Really good horse people have a profound stillness to them. Some of them even speak slowly. It is as if the very atoms of their body are configured peacefully, as if they are utterly at home with themselves. This transmits itself to the horse, and it means safety. I’m not sure that horses love in the way that humans think of the word, but it is true that they feel enduring attachments, and I think they do this to the ones who make them feel safe.
I am not at all still at the moment. I am stretched and twanging like an elastic band. I am racing up against deadlines. I have done something catastrophically stupid which must be fixed, and I’m not yet quite sure how to fix it. (All my dander and gritted teeth are going to be needed, and a lot of moral fibre to fight off crashing shame for my own idiocy.)
I have a tendency to spin my wheels when I am panicking like this. I rush around and seem to be performing a great deal of activity very fast, but when I look back at the end of the day, I’m not sure how much I have actually achieved. All the tension and lashing seem to be more sound and fury, signifying nothing. It’s as if I am trying to prove something, hanging out more flags of sheer motion. LOOK AT ME, DOING STUFF.
I am trying to teach myself, at the age of forty-six, to go slowly, to get things done quietly, as I believe this will be more efficient. My irrational mind is yelling: no no no, go faster, FLAP YOUR ARMS ABOUT. So everyone can SEE, it adds, slyly. (The irrational voice is both irrational and very, very naughty.)
I am even making asinine false economies like not riding the mare. I can’t ride when the world is so oppressed. No, no, sorry; what I mean is, I can’t ride when every second is precious, when I could be bashing away at the keyboard and fixing the catastrophic stupidity.
The Remarkable Trainer will keep Red ticking over. She seems resigned to my mad flap rushing in and rushing out. But when I go down to the field to tell the RT this, there is, at last, a moment of stillness. I screech up in the car, hurl myself across the ground, breathless, to tell her that I cannot stay. Red the Mare is tied up at the gate, getting the mud brushed off her. She has been wallowing like a hippo since the rain came and looks more like a happy carthorse than the duchess she is. I always tell myself that I must leave my troubles at the gate, because tightness and tension are the first things that a horse picks up on. It is not for them to soothe us humans; it is our job to make them feel steady and safe. I feel this very, very strongly.
But today, I am breaking all my good rules. Every inch of my body is jangling. Red blinks at me with her slow eye. Something has happened to this horse. Every so often, she makes a giant leap forwards. She did one, with no drama or fanfare, about four weeks ago. She has gone into another zone. She is so secure and comfortable in her skin, so at home in the world, so confident in her idiotic human that even when that human forgets all the rules, Red has the resources to deal with it.
As I write that, I think: that is the very essence of love. Even if love is an anthropomorphic word, that is what it is. She has got to the stage where she can forgive me, where she can overlook the moments which are not of glad grace, where she remembers the good stuff and can smile at the fleeting failures and hopelessnesses.
Her stillness seeps into me like osmosis. I feel calm roll down on me like a wave. I stand against her great big powerful body, the beautiful thoroughbred body with the blood of mighty champions in it. She has in her pedigree a sonorous roll call of the greats: Nijinsky, Northern Dancer, Hyperion, Gainsborough, St Simon, Voltigeur. And yet, there she stands, peace coming out of her like new air, so strong that it infects even my harried self. I feel it in my stomach and remember that I too am in the world, rooted in the muddy earth, and that storming about like a deranged dervish will not achieve anything.
So we stand there for a while. I lean on her, as if her good body and my crazed body can become one. I run my hands all over her. I rest my cheek on her dear back. I talk to her. She blinks her eye again. In ten minutes, she does not move an inch. She is as present and real and true as any living thing I ever saw.
I have no adjectives to express what this ten minutes feels like. And adjectives are my damn business.
I wrote 1400 words today. I did all my HorseBack stuff. I am about to tackle the new secret project.
If someone were to ask me what was the most important thing I did today, I would answer in a heartbeat. I would say: I stood still with my horse.
From the archive. (No time for camera today; are you mad?)
Can you see the peace?
It emanates from her in waves:
The funny thing is that when I got a thoroughbred, out of racing and polo, I liked the idea of giving myself a challenge. I thought I’d have to get bloody good at riding again, and crazy fit, and bring all my muscles up to peak strength to deal with all that power and spirit. Turns out what I ended up with instead was a little Zen mistress. That is the Law of Unintended Consequences, at its finest.
I don’t have adjectives, but when I’m with her in those precious moments of utter contentment and silent communication, I feel a bit like this:
I know. I’m now so nuts in the head I think I am a river and a hill.
Perhaps I really should stop now.