Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Bonus post: New Year’s Eve update. Or, the slightly unexpected.

For fifteen years, I have dreamed of having a New Year’s Eve all by myself. It is the introvert in me. Each year, I get invited to some damn thing, usually by my lovely family, and it would be rude not to say yes. (Despite my grumblings about awful enforced jollity on the stroke of midnight, I usually end up having a delightful time.)

This year, at last, at last, I am having my enchanted solo evening. Would I watch re-runs of Kauto Star’s Gold Cups, or dust off my Desert Orchid video (an actual video tape, it is so old), or get out the Frankel DVD, or find an epic movie? I have the Director’s Cut of Lawrence of Arabia, calling to me, in honour of the late, great Peter O’Toole.

Then, I stumbled upon The Choir, on the miracle that is the BBC iPlayer. It was about to expire, so I thought I should have a quick look. I am now as hooked as if I were half way through a box set of The West Wing.

All human life is there. On the face of it, it is just people singing. Singing is such a benign and usual thing. And yet, under the usual, The Choir is about the profound and the fundamental: the universal hopes and fears and dreams. What I find so touching is that it is really about humans trying really, really hard. I am endlessly moved by trying. It is not the success, it is the attempt. That is what counts.

I’ve just got to the episode about the Cheshire Fire Service. I’ve already been in tears in three previous programmes, but this lot have me in pieces. They are singing a song written by Bruce Springsteen in honour of the men and women who went into the stricken buildings on 9/11, and did not come out again. The pride and fellowship for everyone who does this extraordinary job, all around the world, is shining out of them. Hard men are moved to silence. Cheerful women are turned solemn and reflective.

You can see the knowledge of what really happens, of what is called on, of the hard realities, written in all their faces, from the operatives who take the emergency calls in the back rooms to the toughened fighters on the front line.

I don’t know about you, but I think I’ve always taken firefighters a tiny bit for granted. They are so much part of everyday life. Unlike soldiers and sailors and special services, who serve in distant lands, they are a very familiar sight. There is a fire station in every town; the big red engines are not only ubiquitous but also a favourite toy of small children. Of course I have always thought of the courage and the skill, but this programme, ostensibly about music, has driven home the great heights of courage and determination that perfectly ordinary people can rise to. All my hats are off in awe.

I think about courage a lot. I grew up surrounded by the courage of men who rode fast racing horses. My dad had incredible physical bravery, defying doctor’s orders to carry on riding over fences after breaking his back and his neck for the second time. If you fall off again, the docs told him sternly, you will die. He ignored them.

I see gallantry, as I do my work at HorseBack, pretty much every week. I hear stories that my brain cannot quite process, from the dusty valleys of Afghanistan and the sands of Iraq.

I see smaller, unsung acts of courage, in ordinary life, the ones that come from facing pain and adversity. There are many kinds of bravery, most of them never making headline news, but real and true, all the same.

As I watch the men and women of Cheshire, I think: I would never have the moxy to run into a burning building. That takes a very special kind of fighting heart.

So, rather unexpectedly, my gentle, solitary New Year’s Eve has turned into a meditation on the undaunted human spirit. Even more unexpectedly, it has been brought to me by the loveliness that is Gareth Malone. What a fellow he is.

And now I am going to raise my first glass of New Year’s champagne. I know I bang on about equines all the time, and they too have a bravery that makes shivers run up my spine. But I raise this glass to the brave humans.

Happy New Year

I had a whole, big, end of year blog for you, ready to go. It ran around in my head, filled with life wisdom and vital perspective and tremendous observations on the human condition. In the absurd echo chamber of my mazy head, it was an absolute cracker. (Quite frankly, as I think up these things over the brushing of the teeth, I sometimes astonish myself with my own cleverness. Then the flappy wings of hubris falter, and I crash down to earth, as I fail hopelessly to translate the spurious brilliance to the page.)

Then I thought: bugger that for a game of soldiers. What I really need to say today is -


This year has been The Year of the Horse. Some of you may not be quite as entranced and fascinated by the equine mind as I am. You have had to wade through endless adorations of the red mare, long shaggy horse stories, furlong by furlong rehashings of the races which have made me shout and weep. There has been self-indulgence, windiness, and far too much galloping off on tangents. I have teetered on the edge of sentiment, and gazed into the abyss of hyperbole.

And yet, rather like the red mare herself, who sometimes has a look on her face which says Just let the old girl get it out of her system, you have walked kindly and generously beside me. You have left comments of sweetness, funniness and wisdom. You have shown kind hearts, generosity of spirit, and bottomless patience. You have a particularly lovely habit of sharing my triumphs as if they were your own. You also forgive my failings in a quite astonishing way, and bolster me when I feel my frailties.

Perhaps what I love most of all about the dear Dear Readers is that you disprove the easy assumption that the internet is a place of wild intemperance, stupid shouting and general bad manners. I loathe assumptions. I am suspicious of received opinion and I detest intellectual laziness. (I know that sounds very pompous and hard line, but it is true, and this is the place for truth.) As you will know, to your rueful cost, I get furious when people make horrid, ignorant remarks about thoroughbreds in general and ex-racehorses in particular. I love Red the Mare for many reasons – her great beauty, her comedy skills, her intense sweetness, her talent for stillness, her politeness, her cleverness, and her glorious, duchessy sense of self. But one of the things I love the most is that she disproves all those idiot stereotypes with every beat of her heart and every point of her toe.

In the exact same way, I glory in the daily proofs left by the Dear Readers, proofs that the kindness of strangers really is kind, that courtesy may survive in the rush of technology, that the wide spaces of the interwebs may be peopled by the good and true just as much as the bad and meretricious. It is not all narcissism and trolling. It is real and actual and oddly comforting. It may be a place of safety and refuge as much as an unpatrolled wilderness.

Perhaps you do not know quite what it is you do when you type out a quick string of words and leave your comments. It’s just the tap tap tap of fingers on a keyboard, after all. It almost certainly does not take you very long, before you go back to your jobs and your families and your lives. But what you do, in that brief, shining moment, is restore my faith in human nature. Pretty much every damn day. Which is a fairly remarkable thing. And that is why I say thank you.

Looking back on a year is always bittersweet. I know that some of you have had losses and struggles. I know also that you have dealt with them with stoicism and grace. The Dear Departeds stay stitched into battered hearts. I marvel often at the great, gutsy, never-say-die hearts of the thoroughbreds I love so much. I’ve watched many races this year which have been won not on talent or tactics, but raw, cussed, dogged gallantry. The heart takes over from the legs, the head, the everything. But the human heart is a pretty spectacular thing too. It gets bashed and bruised and chipped round the edges. It survives disappointments and alarms and grievous losses. Somehow, against all the odds, it goes on beating. It, like all the things I admire the most, keeps buggering on.

Happy New Year, my darlings. May your champagne be cold and your beloveds be beloved and your hopes be merry and bright.


My Lovely Ones:

31 Dec 1

31 Dec 2

31 Dec 3

Obviously, Red the Mare and Stanley the Dog are animals. They have no English. They do not understand the concept of time. But if they did, they would wish you a very Happy New Year too, because you have spent 2013 saying so, so many lovely things about them. So, you know, a woof and a neigh and a shake of a hoof.

*Official GOING TOO FAR klaxon sounds, and I move quietly to the exit*

Saturday, 28 December 2013

The Sweetest Photograph in the World.

Obviously, the title of this post refers to an entirely subjective judgement.

It is the sweetest photograph in my very own eyes.

Here I am, this morning, with the two nieces, the red mare and the little American Paint.

28th Dec 1

There are several things which I love about this picture. One is that the two nieces and I are hardly ever together in the same place. They are young and antic and move about a lot, embarking on their own lives. So it is extremely special when the three of us are reunited.

Second, I love that The Younger Niece and The American Paint both are doing almost identical ready for their close-up faces. (Autumn the Filly’s owner was taking the picture, so it might have been a pretty face for her. But it still makes me laugh and laugh.)

Third, I find it amusing that despite the fact I am supposed to be posing for a rare photograph with my beloveds, I am far too busy pulling Red’s ears to put on my own camera face.

Fourth, it was quite a tight space, between two stretches of grass that MUST NOT BE STEPPED ON. (The Brother-in-Law gets sad if there are hoofmarks all over his nice turf.) So The Older Niece, as you can see, is having to crane her neck even to be seen. Hello, I’m here at the back.

