that there are the perspective police at every turn, reminding one that it is quite a fortunate thing to have possession of arms and legs, and something not to be taken for granted, it’s also that somehow there has been fostered an atmosphere that militates against pointless grumpiness. I cannot dwell on spectres or sorrows when I am there, and that’s the end of it.

I get back to my old lady. She waves her tail at me. I throw the ball for her and her eyes are bright and she dances about the mossy lawn, still filled with youthful delight. When she does go, my heart will be smashed, there’s no point in pretending anything else. But I shall gather up the pieces. That’s what I learn, every time I go to that place up the road. You just gather up the pieces.

In the meantime, I shall keep her going for as long as I can, and every day with her remains precious. I must not sully them with portents, but treasure each one.


Today’s pictures:

The happy horses of HorseBack UK:

10 Oct 1

10 Oct 2

10 Oct 3

10 Oct 4

I love this one. Don’t mind me, I’ll just lie here whilst you go ahead and take that call:

10 Oct 6

10 Oct 6-001

10 Oct 7

My own little herd:

10 Oct 11

10 Oct 12

10 Oct 14

My glorious old Pigeon. Someone with this much ball passion must surely have a bit of life left in her yet:

10 Oct 15

This one is completely out of focus and perfectly rotten, as a photograph, but I wanted you to see the happy face:

10 Oct 16

And the slightly reproachful throw it one more time look:

10 Oct 16-001

Link to the great organisation here:


  1. What a beautiful post. It actually brought a tear to my eye. x

    1. Beautiful Things - lovely comment; thank you so much.

  2. it is nothing. The pigeon will be fine.

    1. Anon - very reassuring. Fingers crossed.

  3. Hi Tania - LOVE the photos of the guy down next to the horse in the field - just beautiful. Speaks volumes of peace and contentment. Talk about therapeutic! And the photo of the horse nibbling the bill of the cap is wonderful too. Very playful. And therapeutic as well. And your beloved Pigeon will tell you all that you need to know. Best, Kate

    1. Kate - lovely comment; thank you. So glad you liked those pictures. Must say, I rather loved them too.

  4. What a wonderful life the lovely Pigeon doth lead. She looks like she knows it too. I believe in dogs and that's about all!

    Now here's a sad thing. I once visited the Darley Stud and we looked at the marvellous sires there and the one I remember the most is Lamtarra. He was parked down the end of the row because he was a failed sire. I have forgotten all the other Group winners in the parade, even though they were the draw. The lovely aged Lamtarra, with his head peeking over the box, getting no interest will stay with me forever. I have a bad photo too somewhere of him - I will have to try and look it out. Lamtarra would've lucked out if he could have made his home with the Pigeon and the herd.

    1. makemeadiva - Oh, what a story. I shall carry the dear picture of the poor old parked sire in my head. Wish he WAS here.

  5. I have made a hash of spelling the poor lad's name. I mean *Lammtarra. What a disgrace.

  6. I am sending positive thoughts for pigeon so her ear infection can be healed with a few antibiotics and that is all that is needed. She needs more ball years.

    1. Moonboots - such wonderful thoughts from you; thank you.

  7. All love to you and the Pigeon. I hope her ear infection is a trifle and can be easily overcome.
    I know so very exactly what you mean about the knowing and the waiting....from when my Dad died when I was just 17 I had a tension in me, which felt almost like holding myself taut, through my ribs, waiting, dreading, the day I would lose Mum too. When that day came, the day before Christmas eve six years ago, along with the terrible grief, was what I'm almost ashamed to say was a kind of release, when I think I breathed in properly for the first time in eleven years. It was like well, the worst has finally happened now I can stop worrying about it...but the thing that got me through that terrible initial sorrow, was knowing, somewhere, somehow, Mum had been reunited with Dad for Christmas time.
    In what I hope is the far far distant future I know that the Pigeon too, will be reunited with her regal sister and they will again gambol together.
    Dearest thoughts.

    1. Anne - it's always so wonderful to hear from you. I know you know all about this. The holding of the breath is such a thing; I'm so glad I'm not the only one. (Do sometimes feel a bit stupid and nuts, and castigate self for NOT breathing out.)

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  11. My great apologies for the duplication and subsequent deletion of posts.x

  12. I am useless when it comes to "dealing with" death. When the family dog (an Irish terrier/ setter mix -- medium sized with a terrier head and auburn red curly hair) after whom I was named (mother swears it! He was "Pat the Dog & I was "Patsy"...then) died at 13, we kids were so torn up, our dear father banned ever getting another dog. (I didn't get one until I was mid-20s, out of school & working!)
    And then, because of a lot of moving around, I turned into a "cat" person. Several disappeared (as tom cats are wont to do) & one who lived to nearly 18 (waiting to die, as the vet said, until I got home from the hospital with our daughter) left me thinking that they all should live at least "that long". So I still mourn the "sudden" death two and a half years ago at 14 of the cat before the current one (who is also particularly special as it runs out!). (And my cat person daughter continues to say, "Geesh, Mom, let it go! Fourteen is really 'good' for a cat!")
    All this in a very rambling way to say that, as you suggest, I try to stay in the present, putting the "what ifs" of the future as much out of mind as possible, and savor the moments.
    Thank you for reminding me of that!

  13. ,,,as it TURNS out....not runs. Sorry.

  14. Oh.... the photo of the guy and the horse on the ground....!!!! Magic!!!


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