I learnt a big lesson this week. Life is always teaching me lessons, sometimes over and over again, because I am a bit of a goofball and I constantly forget things. Also, there is the gap between head and gut, so that one may know something intellectually, but it takes a little time for it to percolate right down into one’s viscera.
Red the Mare is my best teacher of all. On Monday, she had a little wig-out. Two strange horses were coming to work in our field, and I thought we’d go out to greet them. It was idiotic. I took her away from her herd, and Autumn was shouting for her, and in the wide open spaces two unknown equines abruptly appeared and went past her towards her field. Of course she wigged.
I’d made about sixteen different mistakes. I’d got caught in hubris for a start. Look at me, with my immaculate horse, with my whispering skills, with my All That. In my fever to refute all the mean stereotypes about thoroughbreds, I had convinced myself that I had transformed her into a dozy old donkey. Not only that, but I was showing off about it.
On top of that, I’d let things slide. I am so pressed with work, and my time management is so ropey, that I’d rather taken her for granted. She is amazingly relaxed and tractable, almost all the time. She does learn all the new things I teach her wonderfully quickly. But I’d stopped doing so much work with her, just thinking I had made this transformational mare, and I could take the foundations as read.
The wig-out also happened because I was not concentrating, and did not read the warning signs quickly enough. I could have headed it off at the pass, and I did not.
And then, the final sin: I took it personally. I’m always banging on about how silly people do this. They say things like: ‘my horse is taking the piss.’ No, it really isn’t. Horses have no concept of the piss. They are just being horses. Their behaviour is very rarely directed at their human. They are usually reacting in their own equine way, or they are trying to tell you something. (This is uncomfortable, this freaks me out, I do not know what you are asking me to do, etc, etc.)
But I’m ashamed to say, my immediate thought was: after everything I’ve done with you, you reward me with this? From donkey to bronco in under ten seconds: that’s what I get?
I felt the black bird of shame swoop, as if everything that had come before was wiped out, and all was disaster.
It took 24 hours for me to talk myself down off the ceiling. It turned out, she was telling me something. She was telling me that I had to sharpen up and concentrate and stop feeling so damn pleased with myself. So I squared my shoulders and back to the humble basics we went. Good, hard, determined work; confidence and clarity on my part, which is what she likes; and most of all, remembering that it is not all about me.
The hubris fell flaming to earth, and good thing too.
Since that moment, she has been as lovely and good and responsive as a horse can be. I’ve set her new challenges and she has met them. The black bird has flown off to bother someone else. There is a difference between shame, which means everything is disaster, and humility, which means I need to learn from this specific thing.
Shame is negative and insidious and destructive. It is the voice in my head that says: I am useless and feckless and pointless and good for nothing. It is mildly self-indulgent and teaches one nothing. Humility is a bracing, good, instructive thing. It says: come back down to earth and learn well from your mistakes.
It also says: everyone makes mistakes; you are not alone. Humility is rather tender. It tells me: never mind, you can pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again.
This morning, in the blazing sun, we did some lovely groundwork. I went back to teaching her to jump, on the end of a long rope, and she suddenly found her leap. Often, when I point her at a little obstacle, she sort of ambles over it. Today, she really jumped, arching her strong back, picking up her dear feet.
She looked first amazed and then delighted. Her head went up with pride. It was enchanting to watch.
Then I got on and we rode through the wild grass, in nothing more than rope halter. Lovely trot, relaxed and long; some beautiful, soft transitions. I’m teaching her to move from trot to walk and back again using only my voice, like they do with Western horses. It’s very restful and she is learning it fast.
And there it was, at the end of a long week. The harmony was back. My good lessons have been learnt.
Perhaps the most important lesson is that I have to let my horse be my horse. I think I was trying to turn her into something she is not. She damn well is a thoroughbred; for all her sweetness and kindness and gentleness, all her ability to let herself down and be as relaxed as an old hound, she does have hot blood in her. Even though she was the slowest racehorse in England, she still did once run in a jostling field of professional equines at about thirty miles an hour.
I think I sometimes do this with humans. I may even do it with myself. I believe through sheer cussed will I may convert someone’s ideas or transform my own self. It never works. Everyone must be who they are; there are no magic wands, not in this lifetime.
So that’s my rather rambly end of the week muse and ponder.
Dear old Red. I don’t think she knew when she arrived in the wilds of Scotland that she was setting up a little University of Life, but it turns out that is exactly what she has done. I smile as I write the words. I feel, as I so often do, passionately grateful to her.
The lambs are growing up and look very beautiful in the dancing sun. They always make me think of Jane Austen, for some reason. There is something wonderfully unchanging about sheep:
The little HorseBack foal:
My lovely wise girl:
With Autumn the Filly, who has begun sporting a very chic fly mask, to guard against the horrid horseflies:
Can you see the wisdom of the ages in those eyes? I so can:
Working with The Remarkable Trainer, earlier in the week:
And having a lovely pick at liberty in the wild grass:
Stan the Man:
That is his highly concentrated Where is that Damn FLY face:
The hill, shimmering in the heat haze:
Thank you for all the Stanley love from yesterday. You are very, very dear Dear Readers when you do that. It’s one of the lovelinesses and absurdities and sweetnesses of the internet, when fondness for a canine can come winging through the ether, from thousands of miles away. More touching than you know.
And now I am naughtily taking the rest of the day off to listen to the Ashes and watch the July Meeting at Newmarket. It’s the heavenly Sky Lantern today, another great female thoroughbred, although of a slightly different stamp than my own dear girl. People are talking of a tactical race defeating her, and the Gosden filly gaining the upper hand, but I stick with the glorious flying grey, and hope she will assert her starry class and prove the doubters wrong.