Author’s note: Warning, Dear Readers, for fairly high levels of self-indulgence.
‘My funny valentine, sweet comic valentine; you make me smile with my heart.’ Rodgers and Hart.
The weather, as if sensing I was at the end of my grumpy old tether, gentled and calmed this morning. The winds dropped, the blizzards went away to bother someone else, and the sun even made a shy appearance. The mercury rose to a dizzying five degrees, which, after the bone-chillers we have had lately, felt like the South of France. I dropped my tense shoulders, and felt renewed.
Valentine’s Day does not mean anything to me, really. Apart from the fact that I resist artificial, commercial days of love, there is no significant other or secret admirer. I used to see the whole shooting match as an opportunity to make the Singletons feel inferior and other; it would drive me livid with rage. Now, I don’t care about all that. Some people like to be coupled; some don’t. It’s not my hill of beans, that’s all.
All the same, one cannot remove oneself entirely from the zeitgeist. However bolshily I mutter about contrived romance, I cannot quite avoid the whiff of love in the air. A hardened horseman I know has even taken to the Facebook to declare his enduring love for his wife. (I must admit, I had a little tear in my eye at that point.) Luckily, I do have absurd amounts of love in my life. They just don’t come in a neat Hallmark card.
‘Happy Valentine,’ I said to Red the Mare, this morning, in the snowy field.
After being a little wet and grumpy in yesterday’s gales and blizzards, she had reverted to the state of Zen calm that she affects when the sun comes out. She was at her crest and peak of sweetness and affection.
We stood for a while, cheek to cheek. She dozed. She wibbled her lower lip. She fluttered her glorious eyelashes. I breathed in and out and thought about love.
Some people think it a little odd to love a horse. Perhaps it is a little odd. But it is what I do.
Let me count the ways, I thought.
I love her because she is beautiful, even when she is doing donkey ears and has hay falling out of her mouth. Her beauty has less to do with outer prettiness, and more to do with inner loveliness.
I love her because she is honest. I love her because she is funny and kind and intelligent. All the things you would look for in a human, in fact.
I love her scent, that particular smell of earth and air and leather and horse. It’s a clean, sure smell, of living creature.
I love that she can wheel on a sixpence and produce a slow-motion buck as elegant as anything seen in the Spanish Riding School of Vienna. I love that when she is trotting free in the field she looks like she is floating on air. She gives me a huge amount of aesthetic pleasure.
I love that although she is a domesticated animal, she is, essentially, wild. She hears the voices of her ancestors calling to her from the Mongolian plains and the Arabian sands. Everything she does with me is a question of her kind consent.
I love that she takes very seriously the business of looking after her little herd. She is their lead mare, and Myfanwy the Pony and Autumn the Filly are her charges, and she does not take that lightly.
I love that she is goofy for babies. When she meets an infant or a small child, every atom in her body goes soft, and she stretches out her head and tickles them with her whiskers and gets a blissed-out expression on her face.
I love that she is polite. I love that she is entirely authentic. I love that she does not care whether I can write a decent sentence or if I am having a bad hair day or how much money I earn. Superficials are nothing to her. She takes me exactly as she finds me, in the moment, and there is something rare and lovely in that.
In a slightly less edifying way, I am afraid to admit I rather love that she is posh. I am a snob in no other area of my life, but I do adore tracing my way back through her pedigree. I get a thrill as I see the names of Nijinsky and Northern Dancer. I get keen pleasure as I go further back. Hyperion and Gainsborough; St Simon and Eclipse: these names are like poetry to me. Right back to the beginning, and there they all are, the mighty foundation sires: the Godolphin Arabian, the Darley Arabian and the Byerley Turk, figuring in the top and bottom lines. I even love the funny names in the roll of honour. I laugh at the thought of Darcy’s Yellow Turk, Old Bald Peg, Old Morocco Mare, and White-Legged Lowther Barb.
Yet at the same time, perhaps I love her the most when she does her Minnie the Moocher shuffle, ambling towards me with her head down and her ears akimbo, like a dopey old donkey, nothing aristocratic about her at all.
I think of one of the humans I love the most, and how that list would go. I love her because she is funny and clever and generous; she is kind and interesting and thoughtful, in both senses of the word. I love her because she looks at the world from a slightly oblique angle, and she makes me laugh until I shout. I love her because when I am in her company, I feel like a better, brighter version of myself.
It’s not that different from the horse list. Equine and human both take me exactly as I am, and do not judge on surfaces. In the case of both, when I leave them I feel happier than when I arrived. Both remind me of the importance of the fundamentals: love and trees and laughter. Both, in their different ways, get me, and I sometimes suspect there is nothing sweeter than being got.
Admittedly, my human friend does not mooch about like a donkey, nor is she descended from the Byerley Turk. My mare cannot discuss the intricacies of the Euro crisis or the novels of Jane Austen or the best way to roast a side of beef. But in the essentials, the love comes from parallel roots.
One of the things I used to get cross about was the privileging of romantic love, as if all the other loves were poor, dowdy relations, the spinster aunts who sat at the back. That is why I would get furious on this fourteenth of February.
Now I think: if people want to send hearts and flowers, why not? I know what I believe; it does not have to be a competition. I know that I could not exist without love of family, love of friends, love of Stanley the Dog, love of this Scottish place, love of the trees and hills and lichen, love of words, love of the herd – the pretty filly, the dear pony, the glorious mare.
And that, my dear Dear Readers, is why I don’t need roses. I have roses; they just don’t come in flower form.
Myfanwy the Pony:
Autumn the Filly, who had a very exciting day out today, and came home to the field with FIVE GOLD STARS:
Mr Stanley the Dog, who does, I freely admit, also make my heart beat in my chest:
The beloved hill:
My lovely Red, all gentle and still, this morning:
And some more loveliness from the archive, since it is St Valentine’s Day, and everyone gets to indulge a little on that day:
Probably my favourite shot of her in action, from the summer:
And still again, at one with her landscape:
As I was looking back, I found this one. This one was one of the greatest loves I ever knew, and I feel her loss still:
And that is that. Tomorrow, I promise, I shall be sceptical and flinty, before we all collapse from an overdose of sentiment.