Fifth, that dozy old donkey you see there on the left, all muddy and woolly and shaggy, really is one of the poshest horses in Britain. My father brought me up not to pay any attention to human grandeur, but oh, when it comes to horses, he gave me a snobbism I cannot shake. I am not especially proud of the fact. But on dark nights, when my heart is afflicted with melancholy, I am afraid I trace Red’s pedigree back through Nijinksy and Northern Dancer to Hyperion and St Simon, in order to cheer myself up.

She has not only that obvious top line, but Derby winners a go-go in the bottom line. I love reading the storied names, as lyrical as poetry: Mahmoud, Sir Peter Teazle, Voltigeur, Smolensko, Dante, Gainsborough. She has the Byerley Turk, the rarest of the three foundation sires, twice. Nearly everyone has the Godolphin Arabian, as she does, but not everyone has the Turk.
None of this really means anything, but it means something to me. And what I really love is that there she is, day after day, dopey as a faithful hound, following me back to the field without a rope, swinging her dear, scruffy head, smiling her soft equine smile, quite unaware of the blue blood which courses through her veins. Of course, I could posh her up a bit. I could give her a haircut and brush a bit more of that mud off her. But I like her being a horse, mooching around in her paddock, getting as dirty as she likes, no matter how many glittering prizes her ancestors won.

And in other horse loveliness, the most tenacious, gutsy, bold and brave Bobs Worth returned to his best in Ireland today, and made my mother and me cry. He’s one of the most talented and most tough horses in racing and last time out he never went a yard. After a horse has been triumphant in a hard Gold Cup, there is always the danger he is never quite the same again. Some big race glories can take it out of a horse; they can look fine, work well at home, seem well in themselves, but that glittering, glimmering brilliance has been dulled, in a way that nobody quite understands.

After watching an uncharacteristically lacklustre run at Haydock, I feared for little Bobs Worth. He was so magnificent last season, and I was sad to see a champion brought low. But today, he kindled his fire again, and even though he had it all to find after the last, he picked himself up, put his head down in his trademark terrier fashion, and powered past his rivals.

Then he pricked his ears, stretched his neck, and looked up at the stands, as if to say: Ah, you were fretting over nothing. I got it covered, said Bobs Worth. I’m back. And the crowd, which knows greatness when it sees it, rose to him in delight.
Some more sweet pictures for you:

28 Dec 2

28 Dec 3

Back in the paddock, modelling her astoundingly smart new Amigo rug. I don’t really believe in giving animals Christmas presents, but the old rug was falling to pieces, literally held together with binder twine, and this one happened to arrive just yesterday, so it does feel almost like a present. And she looks so smart in it. Excellent service from the wonderful Ride-Away, who should surely employ the red mare as a model. She is, I often think, wasted in real life:

28 Dec 5

She did get an awful lot of love:

28 Dec 7

And, in other news – Stan the Man has a BLOODY ENORMOUS STICK:

28 Dec 10

Friday, 27 December 2013

A brief lament.

A very sweet day with the family, and great joy as the Older Niece arrives from the south. A very sad day in the wider world, as the mighty Sprinter Sacre is pulled up at Kempton with an irregular heartbeat.

There have not been great shining stars this season. There have been lots of good horses, and lots of touching stories, especially those with family connections, with sons riding for fathers and brothers for brothers. The Moores, the Tizzards, the Scudamores and the Skeltons have all touched the heart. But there has not been a titanic champion, driving all before. There has not been one which sends shivers down the spine, every time, as Master Minded did in his pomp, or Kauto Star or Denman did. The last of the great champions, Hurricane Fly, for whom I hold a burning flame in my heart, was even a little bit ordinary on his reappearance, although he still managed to smash a record for the most grade ones ever recorded. There have been tough horses, and willing horses, and surprising horses, but not one who is head and shoulders above everything else. Those do, after all, not come along very often.

Sprinter Sacre is such a horse. His recent form simply reads 111111. Last season, he won for fun, playing with the opposition in top class races. All those who love racing held their breath to see this emperor back to survey his kingdom. To watch him stop half way, and trot back shaking his regal head, almost in bafflement, was a sadness indeed.

Horses come back from heart problems. He will get the best care in the world. But the fear is that the curtain has come down, and it will be an awful long time before we see his like again.


Today’s pictures:

From a lovely Boxing day walk:

27 Dec 1

27 Dec 2

27 Dec 2-001

And what used to be Red’s view, this morning, looking rather dramatic and ominous:

27 Dec 3

The silver birches, because we have not had those for a long time:

27 Dec 5

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

A little Christmas story.

Christmas is a much more complicated and nuanced time than tradition and popular culture allow. It is much more than ho ho ho and deck the halls. It is the conformists’ festival, and I don’t mean that in a sneery way. (I am, in a most un-nuanced manner, filled with good cheer.) What I mean is: it is a difficult time to be other.

In the days when I thought myself madly other, I used to buck it. I once spent it quite alone, once with a hardly known American man on the Keralan coast (no funny business, just two travellers). I once went to a restaurant on Christmas day, in protest against all that feminine slaving over a scalding hob.

But little by little, I gave in. I decided it was partly the thing that was presented: a time for family and food and goodwill and the fine claret.

It has always held a little batsqueak of doubt though, in the back of my mind. I’m prone to get grumpy if forced into jollity. This year, I was up against a deadline, and the weather was mild. There were no Christmassy frosts, and hardly a sight of a holly berry, and even the little robin who visits my back door looked faintly unconvinced. I was disorganised and running late. Then the gales came and the power went out and it all seemed to be going to hell in a handcart. The festive spirit came late, and reluctantly.

But the funny thing was, it turned out to be one of the best. The family was delightful, right down to the smallest great-nephew. The lunch did come off, even though I slightly overcooked the turkey and undercooked the potatoes. (The bread sauce was perfect, and my step-sister made the most delicious stuffing ever.) The presents were in the great tradition of William Morris: both beautiful and useful, chosen with amazing amounts of thought. I got exactly what I wanted – a biography of Henry Cecil by Brough Scott, Jamie Reid’s book about the doping scandal of the 1960s, a lovely blanket for my bed, a scented candle. A lot of generosity and care went into everything I received, so that I felt bathed in the light of affection. 

I even got a good life lesson, from my very own red professor.

High expectations are the enemy of happiness, and they never obtain more than at Christmas. I am usually alive to their perils, but this morning I did fall into the elephant trap. The one thing I wanted to do, once I had put in the turkey and started the gravy, was to have a special Christmas ride on my lovely mare. The forecast was good, the gales had torn away to the north, all was set fair. I dreamed of it in my mind. We would mooch out, cowboy style, and look at the view and think of the simple things of this season, the ones you can’t buy with money.

Red, however, had other ideas. She had clearly been up all night in the terrible wind, guarding her little paint filly from the storms, and she was knackered. This way, I said, getting on and pointing her out towards the hills. You have to be joking, she said. She actually turned her head to look back at me in the saddle and rolled her eyes at me. She stood stock still, so I had to flap at her as if she were a riding school pony.

Eventually, with great reluctance, she set off, walking at a snail’s protest pace.

After a bit, she perked up, but she was not finished with her orneriness. We did eventually roll into a canter, but then she did something she has not done for ages, something I think is a memory of her polo days. Half way up the long meadow, at breezing pace, she jinked. It’s a complicated manoeuvre – a sort of swerve, plunge, and half-turn, with a little lemon twist, and a most duchessy toss of the head. It’s quite hard to sit; if you are not careful, you can go shooting out the side door in a most undignified manner.

Bugger, I thought. So much for the perfect harmony between human and equine. So much for my high-born thoroughbred turning into an old cow pony.

I took her back and did some transitions and turns and figures of eight. I told her, kindly but firmly, that I was in charge, and this would not do.

Then we tried the canter again, and this time it was straight and true and I could let out the reins and trust her to run kindly for me.

As we headed back to the paddock, I laughed and laughed and laughed. It was not my dream Christmas ride, but it was better than that, because she had made me work a bit. She had told me I can’t take her for granted, no matter that it is a national holiday. Once she had made her point, she reverted to dopey old donkey, and I got off and walked the last stretch home, with her following behind me like a faithful Labrador.

