Wednesday, 10 April 2013

One small step

The week gathers itself on its haunches like a barrel racer and charges down the course. (Always good when I start on a really strained simile.) I dream of mastering the art of time management. It remains a dream.
There were about twenty things I wanted to tell you but after a long HorseBack morning and some vital logistics, and ordinary things like doing the herd and eating actual lunch, I can’t remember any of them. My poor old fingers stutter and scratch over the keyboard, no more strength left in them.

It is at this stage that I think: enough, I’ll start again in the morning. The interesting thing about the morning is that it usually dawns bright and dazzling with hope. Very, very occasionally I wake to dull grumps; most mornings, even in the filthy weather, there is some kind of song in my heart. Sometimes I even do actual singing with my actual voice. (Good morning, Starshine is my favourite for starting the day.) By the late afternoon, I am running on empty and prone to tired moments of pessimism. But in the morning, everything is possible again. This feels like a bit of a miracle and a bit of a gift, and is the sort of horse I should not look in the mouth.

There was work; the meeting of interesting new people; the observing of officialdom in action. Officialdom both is and is not everything one might expect. Boxes are literally ticked; acts of parliament are cited. But there is less jargon that I might have thought, and some reason to go with the rhyme.

I also got one very good life lesson from my mare. I love it when she teaches me life lessons, and always need to write them down so I should not forget.

I was working her on the ground this morning, when I spied an excellent obstacle. Taking her across alarming terrain is really good training for us both, and builds trust. This one was a deep double rut, where tractors had carved through black mud. It was rough and uneven and steep, and filled with water. Horses generally do not like water; it’s to do with the fact they have very poor depth perception. They can be spooked by shadows on the ground for the same reason.

Hurrah, hurrah, I thought. Terrifying obstacle. Up went my dander. Forward I marched, when I suddenly felt a pull at the lead rope. When I lead Red, I walk ahead, not looking back; she is on a loose rein and I know by feel how she is doing. The taut rope is very rare, and this was very taut indeed. I looked back to see her planted, head in the air, eyes rolling, every muscle in her big, athletic body saying NO NO NO.

There is absolutely nothing you can do physically with a horse in that condition. It is half a ton; you are ten stone. Your puny plan is worthless. You cannot pull it or force it. I would have to think with my brain.

A journey starts with a single step, I thought. I went back to her, gentled her, and asked for one step forward. That was all I wanted. I forgot the Terrifying Obstacle. Just give me a single step. She, being generous and good, gave it. I congratulated her as if she had won The Oaks.

Then one more step asked for. Kindly given. Vast love and praise.

One more, then two. Then I let the rope out, beamed confidence and goodness at her with every atom on my body, walked across the Terrifying Obstacle, and she came gently and easily with me.

Suddenly, the Terrifying Obstacle went from being a big challenge to being a joyful game. We walked back and forth over it, we did little hops and skips through the mud, we splished and sploshed through the once-scary water. We colonised that damn obstacle, until it was our spiritual home.

I could not have been happier with her than if she had completed a perfect dressage test.

My life lesson was: break it down. Go back to the very, very small elements of what you want to do. I suspect this is not startling or new, but it felt rather revelatory to me. I think that clever shrinks and life coaches and people who know about this stuff do talk about this. In the equine world, good horsemen speak of never over-facing your horse; only ask it what it can do. By going back to one small step, the wider goal was suddenly unimportant, and so was easily and gracefully reached.

There was also a horse lesson, which is: listen to that equine. She was telling me something. She was saying: you can’t just spring stuff on me and expect me to deal with something big like that with no warning. (She also may have been saying: I’m far too much of a duchess to be dragged through hock-deep mud.)

She was asking for reassurance, which is why I went back to her so that we could do it together. In the old school of horsemanship, it might have been thought that she was being nappy or difficult or naughty or bolshy. The old school might have been tempted to punish or berate her.

She wasn’t being bad. She was just asking me for a bit more attention and care, and once I gave it, her trust rose, and harmony broke out, and everything was possible. I heard her voice, and she gave me, in return, a great big existential gift. It was one of the best bargains I ever struck.
Today’s pictures:

A very quick selection, as that was rather a long blog, after all that, and my brain really is shutting up shop:

10 April 1

10 April 2

10 April 3

10 April 5

My best and most brilliant beloved:

10 April 8

Stanley the Dog, showing that as well as Butch Burt he can do wistful. Bit more like Montgomery Clift here, I think:

10 April 10

HorseBack UK morning:

10 April 12

10 April 13

10 April 14

10 April 15

10 April 16

The dear old hill:

10 April 20


  1. Mr Stanley is indeed wistfully handsome, a study in beautiful burr walnut, but possibly more Gregory Peck than Clift ? For some reason I have an image (memory?) of poor Clift as rather melancholic, and I think Mr Stanley has far too wonderful a life with you and the herd to ever be that glum 

    As for the song in one’s heart at the start of the day I know exactly what you mean - Nina Simone’s “Ain’t got no…I got life” is my default choice, although I only sing it in my head as I am a very early riser and don’t want to wake the family…or the neighbours!

    I very much enjoy your blog although I rarely comment (and I'm too Luddite to understand how to "follow", I just have my favourites bookmarked and check each one in turn to see if there's any updates on these windows into other worlds) - please know that when you battle against life's various tribulations I'm cheering you on all the way, when you have cause to celebrate I'm thrilled for you, and when (occasionally) the sharp tears roll I really do feel for you and wish you solace.

    And I feel like I have a part share in the dear old hill too, Jo :-)

  2. What touches me most about this is the amount of deep, abiding TRUST Red has for/ in you AND the profound LOVE and RESPECT you have for her.
    (My "morning" song is often "rise & shine & give god your glory" -- no idea where it came from -- and I am so NOT a religious person...)

  3. I like the life lessons from Red, too; "break it down" is good for work with dogs and other humans and one's self, too.

    Can we hear how Stanley's doing lately, please? His fan club is curious.

  4. So lovely, every word you wrote of the horse learning. And your spot on description of my day too!

  5. I'm a long-time reader and horse lover who is finally delurking because I so needed to hear your lesson. "Break it down" is, perhaps, what's been missing for me lately. There's lots of big obstacles and transitions coming up, and I am intimidated by all of them. I might have even known that. But something clicked for me in your description of Red's needing a little more care, a little more step-by-step. Maybe I needed to hear it from a horse.

    Anyway: Thank you for this.


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