Author’s note: sometimes I write a blog and I’m quite pleased with it. It’s right and tight and pointful. Sometimes I am unsure. I wonder, dolefully: does it make any sense? This is in the second category. Also, it has quite a lot of horse in it, and I had been planning to give the equine stuff a rest. But there we are. I publish and be damned because that is the nature of this medium. It is amateur: from love. It is not about shiny perfection or showing off. It reflects life as it is lived, and there are days in life when I make no sense at all and there is no point trying to pretend to you that I do.
As the Dear Readers know, there are many things in life which drive me batshit nuts in the head. Dangling modifiers; the Universal We; assumptions; management-speak: all send me wild. But perhaps the thing I dislike most is the putting of things into boxes. Yes, girls go over here, in the pink fluffy box, and boys go into the manly action box, and toffs go into the useless box, and Italians go into the lovably excitable box, and The Gays go into the musical theatre and comfortable shoes box, and country people go into the yokel box, and bankers go into the evil box, and politicians go into the They Are All the Same box.
Load of buggery bollocks.
There is a huge box for thoroughbreds, especially those who have been near a racecourse. It has to be big, because it has so many nasty adjectives written on it. Hot, unpredictable, mad, bad, impossible, over-reactive, hard-mouthed, unreliable write the idiots, with their felt-tip pens. Get a cob, they say. If you want to get out alive.
This morning, I took my red mare out into a new field for the first time. It is vast, and rolling, and when you get to the top you can see the country open up like a Russian novel, all epic hills and melancholy indigo vistas. The cows have gone for the winter, and now we may play in it. To blow the demons away, I thought I’d let her run. I stood in the stirrups, threw the reins at her, and whooped go, go. We had acres of grass, and I wanted to let her fly.
She cocked a duchessy ear at me, and dropped into a stately rolling galleon of a canter. ‘You really can go,’ I told her. Yes, she said, I know that, but I’m quite happy rocking along at a nice dowager pace. At the end, she fell back to a kind walk and I could almost feel her grinning at me, as if she were teasing, just a little. It made me laugh and laugh.
‘Are you sure you were a racehorse?’ I asked her. We did not mention the fact that she had been the slowest racehorse in England. She was bred to win the Oaks, and I do not like to dwell on her lowly career, flogging round the back at gaff tracks.
Walking home on the buckle, I thought about the boxes. (We were not actually on the buckle since I have no buckle; I do not use reins, just a bit of rope. It was the equivalent of buckle.) I wanted an easy horse, so I made one. I taught her slowness and stillness. Her life had been all speed. When she arrived she made it clear that she did not think much of the change from her professional set-up to my amateurish operation. She was spooky and uncertain. The whirring rattle of a pheasant could send her four feet in the air, in a vertical cartoon jump. The raw material was good, because she came from a great yard and a great horseman, but her job had been all about speed. I wanted to introduce her to something different.
It took her a while to get it. Now steadiness is her default. She swings through the world at a calm pace, at ease with herself and her place and her human. She does not see the need to rush. She knows perfectly well she could take off. Even if I did have a bit in her mouth, if she decided to tank she would have the power to do it. She still has some of her polo muscles, and a mighty arse on her, packed with power. She is half a ton and I am ten stone. There is no contest.
Despite my hatred of the boxes, I do have a theory about thoroughbreds. I think they are creatures of the sky, of the air. Everything about them tends upwards. They often carry their heads high; when excited, they stretch up their necks, bracing skywards. If frightened or claustrophobic, they are much more likely to rear than to put their heads down and buck. Red stood up a few times, in the early days, doing a sudden Champion the Wonder Horse impression, front hooves pawing at vacancy.
As well as slowness and stillness, I taught her lowness. I wanted to bring her out of the clouds and root her in the earth.
It all depends what you want. Some people like to keep the quickness, and that aerial quality. I wanted a horse that was so easy that I could get it out of the field, jump on, and slope off, without thought or doubt. I am rusty and creaky and forty-six. I had all my adrenaline in my twenties. Now I want to be able to mooch about and look at the hills and think thoughts and not have any surprises. So I kicked over the box and made the horse I needed, whatever the people with their adjectives had to say about it.
As I write this, I think – why did I start this story? I keep feeling there is a moral in it, that there is a lesson in there for the ages. It’s practically a fable. But I can’t quite grasp the moral. I feel my fingers reaching for it, and not getting a grip.
I think - it’s something to do with things not being set in stone; something to do with humans not having to settle for the inevitable. Wise people say you cannot change the thing, but you can change the way you think about the thing. I think sometimes you can change the thing. You don’t have to be confined by the boxes. The boxes may be wrong.
I think it’s something about possibility, and hope. In the wilder shores of my mind, there is a voice crying: if I can do this, then anyone can do anything. I do not have special skills. I have forgotten as much as I ever knew. I had to be humble, and start learning again, both from real people who came to help, and the wonderful virtual people out there on the internet, who generously share their knowledge and wisdom. (Nothing I love more than looking up a bit of cowboy sagacity from the Dorrances and the Hunts.)
But most of all, I believed in this glorious mare. I had faith in her. I have faith in her great kind heart.
Maybe that’s what it is. Maybe that’s the lesson. Get past the labels, and have faith in what is real and good and true.
Or something like that.
She’s a bit blurry today, but I wanted you to see the sweet expression on her dear face, and this was the one that captured it best: