Thursday, 31 October 2013


Words of book: 3309.

Which, as all you professionals will know, is a stupid amount, and not necessarily that productive. Graham Greene used to do a strict five hundred. But, as may have become clear by now, I am no Graham Greene, nor was meant to be. And I am running downhill to the finish now, so I just keep typing, typing, typing, until my head falls off.

Glorious, brilliant, enchanting, adorable mares: 1.

She gave me the sweetest ride I ever had this morning, in the amber October sunshine. She was so relaxed and tractable that at one point I did trotting with LOOK MA NO HANDS. My ex-racehorse, my ex-polo pony, my thoroughbred chestnut mare, steered only by my legs and body, kept steady, gentle time, out in the open spaces, to the sound of my voice. If that is not cleverness, I don’t know what is.

Nice walkers, slightly startled by the sight of a delirious middle-aged female, singing ‘Trot trot trot trot trot’, and then bursting into crazed laughter: 3.

State of exhaustion: a Spinal Tap 11.

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Wednesday, 30 October 2013

In which I attempt to teach myself an important life lesson. And slightly fail. Or, a story I want you to know.

I’m not blogging this week, because my deadline has overwhelmed me. But I’ve written something on the HorseBack UK Facebook page today about which I am quite proud, and I wanted to tell you of it.

One of the most interesting things about the writing I do for HorseBack is that it is almost entirely ego-free. The grant proposals I write are not signed; the daily posts on the Facebook page are under the HorseBack name, not mine. The whole point is that it is not about me. Going there five days a week and meeting the men and women I meet is humbling enough. Some of the stories of survival are so extreme that I could not repeat them here. They are my daily perspective police, and my constant inspiration. Whenever I am tempted to feel sorry for myself, I think of those people, and what they have seen and experienced on the front line.

But, in some ways, even more an exercise in humility is doing this anonymous writing. Writers tend to have joke egos. I can’t quite speak for all my cohort, but I suspect I am not unusual in loving praise and good reviews and the very fact of my name in print. I am so tragic that I even get a thrill when someone says something nice about a tweet I wrote. I try to pretend that I am an island, entire unto myself, but it’s all buggery bollocks. I crave pats on the back.

For the HorseBack writing, it is the doing of the thing itself that is enough. I do not need five gold stars for prose, because the people the organisation helps are far, far bigger than my puny plan. I think this is a most excellent corrective. I feel it puts iron in my soul.

But today, I am cravenly giving into my baser instincts.

Yesterday, it was announced by Downing Street that several military charities have been awarded government grants. One of those grants went to HorseBack.

I wrote that grant proposal, and even though I know perfectly well that it was the cause which won the day, not my judicious choice of adjectives, I cannot help but feel a rather vulgar sense of gleeful delight. Even worse, I could not stop myself telling you of it.

This crazy deadline will be met. The book will, or will not, be published. I’m at the stage where I can’t tell any more if it is any good or not. The discerning agent may hurl it back at me and tell me to start again. If so, I’ll pick myself up and start all over again, dust off one of my idiot secret projects, get back in there and keep swinging.

Obviously, it’s important on a personal level, because I must earn enough money to keep my beautiful, clever, huge-hearted Red in the best hay cash can buy. But much more important than my absurd quest for literary glory is a document that does not have my name on it, that will never be reviewed in the broadsheets. It shall not win me plaudits or career advancement. It will already be gathering dust in some echoing vault in Whitehall. But it did something in the world.

I feel this is a good lesson for life.

I have a shocking tendency to put my tap shoes on and say, hey, hey, LOOK AT ME. Look at what I did with my dancing thoroughbred, look at how many words I wrote today, look at the handsomeness of Stanley the Dog, regard this picture I took of this hill.

As you can see from this post, I shall never quite be able to rid myself of this tendency. I’m not the Dalai Lama, after all. We must all work with our frailties. Maybe what I’m trying to tell myself is that it is sometimes the unsung things which are the important ones.

I expect I shall always have to sing a little song. The tap shoes will never quite be consigned to the back of the cupboard. There will, inevitably, be jazz hands. But, as I canter across the sometimes rocky terrain of middle age, I’m trying to teach myself what really matters and what does not, and hoping that I may be able to learn the difference.


Here is today’s Facebook story:

And here is one of my favourite HorseBack pictures. The very dear Mikey, who is one of the goofiest and sweetest and most affectionate of the herd, is on the left. And one of the remarkable veterans is on the right:

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Oh, and there must also be a Red the Mare picture, because she exceeded all crests and peaks of loveliness today, cantering along under the lime trees on a loose rein, in her halter, when everyone says that thoroughbreds must be ridden in all kinds of hardware. But even though today was a triumph, I am keenly aware of those flapping wings of hubris. Funnily enough, I’d been thinking about humility a lot in the last few days, because I think it is the most important thing you can have when you work with a horse. You can never stop learning, never stop thinking, never stop questioning yourself. You can always, always, get better, try harder, stretch further, for your horse. Because the gifts they give are so generous, and so astonishing, and so essential for the human heart. For this human heart, anyway.

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Really not quite sure which one of us is being more goofy in this picture. That is what love can do.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Scotland, this morning.

Three of the happiest hours I have spent for a long time. Forgot about work, forgot about everything. Just wandered past the hills, mooched about with the horses and the dog, regarded the blue, blue sky.

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Back at the field, the light had faded, but there was still enough beauty to entrance this human heart:

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Also, I must admit that my joy was enhanced by the great cleverness of Red the Mare. I can sling the rope over her shoulder, tell her to stand, and she will not move a hoof for ten full minutes whilst I click away with the camera, making sure I get her best angle. And nearly fall into the burn in the process. (Clue: it’s BEHIND YOU.) Further proof for my entirely non-empirical theory that thoroughbreds are the most intelligent horses in the world.

In her increasingly extensive vocabulary we now have: stand, whoah, back, forward one (for her to move one foot at a time), steady, walk on, trot on, breakfast, and, of course, Put On Your Duchess Face.

Also, I suspect that she has a pretty clear idea of what good girl means. Along with brilliant, beautiful, bonny and love of my life.

And later in the day, the equally clever and charming Kingston Hill stormed into the general racing consciousness by absolutely hosing up in the big race of the day, and laying down a marker for next season’s classics. He confirmed his place in my heart by refusing to take a drink afterwards, because he was far too busy pricking his ears and posing for pictures and soaking up the approval of the crowd. I’m not sure I ever saw a two-year-old so composed and intelligent and interested in what was going on around him. His trainer, the very brilliant Roger Varian said, with smiling pride: ‘he’s a complete professional; he travelled better than all the older horses.’ I hope he winters well and comes back to delight us next year.

(I’ve stopped putting up pictures which are not mine here, because I must respect copyright, but if you want to see a glimpse of his dear face, go to my Twitter feed @taniakindersley and you can find him there. I think re-tweeting photographs is allowed.)

Friday, 25 October 2013

In brief.

1094 words in the morning. Bash bash bashing on through. Torrential rain. The sweet equines hunker down and do not complain. Spend the early morning writing condolence letters, the hardest of all the writing I ever do. Another of the great old men has gone. He was my father’s first cousin, and a true gentleman of the old school, and I feel a keen sense of mourning at his passing.

Then: work work work work. 446 more words. I count each one up like coins in a treasure chest.

Then my brain stops, as usual, as if someone has thrown a switch. The rain pauses for a moment. I think of my dear girl in her field under her favourite tree, where the leaves are still so thick that she can almost avoid the deluges. I think of her sweet muddy face and the good rug which keeps her delicate thoroughbred coat dry. I think of how stoical she is, when the weather comes. Even though she loves nothing more than the sun on her back, she stands the dreich far better than humans do. I think: I’ll give her extra apple chaff with her tea. (That is the kind of thing I think when I get to this stage in the day.)

Now: stopping. I’m going to watch a race from Fakenham, and then I’m going to sit very still and contemplate The Universal Why.

Today’s pictures:

Are in fact from yesterday; too dreary for the camera today:

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Goofy, most non-duchessy, slightly surprised face. We were madly waving our arms in the air to get her to prick her ears for the camera:

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Before I pressed publish, I went down to the afternoon feed, and the sky suddenly lightened, and there was actually something I could photograph today after all:

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The heavenly wet muddy person, really enjoying her tea:

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And for the first time, the hill appeared from out of the clouds:

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Thursday, 24 October 2013

In which I take a life lesson from The Champ.

Warning: it is late, and I’ve only just finished work, and I am tired. My brain sputters and fails. This may not be the finest piece of prose I have ever written. But it does have a good life lesson in it.


1137 words of book. Into a bit of a rhythm now.

At one point, I felt so ahead of the game, I naughtily allowed myself to watch some racing from Carlisle. In the glorious northern sunshine, the maestro who is AP McCoy won an astonishing five races, with a combination of finesse, determination, shining talent and sheer belief.

He should be held up as a model for the young people, for all people really. He does not win more races than anyone else by magic: it is from toughness, hard work, relentless drive, and never, ever settling for second best.

Before that, quite by accident, I reminded myself of something I had forgotten. I went out to run an errand, took a goofy wrong turn, and ended up deep in Aberdeenshire farming country. It was the kind of place where the valleys are deep and the hills high, so only one tiny little road can wind its way through the land, and because of this I had to go the long way round.

And that was when I remembered the power of driving. I’ve been battling with sorting out the last act; wrangling and wrestling with intricacies of plot. All at once, as the incurious Aberdeen Angus cows gazed at me and the indigo hills slid past the car window and Stanley the Dog stared beadily into the blue distance, it all fell into place.

I think it’s something to do with having the area of the brain which deals with motor skills engaged. Then the creative part can roam free. So, if I were to be giving writing advice, I should say: when you are feeling a little cribbed and cabined, get in the car.

And, as I finish the day, tired but satisfied, I look back on it and think: it’s not just the young people who can learn from Tony McCoy. It is this middle-aged person, too.

McCoy is one of the very best we’ve seen for many reasons. He has great tactical skill. He has a driving finish like almost nobody else. He does a lovely thing of really holding a horse together. But a lot of it comes down to sheer grit.

Grit is a good virtue, along with stoicism and buggering on, both of which he has in spades. He does not moan or complain when things don’t go his way. He has his share of falls and breaks and rotten rides. There must be days when he is in the car, not to look at the glorious hills and the splendid cows, but in the driving rain on a clogged motorway, only to find some hard-mouthed disappointment at the end of the journey.

Not every horse he rides is top class, and not every meeting is a Cheltenham or a Sandown, with cheering crowds and golden trophies. He, too, will have his wet Wednesdays at Huntingdon, in the fog and the murk, watched by one man and a dog. (Actually, I love Huntingdon; I used to go there with my old dad and drink whisky and meet ancient, weather-beaten old gents in flat caps. But it is not one of the glamour tracks, and mid-week in the weather, it can feel like the land that time forgot.)

I like to have a lesson for the day. Usually it is taught to me by my red mare, who is my most accomplished and elegant professor. (On this sunny Thursday, she was simply demonstrating a blanket masterclass in rampant loveliness.) Today, the lesson comes not from a horse, but from a human. It comes from The Champ. It is grit that shall get me through. I’m going to go away and practice it.


Today’s pictures:

This is some of what I saw, on my travels:

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Her Loveliness, having a dreamy evening mooch in the set-aside:

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Very muddy, and very happy:

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The Horse Talker has brought us a thrilling new addition to the paddock. Stan the Man is beside himself:

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Although this is in fact his deeply quizzical face:

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And, at last, my dear old hill:

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And I can’t resist adding that the glittering champion won me literally hundreds of pounds today. I’ve had a rotten couple of weeks, trying to be more forensic about my betting. I felt stupid and wrong as I returned some of my previous winnings to the flinty Mr William Hill.

Today, the odds said a McCoy five-timer was pretty remote, even though a lot of his rides were fancied. We’re back over the jumps, after all. All it takes is a stumble, a slip, something else falling in front. Despite all that, I wanted him to reach his hundred for the season so much, and to approach the magical figure of 4000 winners overall, which he is closing in on, that I backed every single one of them, several in accumulators. It was like he presented me with a suitcase of cash. I should send him flowers.

I’m not at all sure what life lesson I should draw from that.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Stream of consciousness. Stream of something, anyway.

Surprising sun and warmth. Equine stillness and sweetness of indescribable degree. Work, work, work, work. Small, delightful, visiting dog. More work. Cheese sandwich. Shall there ever be enough words? Delightful exchange with a writer I know in America. ‘Write that book NOW,’ I type, as he tells me of a new idea. Back to my own book, which I also must write NOW. Put on 1001 words. Not enough but better than nothing. Almost at the crucial point.

Head begins to feel as if someone has it in a vice. Visceral sense of neurones misfiring and brain cells dying lonely deaths. Squint at HorseBack stuff, which must be done. Pause for a moment, to remember the insane courage of the people I see there, the people I take photographs of and write about for the HorseBack Facebook page. Imagination is my job; I cannot imagine what they have done and seen and felt.

Siren voice: oh, oh, there is racing from Worcester. Proper voice: bugger off, there is no time. Unacceptable voice: but just one tiny little double??

Small afternoon pause to watch video clip of cavalrymen from 1920 do lunatic but lovely things with horses. This is how I rest my brain. I am allowed fifteen minutes of Facebook diversion. If it were not for Facebook, I would never know of the cavalrymen of 1920. Feel grateful. Wonder if Red the Mare would leap into a ravine if I asked her to. (OF COURSE SHE WOULD.)

Must do admin. No time for admin. Proper voice: are you remembering to breathe? Lunatic voice: don’t be ridiculous, there is no call for breathing in and out when the hours are flying past your ears like bats.

Think, suddenly, for no reason at all, of my dad. He was so naughty and not like anyone else and he would have ridden down a ravine without blinking and how absurd he would find all this, that I am doing now. He would blink and pat my hand and laugh and laugh and laugh.

Pause. WRITE THE BLOG, shouts the sergeant-major voice. The Dear Readers are dear, and you must give them something. (Try not to make it too much about how perfect your bloody horse is, says the tired, resigned, seen-it-all-before voice.)

One last coherent thought: should I really confess to having quite this many voices in my head?


Pictures. No time for captions:

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One final, final thought: should I really admit to all the things I admit? Bugger it. People shall think what they shall think. The only seed that grows from secrecy is the dirty shoot of shame. Which is a very muddled metaphor indeed.


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