Thursday, 29 August 2013

Highs and lows. Or, lessons from the horse’s mouth. Or, beware those flappy wings of hubris.

I’m always banging on about the life lessons my mare teaches me. I think that horses in general are tremendous professors. On some days, the good old universe joins in, and sends me an excellent corrective too.

Today was such a day.

The mare and I did some wild jumping. Zoom, zoom, she went; whoop, whoop, I went. She has taken to leaping as if it were the thing she has been waiting for. All those years she raced on the flat and played polo offered her no opportunity to express herself in this glorious aerial way. Now there is no stopping her. She’s still learning, still working it all out, but she is willing and eager and she gives me the great gift of trust. If I ask her to do this novel thing, she will damn well do it.

I can’t tell you how thrilling it was. There we were, out in the open green spaces, in only the rope halter, soaring over the homemade course that the Remarkable Trainer had rigged up. The jumps were absolutely tiny, but we didn’t care. We were as excited as if we were galloping around Burghley.

She did not pull; she did not waver; she did not refuse a single request. Quite frankly, I forgot that I was riding an ex-racehorse without so much as a bit in her mouth, I was concentrating so hard on sitting her well, and keeping her straight and confident, and going with her. It was only afterwards that I thought how remarkable it was. She is so clever and I am so proud. I shouted out loud and threw my arms in the air.

An hour later, I was flat on my arse on the sandy floor of an arena.

My dander was so high by this stage that I had rashly agreed to scramble bareback onto a horse I had never ridden before. I was clumsy in my mounting attempt, because my middle-aged body is not agile enough, and this particular mare was not having it. She bronced three times in protest, and off I thumped. (She was right, by the way, and I was wrong. She was perfectly correct to object.)

I hate falling off. It is not the bruise to my coccyx I resent; it is the blow to my pride. That is what hurts. I had been flying so high, not only proud of my glorious Red, but, I am ashamed to admit, rather proud of myself, as we mastered our new, thrilling jumping game. Look at me; I am all that. La di bloody dah.

The screeching bird of hubris flapped its treacherous wings. The universe and a determined horse brought me crashing down to earth. I write this with rueful fingers. Never fly too close to the sun.

I’ll get the feeling back in a while, that spiralling, dancing, delighted joy that Red gave me today. They can’t take that away from me. I’m a bit bumped and bruised and humbled just now, is all. I can’t do the things at forty-six that I could do at sixteen. I must remember not to be an idiot, especially when my competitive spirit is drumming in my ears.

What it does make me realise though is that Red is even more kind and forgiving than I had thought. If such a thing were possible. I do scramble onto her when I ride bareback, and she does not move. As if the scrambling were not enough, I make terrible ancient oofing noises, which she also bears with perfect equanimity. My muscles are still not as strong as they should be, and she does not mind. I point her rashly at jumps when I have not jumped for thirty years, and she generously consents to do something quite new to her.

There are a lot of things about her that impress me, but perhaps her generous nature is the one that I admire the most. She has a high spirit in her; she is a thoroughbred, after all. She does not forget her gracious bloodlines. She could turn her nose up and refuse my requests, if she chose. She is not a push-button old dope, going through the motions. Instead, she offers so much, with an open heart.

After I wrote this, filled with rue, I stumped down to the field to give her her tea. She was still looking pretty pleased with herself. She gave me her customary whicker, that low, throaty, Lauren Bacall whinny which makes my heart dance. She pricked her ears and nodded her head. She stood polite and still as I gentled her neck and chatted to her and told her what a brilliant person she was. She breathed contentedly through her nose and wibbled that beloved lower lip.

She doesn’t care that I just made a fool of myself. I am her person, and that is all. So I left her, as always, feeling better than when I arrived. That is another of her great, great gifts.


Today’s pictures:

Are a little hit and miss. Some of them are rather blurry. But I wanted to give you an impression of the flying. And even though the jumps were only about eighteen inches off the ground, it DID feel like flying.

Starting off gently:

29 Aug 1-002

I have my concentrating extremely hard face on. I swear that Red is POSING for the camera:

29 Aug 2-002


29 Aug 3-002

Whoop, WHOOP:

29 Aug 4-002

You can see her still figuring it all out here, as she lands a bit in a heap, but on she still goes. Nothing will stop her. Nothing will stop us:

29 Aug 5-002

I know this is very blurry, but imagine it with the International Velvet soundtrack. (Those of you who were horsey children will know what I mean.):

29 Aug 6-002

Love this face. Oh, look, a very small JUMP:

29 Aug 7-002

Now she’s starting to look unbelievably professional. She is one of the fastest learners I ever met:

29 Aug 10-002

The tiny, tiny fence built of silver birches:

29 Aug 11-002 

And the double:

29 Aug 12-002

Back in the quiet of her field, with her most adorable Good Evening face on:

29 Aug 15

And The Mare Who Objected. You can see there are no hard feelings. How could there be?:

29 Aug 14


  1. Coming through the field, grass belly high to Red, you (two) look like you're on some wild cross-country trek (or whatever the "correct" term is, I forget!).
    Very VERY COOL!!!

  2. Yes, International Velvet! You both look amazing!
    'Very, Very Impressed of Down Under' xx

  3. Oh, you have me laugh and laugh! I am 46 and the body is not what it used to be, for sure. (Yoga reminds you of that, one minute you are keeping up with the 25-year-olds, the next minute, oh, they can do THAT with their legs?) But it is amazing you can jump without a bridle, and you both look fabulous, and I love the way she does that Lady Bracknell look at a new jump! Rachel

  4. I'm older than you and still doing the daft stuff - and I fully intend (God willing)to be doing it for a good few years to come. Last night I took my sweet ex-racer to a friend's cross-country course. The friend's 15 year old daughter and I whooped and hollered our way round the course - she on her agile, athletic pony and me on my long-striding lad. She's a far better rider than me and of course we're separated by many years but we had a blast together and spent ages admiring each other's steeds. Then we went indoors for supper and my friend plied me with white wine. All in all - a damn good day!
    Don't let your fall do any more than bruise your pride Tanya - you're doing so brilliantly and loving your horse. Don't let ANYTHING spoil that - particularly the power of your own thoughts! x

  5. HI from America - the West Coast!

    Falling on your Arse after such a beautiful job jumping is pretty funny; but only because it wasn't me! I fell last Autumn when taking a perfectly easy lesson in our arena --- my transmitter fell off my belt loop and hit my stirrup, startling Smokey Robinson who proceeded in one direction, I went the other. Rather silly as I look back on it. Riding is humbling, but I must say you and horse look like one jumping!!

    Just found your blog several weeks ago and loving every read! Keep up the passion,please. It's just so wonderful to know that most Saturday mornings (or at least during some part of the weekend), I get to read about your adventures! Thanks - MMR


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