Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Theory and Practice.

A glorious, frigid morning dawns. The mercury hovers at minus three; the sunlight is the colour of honey. I run down to the horses filled with jubilee, because today is the day the Barefoot Trimmer comes.

I love the Barefoot Trimmer because she tells me reams of riveting facts about hooves and horse husbandry and the psychology of the equine. She knows everything, and she shares her knowledge with easy generosity.

I also love her visits because each time we see improvements in the ponies. Red, for instance, is cleverly growing herself a whole lot of new heel action, which has improved the very way she moves and holds herself. ‘You are so brilliant,’ I tell her. ‘You even know how to grow a perfect hoof.’ She nods her head as if to say: shucks, it’s nothing.

As I get down to the paddock, I see a very splendid yellow Labrador. We had caught a glimpse of him yesterday, and remarked on what a perfect specimen he was: fit and compact, with dream confirmation. This morning, he was followed by a very old friend of my sister’s, a woman I have known since I was a little girl.

‘Oh,’ I said in delight. ‘I did not know this was your fellow.’

‘I’ve brought him to see your horses,’ she said, smiling.

She reads the blog, it turns out. It is always a slight surprise when people I know in life come to these pages, and I always feel rather delighted and flattered that they should make the time.

She laughed. ‘I know everything about your life,’ she said.

I showed her the little herd. Luckily, Red was looking at her absolute prettiest, and was duly admired and lauded to the skies. I got my usual feeling of idiot pride.

The Sister’s Friend has not long ago lost her father. She had that translucent look that comes with grief. I remember it so well.

‘You are in the zone,’ I said, nodding, recalling.

So we talked a bit about horses and grief and love. She told me of an extraordinary woman she knew who works with horses and autistic children.

‘She is very, very still,’ she said, of this remarkable person.

‘Ah, yes,’ I said. ‘That is my great aim. That is what I try for every time I come down here.’

I am not generally still. My brain races and guns like a souped-up engine. Sometimes I wish I had a switch, so I could just turn it off.  But I try and be still with my horses, because they do not respond well to the monkey mind. It’s a good discipline.

For some reason, this meeting and this conversation made me think about theory and practice. I have a lot of very, very good theories. I also have some idiot theories and some undercooked theories and some completely wrong theories. But even when I come up with a dilly, and even when I manage to put it into some kind of practice (small things; love and trees), that’s not all. It’s not as if there is a box one can tick. I can’t say, much as I long to: oh yes, I’ve worked that one out. It’s as if every day one has to start again. I have to remind myself of things I thought I knew. Or, I can know a thing, but not do the thing.

As the two of us talked, I said something like: ‘All the things worth doing in life are hard.’

Sometimes, I long for things to be easy. I want to be able to be blithe and effortless. Ah, yes, I can do that one and that one and that one. I’ve got it all taped. Sometimes, I wish I could skip over the surface of life, accept the deaths and the sorrows and the whole damn condition. But it is not simple, and even something as expected and natural as mourning needs to be worked on, to be done well. (I think it is worth trying to do it well.)

I cannot expect my horses to perform simply because I wish it or imagine it. I have to do the work with them, each day. I cannot assume my dear little rescued fellow will just settle and be happy because he knows I love him. I have to train him and do exercises with him and not expect him to rely on some kind of mythical mind-reading. It is actions which are important, not mere thoughts.

I cannot expect to be able to do life just because I’ve been around for forty-five years, and I had a lot of education, and I ponder things. Every day, I have to remember to translate theory to practice.

As I was thinking some of these thoughts, Stanley the Dog decided to do some full-on man love with the handsome yellow Lab. I really can’t blame him.

‘That’s a bit Auden and Isherwood,’ I said.

After a bit of honest rogering, the dogs stood up on their hind legs, facing each other, and fell to embracing. I’ve never seen a canine do that before. It was very funny, and oddly touching.

‘I’ve always wondered if my chap was in the closet,’ said the lovely woman, drily.

It was a good antidote to all the thinking. Sometimes I can get caught up in the trails of my own theories. Life is earnest, life is real. But sometimes, it’s just two dogs flirting in the snow.


Today’s pictures:

15 Jan 29

15 Jan 29-001

15 Jan 29-002

15 Jan 30

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15 Jan 7-004

View from the horses’ field, looking south west:

15 Jan 30-002

Red the Mare, in the astonishing Scottish light, which turns her coat gold:

15 Jan 40

I’m afraid there are a few of these, because she was so pretty and happy today. This was while I was making her stand, whilst I move away and do other things. It’s a really good exercise, and she is a quick study:

15 Jan 41

Standing still as a rock, even when something in the middle distance takes her interest:

15 Jan 43


15 Jan 47

With her faithful little friend:

15 Jan 46

M the P:

15 Jan 34

In the afternoon, we give them a good brush, and do a bit of work, and then offer them a haynet, for a winter treat. All the time Myfanwy and Red were posing for pictures, Autumn the Filly was just having a damn good eat:

15 Jan 48

15 Jan 38

Then they all had a bit of a go, in the dazzling sunshine:

15 Jan 49

As a hovering mist rolled in:

15 Jan 44

And, you may observe, bottom right, Mr Stanley doing some very good recall:

15 Jan 50

The old set aside opposite the paddock is ringed with woods and a burn and a fence, so it is a good place to let him run free and dash about off the lead:

15 Jan 52

And then we do some very serious sit and stay, as you can see from his earnest expression:

15 Jan 51


15 Jan 60

As always, when I dash off at length about something, I finish by thinking: not sure that made much sense. Part of the thing of a blog like this is that it is ad hoc. But sometimes I think: shouldn’t I go back and polish it up and see if the thing could cohere, just a little more? But in a way, half the point is that these absurd musings go out into the ether as they are. Warts and all, my lovelies; warts and all.


  1. glorious! adore stanley! and oh all the lovely cold...the heat here is torpid and oppressive and i am positively sick of it. horse has a nasty tick bite but is fine...i want your beautiful countryside and snow and everything...stunning. thought you might find this horsey link interesting:
    x janelle

  2. Gorgeous photos today, especially love the beech leaves. I have a thing about trees myself.

    Still laughing over your friends comment about her dog. :D

  3. I expect Stanley is thrilled to meet a chap of the same ilk after living in a female household, including horses, that is! I know a woman with a husband and two sons who loves to escape sometimes to have a chat with female friends.

    Lovely descriptions of the countryside. We only had a light layer of snow on Monday here in Oxford, and today (Tuesday) blue sky all day! Quite nippy though.

  4. I just love Stanley. He has lots of character and how on earth do his ears flip so? Thank you for lots of lovely photographs. On a day overloaded with stuff to do, this hits the spot.

  5. One of the things I love most about animals - they have none of our hangups about life, sexuality, or religion. They are what they are, and they don't care who's watching.


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