An astoundingly long week, so by the time I stump out to meet the Remarkable Trainer and Red the Mare I don’t know what my name is. Usually my dander would not let me admit defeat, but this time I say: ‘Can you do the hard riding, and I’ll watch?’ So off they go together, doing all kinds of manoeuvres, yielding at the shoulder and the quarters, snaking in and out of the slalom course we have set up. Once I might have felt a tinge of jealousy or defeat. It should be me. Now, I think: how lovely that the good mare has two riders, and it’s a little circle of learning. Ego, schmego.
At the end, I get on and I don’t think about my seat or my position or all the new things I am absorbing. The Remarkable Trainer comes on foot, and the three of us just amble about, beating the bounds, as if we are cowgirls out on the trail. Sometimes that is just as satisfying as any kind of clever schooling. The very fact that my racing thoroughbred is perfectly happy to walk at her ease, confined by nothing more than a bit of rope, in a vast pasture, feels like the most golden of gold cups.
She is the most relaxed horse I have ever met. She was not always like this. She came from a good yard, from one of the best horseman I ever met, but she is a sensitive soul, and she was alarmed and uncertain and tense at first in her new surroundings. She used to jump three feet vertically in the air if she saw a bird or a moving shadow. She got like she is now because of time and patience and love. I had brilliant raw materials to work with, but there was work. There was thought and care. She likes to have a person to trust and I had to show her that I was worthy of that trust.
And after all that, here we are, able to move together in perfect harmony with no tension, no doubt, no fear. That’s quite something, with a half ton flight animal of absurdly high breeding.
I used to know a vast amount about horses and then I went away from them and forgot a lot. When I came back, after all those years, I had to start the learning process almost from scratch. I had old instincts to work with, which helped. Yet in many ways, I am a novice, all over again. I’m not one of those certain experts, who can dole out sure advice without taking a beat. But if anyone did ask me what the one thing was that really counted, with a horse, I would say: time.
And love, of course.
The beeches are at last, at last, in leaf:
HorseBack herd, with the dear Polly the Cob taking her place in it, as if she has always been there:
My glorious, beautiful, brilliant girl:
With the Remarkable Trainer up:
(‘This is an EX-RACEHORSE,’ cries the RT. ‘In a ROPE HALTER. On a LOOSE REIN. Cantering in a BIG FIELD.’ We do both go on about this a bit, but there are so many people out there who insist that there is not a thing to be done with a thoroughbred off the track. Too sharp, too crazy, too hot, too Yada, yada, yada, I think, as she comes to a gentle halt from not much more than a voice command.)
Stanley the Dog, with his irresistible ear:
The hill, from a different angle than usual: