Thursday, 17 January 2013

In which I ponder different kinds of achievement, with inevitable reference to the equines.

It was a good, honest day.

By this I mean: I was out in the weather, I worked the horses, I went up to HorseBack and saw the people and the equines there, who always make me feel better about pretty much everything. Also, a horrid virus which has been trying to get me for four days, crawling up my back with aches and a nasty scratching feeling like pins and needles was VANQUISHED WITH WHISKY. Ha. The bugger will rue the day.

I cannot be ill. I have animals to attend to. I have work to do. I have, as of this morning, actual leaflets to write, which people will see. The vanquishing of the virus was vital.

I think, as I sit down to write this, about the different things people do with horses. The equines at HorseBack are in their quiet season now. The courses for the wounded servicemen and women cannot be run in the frigid winter weather, so this is a time of planning and organising and inventing new aspects of the organisation for the future.

When they are in full swing, the whole thing feels so organic and natural that it is impossible to believe the amount of thought and attention and sheer hard work that goes into making the thing go forward. Now the humans are all at full stretch, but the horses are mooching about in the field, getting muddy, eating hay, loafing happily in the rare moments of winter sunshine. They are at their scruffiest and most natural. It is quite hard to believe that when they are in work, they do things which can actually change people’s lives.

Because they are so sweet and willing, so obedient and responsive, it is easy to think: ah, well, that’s just their temperament. In the spring and summer they are working with men and women who have been severely traumatised by war, or who have legs or arms missing. The docile nature of the horses is imperative. Yet, this comes from hours and days and weeks of slow, steady graft. It is the gentle repetition of all kinds of training and schooling that makes the finished article. Only then can these remarkable equines do their extraordinary job.

Last night, as I was murdering my virus with Scotland’s finest whisky, I found a video on the Facebook, of a French woman making a remarkable performance with a horse. She rode it without a bridle and then worked with it on the ground, making it stand on its hind legs, dance with her, lie down. ‘These are not circus tricks,’ I wrote, in admiration, as I shared it on my timeline. It was an astounding vision of trust between horse and human. It was very beautiful to watch, and I felt slightly fraught, for a moment, thinking I would never begin to know how to get a horse to do the things this woman could.

I was so busy today that by the time I got to work my own horse, I had forgotten about the extraordinary woman and the dancing equine. I had forgotten about all the things I would never know how to do, so I set to work with an easy heart.

I did some desensitising exercises with the mare, hurling my coat about her, with its flappy fur hood, until she would stand like a rock whilst I waved the thing around her ears and flung it onto her head. Then we did figures of eight in and out of the scary yellow barrels. Then I worked on field tethering, which is where I lay her rope on the ground and ask her to stand until I tell her she may move again. It’s a very simple, very gentle procedure, but it is very pointful. It’s really useful to have a horse who will stand for you like that.

As I walked away, and watched my chestnut thoroughbred mare, who was once a racehorse hopped up on the finest oats, drop her dozy head, and go into her glorious stillness pose, I felt a singing sense of achievement. It was nothing to look at. It was not a performance, like the thing I saw in that video. It was just a bit of plain, good, honest training.

When we finished our work, I stood with her for fifteen minutes, at liberty in the field, and she dropped her head onto my shoulder, and her pretty eyelashes fluttered, until she was asleep.

I can’t make her sit down or stand up on her hind legs or lie down on cue. I can’t make her do dressage moves without a bridle, under the glare of arena spotlights, with a crowd clapping. But she trusts me enough to go to sleep on my shoulder, and that, for me, is a championship move. That is a gold cup and a blue riband, right there.

I thought of the HorseBack horses, who gently carry the wounded up into the Deeside hills. They do not do fancy, showy moves. What they do is restore peace and hope, which is more important.

I suddenly wondered if I’d got it a little wrong, about that performance horse. I love watching clever horsemanship, and that was right up there with the best. The watching crowd drew great delight from it. But I suddenly wondered if it were not a step too far, out into the unnatural. Perhaps it was a bit of a circus trick, after all. Perhaps there wasn’t really a good point to it, compared to the real, important work done by the horses with whom I spent my day. I can’t quite decide.

But perhaps the point is that I don’t have to compare. Everyone does their thing; one must not be better or cleverer or more worthwhile than another. I can do my laughably basic work in my muddy paddock with my furry girl. All I want for her is to be as happy and relaxed and natural as possible. We’ll never be YouTube stars, or go viral, or do things which make strange people gasp and clap. We’ll just mooch along together, in our own goofy little way, and that’s quite enough reward for me. It’s not a competition, after all. It’s just a life.


Today’s pictures:

Lichen and trees and leaves:

17 Jan 1

17 Jan 2

17 Jan 4

17 Jan 4-001

17 Jan 5

17 Jan 6

HorseBack UK:

17 Jan 20

17 Jan 21

17 Jan 23

17 Jan 24

17 Jan 25

Gus the Foal, coming to say hello. He is a very friendly person indeed, and was absolutely fascinated by the camera:

17 Jan 25-001

17 Jan 26

17 Jan 29

17 Jan 30

Back home, Autumn the Filly was going for a walk with a pair of stuffed trousers on her, to get her ready for backing in the spring:

17 Jan 31

17 Jan 32

Myfanwy the SNOW PONY:

17 Jan 33

I love that she has become such a favourite with the Dear Readers. She is so beloved by us here:

17 Jan 33-001

Red the Mare will never wow crowds or win prizes or delight the paying public, but she really is the supreme champion of my heart:

17 Jan 35

Dozy face, with scary yellow barrels in the background:

17 Jan 37

Displaying her excellent field tethering skills:

17 Jan 38

17 Jan 39

I was about thirty feet away from her when I took this. I had been wandering about and faffing around with the camera for ten minutes, and she had not moved a muscle. I merely lifted my hand, said ‘Stand’, and she damn well did. She should be a poster girl for everyone who defies the nasty rumour that ex-racing thoroughbreds are no good to man nor beast:

17 Jan 40

Stanley the Dog, with his serious sit and stay face:

17 Jan 41

And finally, the dear old hill:

17 Jan 44

If you are interested, you may find HorseBack UK here:

And here:


  1. Literally every time I see that dog Stanley I smile. It's like clockwork. I have to refrain from pinning his handsome face on pinterest every day. Does he have that effect on everyone? L x

    1. Yes, he does. And that's his "when can I get my bottom out of the cold snow? I mean, delicate parts are getting frozen..." face.

      Mind you the horses have much the same effect. I truly think it has to do with knowing that they are loved as themselves.

      As for "just a life" - no. I've got Queen songs running through my head and "life is real, so real" (Song for Lennon). One of the things that Tania bangs on about is the basics. They're important, they underlie absolutely everything else. So it's not just a life. It's Life/Love. (oh lord, here come the Beatles with "All you need is love". It's going to be one of those days). And that's a million times better than just existing.

  2. Lovely comments. And I especially love it when the Dear Readers start talking to each other. Making me smile a lot; thank you both.


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