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: