Just pausing in my hectic work day to give you a little Friday loveliness. (I say that with great certainty. It is loveliness to me. I quite accept it shall not be to everyone’s taste.)
There are many, many reasons I love my red mare. I love that she turns all stereotypes about thoroughbreds, ex-racehorses, chestnuts and mares on their head. Any good horse person knows that an equine will reflect back at you exactly what you put in. Breeds do vary – some are bred for speed, some for strength, some for steadiness – but all horses are individuals, and have characters as discrete as snowflakes. To say that every cob is this or all Arabs are that is as inaccurate as saying that all men like cars or all women crave shoes.
A thoroughbred is likely to be sensitive, clever and fast. That is the result of years of careful and tightly controlled breeding. Many of them are also very brave, and exceptionally willing. But you will get dear old dopes, and ones who are a bit windy, and others who are absolute jokers. Some are as genuine and straightforward as the day is long; some are entirely idiosyncratic and capable of being a bit of a monkey. Some like strength and drive from their riders; some yearn for quietness and softness.
My girl is clever, funny, generous, willing and kind. She likes steadiness and calm. She adores routine. She has a goofy love for very small children, who make her flutter her eyelashes and soften her eyes. She has a mighty talent for stillness, which is why I think of her as my Zen mistress. She likes listening to conversations, twitching her ears and going into a little doze of pleasure. She is fond of humans, thinking them good things.
She is about as far from the loon thoroughbred of ill-informed myth as you could get.
I love her for all these reasons. But the thing that made my heart lift most this week is that she makes my mum smile.
My mother is not terribly mobile and has to deal with a lot of pain. She is very stoical about it. To cheer her up, I ride the half mile to her front door, to show her Red’s sweet face. Each time, my mother’s own face lights up. My dear stepfather feeds the good mare apples. Only he is given special dispensation from our strict rule of not feeding by hand. Red is gentle and polite with him, lipping quietly at his fingers until all the deliciousness is gone. This makes my mother laugh out loud.
Then I show off a few paces, and do some figures of eight, and trot off down the long field towards home. The mare pricks her delicate ears, leaving pleasure trailing in her majestic wake.
What is it with the horse? an old friend once wrote, a while ago. There are a hundred answers to that question. I could get philosophical and say that horses teach humans everything about authenticity. They are perfect professors of existing in the present moment. They have their priorities straighter than anyone I ever met. They care nothing for the superficial, and everything for the profound, unshowy virtues, like reliability and kindness and understanding.
I could say it’s a matter of aesthetics. In an often ugly world, a good horse is a still point of beauty. I could say it is the challenge – my old saw about the half ton flight animal under the ten stone human. Sometimes, I think it is the most simple thing – doing honest, physical work in the open air. And there is the funniness. Red is a natural comedienne, and makes me laugh every single day. She is a fascination of complexity too – both a duchess, and a conscientious and responsible lead mare. (It touches me daily to see how seriously she takes that important job.)
But just now I think it is that this delightful creature can bring a dancing smile to my old mum’s face, by the very fact of her simple presence. She is better than any medicine. There is something in that which goes beyond words.
For some reason, as I put up these pictures, a line from Prufrock comes into my head –
Let us go and make our visit.’
This was our visit:
Dozing, listening to chat, with the ears switching back and forth to get all the finer points of the conversation:
Are there APPLES?:
My mum, who was a pretty serious horsewoman herself and taught me the vital importance of light hands:
And off we go, with Red preening for the camera, and me still trying to explain to my mother why I have no bit in my thoroughbred’s mouth: