Saturday, 31 March 2012

In which I attempt to think like a horse

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

The mare and I move onto a new plane. It is very interesting to me. At first, she treated me with the distant politeness of a stranger. She is generally a courteous horse; she does not barge or push. But she was keeping something in reserve, not yet quite sure of me.

Now, she is starting to know me, and her behaviour shifts accordingly. This morning, in the box, I swear she was teasing me. She swung her head towards me, to let me scratch behind her ears, then away again, then back for more scratching, then away. Then she nibbled at my hand and checked my pockets for apples. Then the head came back for more scratching. It was a little dance, a small game. It made me laugh out loud.

We went for a much longer ride than normal, two and a half hours, right out into the glen. I took her through a part of the forest we had not been to before, and she was very brave and good. It still amazes me how well she rides out alone. She is accustomed to being worked in a pack; this solitary venturing into quite new territory with a quite new person must seem startlingly strange to her.

The head will still go up on occasion, scanning the horizon for danger, but now almost all the time her neck is down and relaxed, and her stride is easy and free. Today, I even rode her for a bit without reins, as a little test. It’s a sort of mutual trust thing.

We go along more and more easily together, and it gives me the sort of profound satisfaction that I cannot put into words. I feel my muscles strengthening and my old instincts coming back. We move in perfect harmony, as if to silent music.

There are rare, momentary tussles. She suddenly decides she wants to go one way, I wish her to go another. It is very important that I win these small contests, but without any roughness; she needs to know I am in charge, but that I should never hurt or frighten her. (I can’t bear it when I see people yanking at horses, or booting them.)

If she has one tiny undesirable habit, it is that occasionally she fusses a bit with her head. Today, when we were cantering along the grassy two furlong gallop, she suddenly did this. Up went the head, shaking about, and she lost her stride. I wondered if she were having a bit of a polo flashback. This could not stand, so I walked her round in a loop, back to the beginning, made her do a good forward walk, then a collected trot, then a slow canter, and, seeing she was calm and concentrating, pushed her on into a half gallop. She was foot perfect. I congratulated her at the end as if we had won a race.

This give and take between horse and rider fascinates me. It’s a physical, instinctive thing, but I also find it mentally interesting. I have to learn to think like a horse. I remember her ancestral past, her herd instincts, the importance of hierarchy.

In the wild, horses generally do not need to assert their dominance by acts of aggression, unless it is two stallions fighting over mares. It is more intangible, to do with presence. You can see this most clearly in racehorses; the winners have something indefinably extra about them, it is in the way they carry themselves, as if they are little kings and queens. So, I think, in this new relationship, I need to stand tall, be firm and consistent and confident, and then she will know I am a proper person in which to rest her trust. It is a question of inviting, rather than forcing.

Each day, the bond grows and the trust deepens and the knowledge extends. My heart opens like a flower in springtime. For Red, I think it is much more simple. As long as I scratch that sweet spot behind her ears, and give her a bit of apple, and keep her well supplied with hay, she is happy. In return, I get shooting stars of joy. It’s a bloody good bargain. I love her and love her and love her, and I can't quite believe she is mine.


Pictures of the day:

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31 March 2 31-03-2012 15-51-15 3126x2360

31 March 3 31-03-2012 15-51-38 3143x2461

31 March 5 31-03-2012 15-52-48 4032x3024

31 March 5 31-03-2012 15-52-56 4032x3024

31 March 6 31-03-2012 15-53-42 3352x2490


31 March 10 30-03-2012 15-28-31 3024x4032


31 March 11 31-03-2012 15-54-03 3024x4032

31 March 12 31-03-2012 15-54-04 3024x4032


31 March 15 31-03-2012 15-55-01 3016x2490

Friday, 30 March 2012


Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Red the Mare had another rest day today, after her shots. (Also, my beaten up old car was in the garage.) I missed her so badly that as soon as the very kind gentleman gave me back my beautifully fixed motor, I drove like the wind to see her. She was loafing about in the sun, happy as an entire colony of clams.

I stood with her for a bit, rubbed her ears, had a bit of a chat.

I thought, in my head:


Then I rubbed her ears some more. She very kindly let me. I fed her a bit of apple, which she likes very much. I felt profoundly lucky. My God, the luck.

Then I went home and there was the Pigeon, waiting for me, greeting me with her familiar bouncing up and down. She knows she is not allowed to jump, but she cannot contain her delight, so she bounces on the spot like Tigger.

I rubbed her ears, had a bit of a chat. Then I gave her some biscuits.

I thought, in my head:


So, you see, I have no coherent thoughts for you today. Every atom in my body is dancing with the horse and dog love.

And the sun is dazzling and the sky is blue and nothing else matters, just at this very moment.

Pictures of the day:

The wild part of the garden, with everything just coming into its singing green:

30 March 1 30-03-2012 11-57-34 4032x3024

That little apple tree was only planted last year; see how merrily it blossoms:

30 March 2 30-03-2012 11-57-45 4032x3024

Looking south over the hills:

30 March 3 30-03-2012 11-58-21 3996x1636

Despite the signs of spring, the limes are still quite bare:

30 March 4 30-03-2012 12-01-39 4032x3024

But these little fellows (chestnuts, I think) are putting on their fine fig:

30 March 5 30-03-2012 12-02-00 4032x3024

And the willow is out:

30 March 6 30-03-2012 12-02-37 3024x4032

Two days ago, there was no blossom on the cherry trees. It has appeared, suddenly, quite without warning:

30 March 8 30-03-2012 12-05-34 3024x3241

Sun on the wall:

30 March 10 30-03-2012 12-06-54 3024x4032

I don't know if some strange thing is happening in my brain, but I really think she is getting more beautiful with each passing day:

30 March 14 30-03-2012 15-26-58 1508x2657

30 March 15 30-03-2012 15-28-35 3024x4032

You can see that her paddock has rotten grazing. Never fear. She is soon to be moved to a field so gloriously grassy that she shall be in horse heaven.

And talking of beauty:

30 March 15 30-03-2012 11-57-51 4032x3024

30 March 16 30-03-2012 11-59-35 3024x4032

The Pidge was looking so splendid today that I put a picture of her up on my Facebook page. She got six Likes. I felt stupidly, giddily proud.

The arrival of the horse has shifted the creature love up into a whole other gear. There is a very, very real danger that I risk becoming a perfect animal bore, never again able to discuss anything else. I must guard against this. But oh, oh, oh, the beauty. Such loveliness, on which to rest my eyes.

The hill, at its most blue:

30 March 17 30-03-2012 12-07-34 3683x2076

One of the things we wrote in Backwards was that there are so many different kinds of love. We were a bit grumpy about romantic love getting all the press.

I remember listing the kinds of love. I think there was family love, friend love, creature love, place love. I'm not sure if I mentioned thing love, but there is that too – I have a lot of love for inanimate objects like my bashed old copy of The Wasteland, dog-eared from repeated reading, or my Lartigue photograph. I love The Great Gatsby and Mrs Dalloway. I love trees.

(If the Younger Brother is reading this, all the way in the Far East, he will be shrieking at my old inner hippy coming out in such a shameless manner.)

This week, for all that there was a difficult day, and I am battling a bit with my work, I got huge doses of family love, place love (Scotland never looked so glorious as in this riotous spring sunshine), and, of course, the horse-and-dog love.

I must not bang on, like a one-trick pony, but I sometimes think these things are oddly important to record. It's like Sebastian Flyte's notion in Brideshead: the pot of gold that you may go back and dig up when you are old and crabbed, so you may remember the place where you were happy. I do not take any of this for granted; I mark it well.

I hope that wherever you are, Dear Readers, that you too had some Friday love, in any of its multifarious forms.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

No horse today; or, I MISS the damn horse

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Today, due to technical and logistical complications of the dullest sort, I did not ride the mare. Oh, the woe. I miss her little white face like an ache in my heart. Since the dammed up love needs an outlet, the Pigeon is getting double her normal dose. She looks slightly surprised, but most gratified.

It was rather a long and fraught day, in the end. Not only was there no horse therapy, but I have to deal with a very difficult human. I am not good at difficult humans. I shy from conflict like Red when confronted with the scary cottage. There are some people who just decide I am ghastly from the off, and this appears to be one of them. I am berated like a naughty child, and may do nothing right.

I attempted charm; nothing. I attempted polite distance; even worse. I may now have to employ froideur, which goes against all muscle memory. I am crap at froideur.

It is times like that that I wish I had the natural de haut en bas of a dowager duchess, or the rhino hide of a hedge fund supremo. (This is very naughty of me, since I am always banging on about not making assumptions; I am sure that there are many, many hedge fund managers who are absolute dears, and cry when they watch dog films, and worry about the women of the Congo. I just went for the cheap crack, which shows you how battered and cross I am.)

My disadvantage is that the assumption I do make is that most people are good and decent and vulnerable and kind. The Dear Readers do absolutely nothing to help, since you leave delightful and generous comments day after day, thus confirming my bias towards the kindness of strangers theory.

I approach people with the theory that if I am nice to them, they shall be nice to me. This sounds pathetically corny, but a lot of the time it does work. When it doesn’t, I am left entirely without defence. I can tell myself it’s their stuff, as the shrinks like to say, until I am blue in the face, but really I just feel sad and baffled.

Luckily, the kindness of family has been brought into sharp relief by the unfortunate set of incidents. Everyone rallies round, with excellent advice, diverting jokes, practical suggestions, and even a solution. The Landlord and the World Traveller swing into the breach, offering the dream answer to my complication. They are stalwarts, and I love them.

Just in case I was feeling too bashed up, one of the great-nieces and the great-nephew arrived and beamed at me for twenty minutes, which is tonic enough for the most melancholy spirit. I can’t tell you the beaming that went on. One of them has already drawn me a special picture of me and the horse. The sweetness knows no bounds.

The wind is up now, and the afternoon sun is sliding over the hill. The Pigeon dozes at my side. I am going to make some chicken soup and everything will be all right.


Pictures of the day. One of the most delightful, consoling thing about the garden at this time of year is that everything is suddenly, suddenly growing:

29 March 1 29-03-2012 13-49-10 3024x4032

29 March 2 29-03-2012 16-31-10 4032x3024

29 March 3 29-03-2012 16-31-20 4032x3024

29 March 5 29-03-2012 16-31-36 4032x3024

29 March 6 29-03-2012 16-32-19 4032x3024

29 March 6 29-03-2012 16-35-13 4032x3024

29 March 7 29-03-2012 16-33-13 4032x3024

Possibly the sweetest picture of the Pigeon yet. Blinky eyes and absurd pink tongue:

29 March 9 29-03-2012 16-33-35 3024x4032

Now she is ready for her close-up:

29 March 9 29-03-2012 16-34-00 4032x3024

Dignity like that takes years.

Oh, and one more, to make up for the lack of horse:

29 March 10 29-03-2012 16-31-44 4032x3024

I may not be with Red the Mare today (even writing that makes me feel a bit doleful; I miss her wobbly lower lip and her limpid eyes and her sheer authentic goodness) but there must be pictures, so here are a couple from earlier:

29 March 10 01-01-2011 1627x2909

29 March 12 01-01-2011 2319x3900

She, too, can do the blinky eyes.

And, the hill:

29 March 14 29-03-2012 16-36-19 3398x2022

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Spooks nil; Vet one.

Posted by Tania Kindersley.


This goes in capitals because it is such a huge step forward. There were a couple of pauses, a quick scan of the horizon for mountain lions, but that was all. It was a happy, carefree, confident ride. Also what I find fascinating is that the mare is listening to me a lot more. The steering, which was occasionally erratic, is now pin-sharp. I like that she is clever with her feet, and I trust her enough to let her pick her way over a stony and knotty forest path, knowing she will find the best way.

There is a very nice balance now. Some of the time I am strictly in control, telling her exactly where I want her to go, and at what pace. Then, once I’ve got some work into her and we are both as relaxed as lounge lizards, I’ll let the reins out and, apart from a tiny bit of leg control, let her follow her nose. Half the time she knows where I want her to go anyway, without me having to shout about it.

This is all a bit in the weeds. If I were writing about politics, I would describe it as a process story. People sneer at process stories, but I’ve always found them fascinating. The process of the horse is equally riveting to me, although I hope this is not a self-indulgence too far.

The vet was due today, for her tetanus shot. The livery seemed most affronted that I had called in my own vet, rather than theirs. There was a wounded pause, when I told them. But this is the Alpha Vet, the man who saved the very life of the Pigeon. As far as I am concerned, there are no other vets.

Before he arrived, I gave the mare a pick of grass and leaned on her shoulder and chatted to her a bit. The sun was warm as July. When I saw the car, I walked down to meet him, Red ambling at my side.

‘I have a new addition to the family,’ I said, grinning all over my face.

‘You have,’ he said, smiling. ‘She’s a beauty.’

He was very polite to Red, calling her by her name, admiring her, soothing her as he prepared to give her an injection.

‘Doesn’t matter with a horse,’ he said, as she made a small objection to having her teeth filed with a great raspy implement, ‘as long as the underlying nature is all right.’

That’s exactly what I have been saying all along. Red can get a bit fussed, indulge a little in freaks, and occasionally be stubborn as a mule. But her default mode is goodness and sweetness. She is not mean, or ornery, or wicked. She is not, as some rogue horses are, looking for trouble. It’s just that sometimes she finds post-boxes perfectly terrifying.

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘She is a very dear old thing.’

