Warning for length, horsiness, and dogginess.
The snow came again quite seriously, falling with intent all morning. I defy weather, and I had work to do, so out into the white I went, with my faithful fellow by my side.
The work was not with the mare, who has reached such a pitch of perfection that all I have to do is ten minutes of easy drill to keep her on an even keel. I had some thoughts of riding her over the winter, but the weather is too much; either thick snow like now, or hard frost, or bottomless mud. I love the groundwork so much that I don’t mind. I’m going to let her down, and get all the polo out of her system, and encourage all those hard muscles to relax, and then bring her back in the spring.
She thinks this is a tremendous plan, and is as happy and calm as I have ever seen her.
No, the work was not with my highly-bred duchess, but with the little Welsh mountain person. Myfanwy had apparently developed a princess complex whilst I was away, and was refusing to be caught. The Barefoot Trimmer came and could not even do her hooves, because she was romping round the field with her head in the air and that was that.
One of the things I am very firm on with my horses is manners, and biddability. I am gentle with them, but there are lines they may not cross. This makes them feel safe and secure, since, just like small children, they know where the boundaries lie; it also means they are a pleasure to work with. When the hoof goes over those lines, back to basics we go.
So, this morning, I decided to take the pony back to join-up. It’s quite hard doing this in a big field; generally it’s done in a small, round pen. When I first did it with the mare it took almost an hour, and I blessed every cussed bone in my body, the ones that do not allow me to give up. The little pony had got quite fat over the summer, and we had to put her on a regime, which is just now bearing fruit. Still, she is not exactly a greyhound. But as I sent her away, she raced over the snowy ground like a racehorse, belly to the ground, her little legs going like the clappers, her jaw set in a determined line.
This is really not going to work, said the defeatist voice in my head. Keep buggering on, said the stubborn voice, which will not be denied.
Off she went, off I stomped, keeping her moving, as if this was all my idea. After about twenty minutes, she was still full of running, and my dander was starting to droop. But then she did the thing of flicking her ear towards me, and she slowed down, and started looking at me, and I went very calm and still until she came to my side. And suddenly, there we were, together, and she was walking at my shoulder, turning in figures of eight, stopping when I stopped, connected, miraculously, by that invisible thread of communion. I had got her back.
I am not ashamed to say that I raised my arms in triumph like a boxer after an impossible bout. The pony, who loves it when she does a job well, looked inordinately pleased with herself. I covered her in congratulations. Red the Mare, watching, did a stately slow-motion buck, as if to say: hey, Spanish Riding School of Vienna over here, just in case you’re interested.
Small animal triumphs are keenly sweet to me. I felt as happy and fulfilled as if I had written a prize-winning book.
Still flushed with delight, I suddenly heard a wild shout. The kind Sister had taken Stanley the Lurcher for a short walk whilst I was working with the horses. We thought it a good idea for him to get to know the family. She was putting him back in the car, taking his lead off, when he suddenly leapt out and ran away. We are at least a quarter of a mile from a road, but even so. The strict lead on at all times rule is in force, because he is a rescue, and still does not know this place, and I’m not taking any chances. I do not know yet how good his recall is, or if he might get disoriented and not find his way back to me.
I ran, horrid imaginings chasing themselves through my head. All that trust the good rescue people had put in me, and look what had happened. I shouted and shouted his name, more in desperation than hope. And then, suddenly, there was a flash of red brindle against the snow, and there he was, galloping towards me at full pelt, his face filled with delight. He came back.
I cannot tell you how proud of him I was. He is number one top miracle dog and I cannot believe his goodness and cleverness.
Once we got over the shock, we worked out that he had been perhaps having a little separation anxiety, and was heading back to the house to try and find me. When he heard my voice, he dashed back the other way. There was a discernible look of flooding relief on his face when he saw me.
‘That is going to be a one-woman dog,’ said The Sister, in admiration.
Well, we learnt that lesson, and all contingencies are now in place. But oh, oh, my good, brilliant creatures. I could not be more impressed and proud.
Filled with joy, I went home and settled Stanley the Genius on his bed and wrote 967 words of book. So it really was a good day.
As I sat down to write this, a rather rarefied and elegant invitation dropped into my inbox. I don’t get that many invitations these days, but this one was a dilly. Metropolitan, and chic, and quite unexpected. I had to write with regret that I should not be getting out my best frock and putting on my party shoes, because I should be in the snowy north, stomping about a muddy field in my gumboots, with literal and metaphorical straw in my hair.
Instead of making cocktail conversation with The Interesting People I shall be going into transports over the antics of a small, woolly mountain pony, and a lost mutt of a dog. It’s funny how much my life has changed since those old urban days when the party shoes were on practically every night.
I would not swap one inch of it.
Stanley the Lurcher, in action:
There is still a slightly questing, uncertain look in those lovely eyes. It will go, the surer he becomes of his new place and his new human:
With The Sister, in her very smart red boots:
The happy little herd, all rugged up against the snow:
The hill, lost in the snow:
We haven’t had the Pigeon for a couple of days. I always remember loving it when I took pictures of her in a low light, and her black fur turned dark blue. I miss that face very much still: