I run down to the field. The sun is shining, but in my head, the woods are dark and deep and I have miles to go before I sleep. Or: there is still work to be done. Time is still racing past me. The precious hours tick away. My desk howls to me, in the harried spaces of my frontal cortex.
The Remarkable Trainer says: ‘Come on, let’s go out for a ride.’
I wiffle and waffle and scratch my foot on the ground. My time management, I think, hopelessly, helplessly.
I say, not altogether graciously, ‘Well, as long as I am back at work by four.’
At a quarter to five, I return to the field, on the back of my red mare. I don’t know if I have ever, ever been so proud of a horse in my life. I get off slowly and fall on her neck, wishing she could speak English so that I can express to her the depth and reach of my admiration and congratulations.
Out we had gone, in the sparkly October sunshine, the colours as vivid as if the whole world had just been washed and cleaned.
In that clean, bright world, the little American paint filly is by my side, her ears pricked, taking it all in, with the Remarkable Trainer up. We go over bridges, along the burn, into the woods, out into the wide south meadow, with its tempting new grass, which has not been shorn by sheep since the early summer.
Red has been off for two weeks, with a bit of a pulled muscle. This is our first time back together. The received wisdom about thoroughbreds is that the moment they feel a wide expanse of pasture under their feet everything in them goes zoom, zoom. The received wisdom says you can’t just pull an ex-racehorse out of the paddock after time off and take them out into the wild spaces.
Red looks at the hills, which open up in front of us like a book, so that we can almost see to Coull. She walks kindly in her rope halter, her friend by her side.
We pass the sheep, and random cyclists, and a group of unknown humans, who have a very small human with them, which is making a noise. Neither of the girls turns a hair; they merely observe the tiny human with benign interest.
We circle the wide pasture and come back to a rise. We break into a canter, going easy on a loose rein, as if we are in the great spaces of Wyoming. At the top, the mare comes back to me, dropping easily into a low walk without drama or fuss. Just one little excited shake of the head, as if to remind me that she does have the blood of champions in her, and she feels it, at a moment like that.
We amble back on the buckle. Sometimes I just drop the reins and let her mooch along, steering her with my legs.
She is so clever.
She looks, as I leave her eating her tea, very, very pleased with herself indeed. The love I feel rises up in my chest and spills out into the very air, as if it were a living thing, too big to be contained in one mortal body.
I wish, I wish she could speak English, so she could know all this.
I think: perhaps she has an inkling.
I think: the received wisdom can put that in its pipe and smoke it.
Before the ride, I went for a quick drive around the autumn hills. These ones were the ones we saw from the ride, only from a different angle:
Rewind to this morning. Red leading her girls in for breakfast:
She takes her job as lead mare very, very seriously indeed:
Then the Horse Talker and I took our girls out for a morning walk in hand. And we walked past this:
And then I made everyone stop and pose for photographs. Herself, we have noticed, is always ready for her close-up:
The HT admiring the serious posing skills:
Still showing her best side:
Or perhaps this profile is better:
At which point I clearly decide that if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, and turn into a bit of a Posy Posington myself. As you can see, Autumn the Filly HAS NO BRIEF FOR SUCH VANITIES:
My best beloved, back in her paddock this afternoon, shaking her head with pride and doing comical Didn’t I Do Well faces:
(Actually, she’s probably just got a fly, but I am projecting madly, such is my joy.)
Meanwhile, Mr Stanley the Dog is tracking bluebottles with his X-ray vision. Because that is what he is really good at:
Sometimes, when I tell these horse stories, I fear it sounds as if I am showing off. Oh, oh, look at me, with my perfect mare and her perfect skills and all our perfect harmony. What I really want to do is to say: if I can do it, anyone can.
It’s not as if I got a problem horse. She came out of a great yard, from one of the finest horseman I’ve ever seen. But she did race, and she did play polo, and she is a thoroughbred, and when she arrived the strangeness of being in a new place did make her reactive and spooky. The dial could shoot up to a Spinal Tap Eleven in a heartbeat. The flight of a young pheasant could make her leap vertically into the air, with all four feet off the ground, like a cartoon horse. I rode her in a martingale and feared I should never be good enough.
We had our moments, and we shall have moments again, because she is a horse, and there is no such thing as bombproof. But this new ease and confidence and happiness and trust, so profound that when I ride her I feel as if there could be no other equine in the world for me, as if she was made for me, bespoke, is from slow, steady, simple work. I have no special skills. I am a creaky forty-six year old female, catastrophically out of practice. But I opened my mind and learnt from brilliant people who have forgotten more than I shall ever know. And so we came to this glorious place, of unity, of sympathy, of absolute togetherness.
I want it to be a tale of hope and possibility and encouragement. So that any time someone says, oh but thoroughbreds are impossible, someone else might say, but no, look at the red mare.
All it takes is time and love. And all humans have those.