The vet looked at us, appraisingly.

‘And she is obviously very attached to you,’ he said.

Now, this is, as I have told you before, the North-East of Scotland. People do not do vapid compliments or flannelly gush here. There is a lot of bare, hard truth. Attached, in this context, is like being given a bunch of flowers and a prize and a medal. I actually blush, I am so happy.

We are attached.

The vet drives off. The Pigeon and Red the Mare and I walk down to the paddock together, entirely as one in the laughing Scottish sun.


A very few quick pictures. I had to do something with pictures today and it took ages and shockwave kept bloody crashing and I almost pulled out all of my hair. So only a couple, for the road:

28 March 3 27-03-2012 16-38-20 3789x1767

28 March 5 27-03-2012 16-38-54 2874x3123

My two girls:

28 March 1 27-03-2012 07-51-40 2704x372428 March 2 27-03-2012 16-35-08 3024x4032

The hill:

28 March 11 27-03-2012 16-34-44 3016x2798

Tuesday, 27 March 2012


Posted by Tania Kindersley.

So tired my eyes are crossing. All I have done is ride and work. But the new early rising is making me feel like old lady bed by eight. How glamorous I am now. I have permanent helmet hair from my riding hat, and horse and garden hands, from grooming the mare and pulling up the ground elder. I stump about all day long in my dusty Spanish riding boots. I am incapable of rational thought as soon as dusk falls, worn out from unaccustomed physical exercise. Quite often I get upstairs in the evening to find I have an earthy smudge all over my forehead.

The lovely thing is: I do not care.

I mention the tiredness so that you will understand why this is rather short, and probably not very coherent. My ability to process words is slowly leaking from my brain.

It was the finest ride yet, though, this morning. That seems important to relate. There was a profound and qualitative difference.

Yesterday, I wondered if Red was spooking at things not so much out of fear, but as a little test. She was a bit jumpy, and showed a marked inclination to attempt to bugger off in directions in which I had not asked her to walk. I was not having any of that. I wondered if she were pushing her world a bit, as a two-year-old child will, testing the limits of her new universe. I think she was checking me out, now her real fears were subsiding a bit.

Today, it was as if she had come to a decision. I'm all right, in her eyes. I may be trusted. We walked out in perfect harmony, past the scary cottage, beside the spooky pipes, into the dark wood. She was calm and responsive, relaxed and alert, not for mountain lions, but just to the day. The sun shone on us like a benediction. I felt something I can't quite express in words.

All the things in my life are still the same. I am wrangling with a very difficult second draft, up against a hard deadline. I still find it impossible to get my library books back on time. (Lucky the librarians here are the kindest and nicest in Britain.) My organisational skills show no sign of improvement. I miss my father. I miss my dog. I am still butting up against the whole mortality thing.

The horse does not wipe away anything, or transform anything, or solve anything. What she does give me, with utmost generosity, when I am with her, is a singing, unlimited sense of joy.

I love that I am remembering something I was once good at. I love that she consents to give me her trust. I love that I can wander through an ancient pine forest and across a glacial valley. In those moments, everything is quite right. There are not many things you can say that about.

Today, when I put her out in her paddock, for the first time she did not just wander away as soon as I took off her headcollar, as she usually does. She stood for a moment, and presented her head to me so I could scratch her in the special place below her ears where she likes to be scratched. She nuzzled at my hand with her wobbly lower lip. She gave me a look, and then she went over to the sunny corner which she favours, and put her head down to graze.

And that's where I run out of words.

Pictures of the day:

The first daisy:

27 March 1 27-03-2012 16-36-55 4032x3024

Beech avenue:

27 March 2 27-03-2012 16-40-27 3024x4032

27 March 3 27-03-2012 16-42-18 3570x2615

Even though it is so warm, and many things have come early this year after the mild winter, the cherry blossom is still tightly in bud:

27 March 4 27-03-2012 16-44-53 3024x4032

Beginnings of the honeysuckle:

27 March 5 27-03-2012 16-46-01 4032x3024

The ornamental Japanese cherries are, unlike their British counterparts, flowering like mad. I never saw such profusions:

27 March 6 27-03-2012 16-48-57 4032x3024


27 March 8 27-03-2012 16-49-55 3024x4032

The old beech leaves:

27 March 9 27-03-2012 16-50-17 4032x3024

This is what I see when I walk into the stable in the morning:

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27 March 1 27-03-2012 07-53-37 3024x4032

The glory that is the Pigeon:

27 March 20 27-03-2012 16-34-49 3024x4032

The hill:

27 March 22 27-03-2012 16-52-36 4014x1814


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