But here is the extraordinary thing about expectations. I had high ones of that morning ride, but none at all about tea-time, when I left the Christmas lunch table to go and put Red’s rug on and give her some hay and settle her for the night. I was happy and heedless by this stage, touched by all the family goodness.

As I was putting out the hay, I was suddenly whacked by the loss of my dad. It is our second Christmas without him. The irony is that he didn’t like Christmas much, and generally went through the motions, barrelling along on a wave of alcohol. I think he, like all true racing people, slightly regretted the fact it was the one day of the year when there are no fleet horses to watch. For true racing people, Boxing Day is the great festival, as all the stars come out for the King George.

But there, in that muddy field, I missed him so much that I was undone, and, in that happy day, what I call the Railway Children tears came.

I am very strict about not asking animals to heal human troubles. I don’t think it is their job. It is my task to make Red’s life calm and easy, not the other way round. But the thing came so fast, out of a clear blue sky, that I had no time to head it off at the pass. The mare lifted her head, and stood very, very still. Then she hooked her neck over my shoulder, and laid her cheek against mine, and stayed there, unmoving, until the storm had passed.

I don’t know what it was. I don’t want to fall into the pit of sentiment. But it felt like her great present to me, the one that I was not expecting at all.

Once I had finished, and gathered myself, and smiled a twisted smile at my own absurdity, she went back at once to her hay, as if to say: don’t think this is going to turn into some Disney moment. There will be no string section, she said, with a swish of her tail. That made me laugh a lot too. She made me laugh in the morning, and laugh in the evening, for two very different reasons.

And out there in the prairies of the internet, there was some of the simplicity of Christmas too, as strangers and distant relatives and old friends far away sent each other little messages of love. It is not a simple day. For some people, it is fraught with difficulty and loss. But sometimes, sometimes, the spirit of the season does burn bright, in a wonderfully straightforward and fine fashion. Today, I was one of the lucky ones.

I hope that you too, between the turkey and the panic, the early morning start and the not enough sleep, the high expectations and the muddled reality, got what you wanted. Even a glimpse of it can be enough.


Today’s pictures:

This morning, getting ready to ride. Do you see that warning look in her eye?:

25 Dec 1

You have to forgive the scruffiness. There was a bird in the oven and no time for proper grooming.

At this stage, she really just wanted to hang out with her muddy friend:

25 Dec 2

Once we finally got rolling, there it was – the finest view in the world, that which comes between a good horse’s ears:

25 Dec 3

But she’s still giving me a bit of a LOOK:

25 Dec 4

The snowy hills:

25 Dec 6

The lovely woods:

25 Dec 8

The astounding light:

25 Dec 9

The devastation from the storms, as the top of an old oak tree lies snapped off, as if some giant hand tore it from its moorings:

25 Dec 10

More crazy Scottish light:

25 Dec 10-001

25 Dec 11

The hill:

25 Dec 12

And, having made her point, the red mare follows me home without so much as a hand on the bridle:

25 Dec 12-001

Autumn the Filly welcomes us back:

25 Dec 12-002

Butter would not melt in somebody’s mouth:

25 Dec 14

The field:

25 Dec 16

Ornery? MOI?:

25 Dec 16-001

My favourite mountain, yesterday, as the storms were blowing in:

25 Dec 16-002

Sweet family:


Not the best pictures I ever took, but they give you some idea of the goodness of the day.

And my noble Stan the Man, who did not filch the turkey, and mostly restrained his lurcher instincts, and fulfilled his Christmas remit of making my mum smile and smile:

25 Dec 16-009

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

When the lights went out.

At high noon, the gales got crazy and the lights went out. The power stayed off all day. Horrid visions danced before my eyes: a simple salad, for Christmas lunch, whilst a huge bird rotted in the warming fridge. I built a ridiculous hunter’s fire for warmth and listened to my dear old tranny, so at least I could hear the nine lessons and carols, even if they were distorted through a small battery-powered radio. I thought of the people who really do have no electricity. I thought of those ladies from centuries past, who had no choice but to be cold and read by candlelight. Goodness, they must have had resources.

I am ashamed to say I missed the internet. It was as if, out there in the world, there was a gaudy party, and I was not invited. I had had happy thoughts of spreading festive cheer amongst my Facebook and Twitter friends, of sending Christmas wishes to the Dear Readers. Now, I was stuck in a dark room with not enough candles and a flickering fire, reduced to silence de glace.

I squinted crossly at the book I was reading, its text barely illuminated by the gathered candles, and tried to count my blessings.

Then, my enchanting family came and rescued me, piled me into an old truck from the 1930’s, and drove me up to the one familial house which had light and warmth. There was hot food. They filled me with ham and parsley sauce and the best potatoes and the good claret.

As we drove home, we all shouted with delight. The lights were ON. We pointed and laughed, in amazement.

Some amazingly brave engineer has clambered up a greasy pole and put the cables back together again. The winds are still gusting at around fifty miles an hour, so I don’t know who did that, or what courage it took. I am eternally grateful. The dark is not as romantic as one might think.

The gales are supposed to fly north tomorrow, but they seem set in and determined, so I am not cavalier. The power may go again. There may yet be salad for Christmas lunch. But the lovely thing is that in this electric moment, I can say happy Christmas to all the Dear Readers, and put up the one photograph I really wanted to show you, which was taken in the big snow of last winter, and says everything about the mighty red mare and me. I love it, and I think it is very, very Christmassy. It is all about the love, which is the whole point of this season. I hope you are warm, and safe, and with your best beloveds.

If you are like me, you will have beloveds who are not with you. But I think now, as I miss my own dear departeds, that they are here too, folded into the living hearts left behind; remembered, marked, still loved.

They, like the extinguished lights, will shine again.

24 Dec 1

Happy, happy Christmas. May your day be merry, and bright.

And when I say bright, I mean literally and metaphorically.

Monday, 23 December 2013

The small things. In their human form.

I did have something interesting to say, but I have forgotten what it was. I wrote it in my head this morning, as I was cleaning my teeth, and for a while it existed, brilliant and filled with clarity, in the corridors of my mind.

Now, it has gone.

I think it was something about the small things, and perspective, and luck, and gratitude, and all the amorphous thoughts which gather and jostle at this time of year.

I have been missing my dear departeds. I think of my dad, and my dogs. But I think of the living too: the lovely family that remains, the old friends, the beloved animals, so vivid, so antic, so entirely delightful.

I saw the great-nieces and nephew today, twice, by chance. The first moment was when they had come down to gather holly. They drove up as I was out on the red mare, and I cantered alongside the car for a bit, waving and smiling. I think the old duchess may have hit a top speed of twenty miles an hour, which is going it for her. In her racing days, she would have motored up to about thirty-ish, before she gave it up as a bad job and resumed her traditional place at the back. She really was one of the slowest racehorses in Britain. So I was rather delighted that she put on a bit of celerity. She pricked her ears and pointed her toes for her small audience, and I was flushed with pride.

They tumbled out of the car, in their hats and boots, a tangle of joy and sweetness. They were all intensely excited and wanted to tell me their news. It made my morning glitter and glimmer. Who cares that the sleet is coming and storms are forecast? Who gives a damn that I am completely disorganised and really don’t know if it is Christmas or Easter? Those small smiling people, so alive, so good and funny and open and true, put me in the festive spirit like nothing else.

Then, half an hour later, after I had put away my good girl and rugged her up against the weather to come and thanked her for being so entirely marvellous, I ran into them again in the shop. There was more shrieking and smiling and laughing and waving and hugging. They are a little party in themselves. So my rather dull errand was turned into a carnival.

Perhaps that was what I wanted to write about, after all. The presents and the cooking and the decorating are all very fine. I rather like all of that side of things, even though I have not been feeling at all Christmassy this year, and am running constantly behind. But really, the true spirit of Christmas lies in those charming, smiling small people. Like the mare, they have the power to lift me up. Like her, they are all goodness and love. Like her, they are absolutely their most authentic selves. Like her, they are my best present.


Today’s pictures:

Getting a little bit Christmassy:

23 Dec 1

23 Dec 2

23 Dec 5-001

23 Dec 6-001

The noble face of Stanley the Dog:

23 Dec 9

The red mare, this morning, coming up for breakfast with The Horse Talker. We quite often don’t use headcollars. The girls just sweetly come with:

23 Dec 5

And her face when she saw me:

23 Dec 6

I would like to say that this look of love is because she knows I am her number one best human. In fact, it because I have the bucket in my hand, and she knows what that means. FOOD.

On the other hand, she does know I am her dedicated human. Horses are pretty clever like that. There have even been some scientific studies about them recognising their person’s voice. She knows that I am reliable and consistent and trustworthy. These are not headline-grabbing virtues. They are not the sexy, rock and roll ones. But they are the most important ones when it comes to working with a horse. That, and kindness and love. And the giving of time. And slowness and patience and thought. Put all those into a horse, and you will get the equine of a lifetime. They will pay you back in wonder which goes beyond words. What you put in, you will get back. Which seems to me a pretty profound life lesson from my best professor.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

A shaggy dog story

A certain gentleman is in disgrace today.

There was first the interesting whodunnit: The Mystery of the Disappearing Rye Bread. (Clue: I live with a lurcher.) Then there was the snaffling of the joint of pork. Then there was the destroying of the third fabulously expensive retractable lead. There was also, don’t ask me how, the breaking of the sherry glasses. I adore a good fino and have special glasses for it. Or did.

There were the muddy pawprints all the way up the stairs. There was the escaping from the car, and the setting off of the alarm at inappropriate moments.

There was, bafflingly, the appropriation and chewing of a lovely Lulu Guinness purse I had bought someone for Christmas. Luckily, it was in a box. Now I have a quandary. Do I give the thing unboxed, which looks a bit peremptory and less than festive? Or do I give it boxed, and explain the interesting teeth marks in one corner?

There was the opening of and departing through EVERY SINGLE DOOR IN THE HOUSE. Actually, that is not quite true. There is one door he cannot open, because it has a round handle. But I occasionally catch him, up on his back legs, face intent, with each paw either side of the thing, trying to turn it. He does not care that he has no opposable thumbs. One day, he shall succeed.

There was the freaking out of the small visiting dog who arrived yesterday with the family. The freaking out took the form of – we are going to play my favourite game, Visiting Dog, which consists of me running round and round in circles at greyhound speed and jumping over you when you least expect it. Visiting Dog let out shrieks of such a high pitch that only bats could hear them.

There was the frightening of an entirely innocent and unsuspecting jogger, at the end of the lime avenue. I think the lycra was just too bright, and disapproval came in loud, furious barks. ‘Pay no attention, he’s very friendly,’ I yelled, helplessly, tearing to the rescue.

But disgrace never lasts, because every morning he goes and puts his head on my old mum’s knee and gazes at her with his eyes and makes her laugh and laugh. And then he looks at me, like this:

22 Dec 1

How can you not love a face like that?

Friday, 20 December 2013

A day off.

Today I am doing: bugger all.

I got my morning dose of joy as the World Traveller came again to ride the red mare. It’s quite a responsibility, sending two beloveds off into the open fields, especially as they have only just started riding together. I busied myself with making feeds and tidying the shed to take my mind off it. Then I came out to see a glorious sight – the two of them cantering up the far slope, a red flash through the line of trees. Even from a quarter of a mile away I could see the harmony and delight, and ten minutes later, two smiling faces returned to the gate.

Then I got on and did a little cantering myself and the mare was all ease and charm. She was having one of those days where everything in her world is good.

I should be running errands and getting Christmassy, but I’m going to have one more day of sitting very still. I may, if I am exceptionally ambitious, gaze into the middle distance.


Today’s pictures:

It has gone dank and gloomy now, with the sky the colour of furious doves, but this morning – ah, this morning – there was light:

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20 Dec 2

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20 Dec 4

Hunting by the burn:

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I put a bridle on Red for the first time in about five months. It is what the World Traveller is used to, and it’s good for the mare to be able to ride both bitted and bitless. She can’t just be an old cow pony every day, in her rope halter. She seemed perfectly amenable to the idea:

20 Dec 8

(Although it’s so long since I’ve had to deal with tack I could hardly remember how. That noseband is a bit high. My mother will not be impressed.)

Watching them go off together really did make my heart sing:

20 Dec 9

And behind them was the dear old hill:

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Oh, and one more, because I can’t resist, and Christmas is a time for joy, and what could be more joyful than these happy faces?:

20 Dec 1


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