Friday, 26 April 2013

Of work and time and great, great mares.

As I go up to HorseBack to do my morning stint, I get put up on a horse. If someone says to me ‘Would you want to ride?’ the only answer is yes. The horses need a last go over the obstacle course in the arena before the first participants arrive next week, and it also means that the HorseBack team who are studying for their UK Coaching Certificate can put in some teaching practice. I get to have fun and feel useful and learn more about the Western riding, which is starting to feel less strange to me now.

As I leave, I get a lovely invitation to lunch. Feeling like an idiot, I have to say no, because I am running back to my desk. The three current projects I am juggling must be juggled, and my time management has not yet caught up, even though I swear I am going to improve it every day. Lunch just now is a thing of moments; fuel from the fridge to get through the rest of the day. This is quite odd, for a greedy person like me, but a great relief for Red the Mare since it means I shall make a nice light weight on her back.

I was reading yesterday about someone going on the notorious 5-2 diet. I thought: I have a diet. It’s the No Diet Diet, which is good for me since I refuse to go on any weight-loss regime for political reasons. I think it would make the Pankhursts sad. The suffragettes did not chain themselves to railings so that I could hate my body. On the other hand, if you are riding a kind thoroughbred mare, it’s only polite not to be too heavy on her.

The No-Diet Diet consists of: taking on absurd amounts of work and being useless at managing your time, which means that you have no space to cook great lunches loaded with olive oil as was my old tradition. Now it’s a ham sandwich and a cup of green soup, which makes the banting effortless. I’m far too busy even to notice I am eating less than usual.

I would like though, when kind people say come and have lunch, to be able to smile and say yes, instead of shaking my head with a wild look of panic in my eyes. I am going to work on order and lists. I am going to make timetables and stick to them. I’ll get there in the end.

All focus today is to finish work in time to settle down and watch the mighty Hurricane Fly in the 5.30 at Punchestown. Yesterday, the great mare Quevega made me cry actual tears of joy and admiration with her dancing brilliance. I hope today my lovely Fly will do the same.

A snatch of poetry suddenly comes into my head. It is from George Whyte Melville, a horseman to his boots, who fought with the Turkish cavalry in the Crimea.

‘I have lived my life -I am nearly done –
I have played the game all round;
But I freely admit that the best of my fun
I owe it to horse and hound.
With a hopeful heart and a conscience clear,
I can laugh in your face, Black Care;
Though you're hovering near, there's not room for you here,
On the back of my good grey mare.’

Ah, I think, a hardened old fellow brought almost to sentimentality by the very thought of his darling girl. Mares do that I think, whether you see them on the racecourse, or mooch with them in the field. At Punchestown, Quevega looked so tiny and plain compared to the great shining strapping geldings she was up against. She has no flashy looks; like the equally brave and brilliant Dawn Run, she is a most ordinary bay mare. Nothing to look at, said the commentators. I don’t mean to be rude, one of them added. Yet it is true; she would never catch the eye in the paddock.

But oh, when she was let loose by Ruby Walsh in the glimmering Irish sun, she was a thing of singing beauty. Poetry in motion is a platitude now, rubbed thin with use, but it could have been minted for her.

As I stood with Red later, in the evening light, feeling her dear head resting on my shoulder, scratching her cheek and telling her the story of the race, I thought: there really is something about the ladies. The mares stop my heart like nothing else.


Today’s pictures:

Talking of ladies, here are some splendid ones. The sheep and lambs have come for their annual visit to the south meadow. It is a real sign of spring and makes me smile every time I see them:

26 April 1 4032x3024

26 April 2 3487x1996

26 April 3 3024x4032-002

26 April 4 4032x2126


26 April 7 3024x4032-002

26 April 9 4032x3024

Winnie, one of my favourite HorseBack UK mares, who is doing good work this week:

26 April 8 2922x2166

Grinning madly, getting better at the Western, on the supremely relaxed Apollo:

26 April 11 3303x2387

Mr Stanley, with a look which says: don’t mention squirrels unless you really mean it:

26 April 12 2019x1856

My lovely girl:

26 april 14 1663x1457

The hill:

26 April 20 4026x1541


  1. It's funny how sometimes the greatest racemares are the plain ones. Attraction was one of my very great favourites; I loved her madly but she was 'nothing' as they say, to look at. And then, every year I used to get caught out by an absolute cheerleader of a filly in the paddock at the Craven or the Guineas meetings (a Godolphin usually) and then of course on the track, one little thing and they would fold up. I think the tough ones have it on their faces a bit. Not in a bad way. I must go racing again.

  2. I also have faith in the No-diet diet... though occasionally when my trousers get tight I think maybe I will add some no-carbs to it... My mother was phobic about mares so we never had them but my best friend had a series of wonderful mares and I always rather envied her as they seemed a tiny bit more quick and sensitive than geldings. Anyway you have convinced me that they are a good thing... And Winnie is really beautiful....Rachel

  3. Eat less, move more.
    If -- BIG IF -- and when I ever decide to do something about that extra weight I'm hauling around, that will be my mantra.
    As it is I avoid a lot of sugar (no "soft" drinks for me or most candies, donuts, etc.!), try not to eat "white" (so whole grains), eat organic (or biological...) & avoid processed foods (too many additives).
    It's sitting online almost endlessly which has packed on the pounds (kilos). A sedentary "lifestyle" is a real killer...eventually.

  4. But I freely admit that the best of my fun
    I owe it to horse and hound.

    That used to be on the front of Horse and Hound didn't it? It may still be there for all I know. I don't buy it any more, but just snatch a quick flick through when I am at my sister's house. Is it still on the Horse and Hound Tania? Great photos: Love the one of the lamb on the ewe's back. Love the one of Stanley too, with his gleaming collar. Love them all! x

  5. Oh those horsey poets still do it for me. This is my favourite:

    The hooves of the horses O' witching and sweet
    Is the music earth steals from the iron-shod feet
    No whisper of lover, no trilling of bird
    Can stir me as hooves of the horses have stirred

    They spurn disappointment and trample despair
    And drown with their drum beats the challenge of care
    With scarlet and silk for their banners above
    They are swifter than fortune and sweeter than love

    On the wings of the morning they gather and fly
    In the hush of the night-time I hear them go by
    The horses of memory thundering through
    With flashing white fetlocks all wet with the dew

    When you lay me to slumber no spot you can choose
    But will ring to the rhythm of galloping shoes
    And under the daisies no grave be so deep
    For the hooves of the horses to sound in my sleep.
    Will Ogilvie.

    I sent this to the widow of an old friend and the last 16 words are now engraved on his tombstone.

  6. Banting. Sounds much more fun than dieting. The progeny of banter and bunting.


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