A very white, still day. More snow fell quietly in the night, and we now have about six inches. It is all very pristine, and has that squeaking, crunching, blanket aspect.
My sister is baby-sitting. She has three small visitors. I am not quite certain of the sizes. I would say nine, seven and two.
They come to see the horses. The three discrete reactions fascinate me. The nine-year-old boy wants to ask many, many serious questions. First of all, he ascertains all their ages. Then, once he knows that Myfanwy is the oldest, at nineteen, he wants to know why it is she is the smallest. This clearly seems topsy-turvy to him.
‘Well,’ I say seriously. ‘It’s because they are different breeds, you see. Myfanwy is a Welsh mountain pony, and they never get very big. Autumn is an American Paint, and Red is a thoroughbred.’
He listens carefully, not interrupting.
‘She’s quite little for a thoroughbred,’ I say. ‘They can get up to over seventeen hands.’
I show him how high this is. His eyes widen.
‘That is very big,’ he says, in awe.
‘They are mostly used for racing, and polo,’ I say. ‘And sometimes for three-day-eventing.’
‘Does Red race?’ he asks.
‘Well,’ I say. ‘She did. But I’m afraid to say...’ At this point I cover her ears and drop my voice to a whisper. ‘...she was very, very slow.’
‘Oh,’ he says, stoically, taking this on the chin.
‘It’s a funny thing,’ I say, ‘because her grandfather won the Derby.’
My new friend is clearly a fellow of dogged resolution.
‘Maybe,’ he says. ‘You could get her all strong and then she could run fast.’
He turns his small, freckled face up to mine. It is lit with hope and interest and excitement.
‘Funnily enough,’ I said. ‘I do have a little dream of getting her fit in the spring and seeing how quick she could go.’
I do not tell him of my other nutty dream, which is to find her a well-bred husband and get her in foal, so all those mighty bloodlines do not go to waste. I don’t think I shall ever actually do this, because I like riding her, and we’re not really set up for breeding. But sometimes, in the dark of the night, when I look up her astounding pedigree, I dream of the Byerley Turk, from whom she is descended on both sides, and of her passing that great ancestral torch on to the next generation.
The small girl wants to help. She has questions too, but she is a woman of action. She bustles off with the Horse Talker to fill the morning haynets and sweep the shed. I watch them march away across the snowy paddock, deep in conversation.
The smallest person of all, a round little chap all rugged up in serious winter kit, can not yet talk in coherent sentences, although he makes a constant stream of chat of his own devising. He wants to stroke the horses and give them handfuls of hay.
‘More hay, more HAY,’ he says, in the imperial way that very small children have. (I always think that, when they are about two, little people are like tiny emperors, kings and queens of all they survey.)
The girls politely and delicately take his offerings. Red, I have discovered, is an absolute goof for babies. She met one the other day, only about five months old, and she went all blissed out, blinking her eyes and fluttering her eyelashes.
This morning, she does the effect all over again, with the minute hay-giver. She stretches out her head to him, and very, very gently lays her muzzle against him, and tickles him with her whiskers. It was one of the most touching things I’ve ever seen. Then she stands very still as he strokes her with his tiny hand. She is not very big for a thoroughbred, but she is absolutely enormous compared to a two-year-old human. Yet she is so soft and gentle that he feels no fear. He seems to know at once that this great, half-ton animal comes in peace.
My very dear Brother-in-Law, who is over-seeing all this, smiles at me, as I stomp along with two full haynets over my shoulder.
‘You do look like a real countrywoman,’ he says.
This is easily the best compliment I have had all year. It keeps me smiling for the rest of the morning. I think, afterwards, how odd that is. When I was in my twenties, I was a very urban creation. I wanted to be Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley and Scott Fitzgerald and Sara Murphy and Martha Gellhorn.
It’s so odd, the images we have of ourselves. My old image was all Algonquin Round Table. My new image is mud and straw and weather and earth. (And love and trees, of course.) There is no obvious glamour in this. When I was young and foolish, I craved glamour. But now, my conception of the glamorous has shifted, and it is all about getting my hands dirty, literally and metaphorically. I like this idea very much. It’s how I grew up, I suppose, and I have come full circle.
As we leave the field, the dear Brother-in-Law looks at Red, whom he admires. He says to me, in a low, conspiratorial voice:
‘You know, she doesn’t really know her grandfather won the Derby.’
‘I know,’ I say. ‘But I like to tell her anyway.’
My little herd with their morning haynets:
Autumn the filly, cosy in her serious rug:
The furry sweetness of Myfanwy the Pony:
The gentle face of Red the Mare:
Stanley the Dog, working on some excellent recall:
And of course, sit and stay:
Snow on the nose absolutely kills me.
The hill, in full panorama today: