Thursday, 28 February 2013


My To-Do list expands exponentially. I chase after it like the dog after a stick. I am almost organised, but not quite.

I love going south to see the Beloved Cousin, and I have the great glory of Cheltenham to look forward to. All the same, I shall miss these dear faces:

28 Feb 1

28 Feb 10-002

28 Feb 2

I think he knows I am going:

28 Feb 4

28 Feb 5

28 Feb 6

28 Feb 8

But he has the finest dog-sitters in the county, and The Horse Talker will see him every day, and no doubt, at some stage, I shall give in to my most idiotic instincts and ring up on the telephone so he can hear my voice.

The horses are fine. Although I have been told that Red gets a little duchessy and cross when I am gone. But I fret slightly about my lovely Stanley, on account of his chequered past. Still, I cannot be the women who never leaves home again on account of a canine.

Spare room, all spruced up for the sitters:

28 Feb 9

28 Feb 9-001

28 Feb 10-001

28 Feb 11

This is what the daffs look like now. I wonder how far along they shall be when I get back:

28 Feb 12

And the snowdrops, which might still be going, although I fear I shall miss their pomp:

28 Feb 14

28 Feb 15


And the beloved hill:

28 Feb 10

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

A quick day

Raging sun. The day starts at minus five, and soars dizzyingly to PLUS ELEVEN. Scotland is in her most glorious, giddy pomp.

There was:

Work. HorseBack. Logistics. The making of lists. An unexpected drive through the silver birch woods, with the high mountains in the distance still smothered in snow. Vital errands. Slight dog panic as Stanley spots a chicken, a fowl he has not encountered before. Chicken is rescued in the nick of time. Charity shop; tidying of cupboards; more lists. A perfect half hour with the mare. As always, not enough time. Never enough time.

Oh, and the Sister gave me the red hat, so I may wear it to Cheltenham. (It is from her chic clothes shop.)

So this is what I shall look like when I roar Sprinter Sacre up the hill:


Except without the mare and the gumboots.

And this is the good girl who got a big fat gold star today:

27 Feb 3-004

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Blog post the second. Or, a really glorious day.

Today was a glorious day. The sun shone, I woke galvanised, I got things done. After yesterday’s slightly dulled acceptance of some really pretty good news, I felt suddenly fired with purpose. Not just that work, but all the work could be done.

A pitch for another project, a salvage mission after the Great Set-Back of late last year, had been weighing on my mind. The set-back had left me bruised and bashed, and a horrid, tense procrastination had set in. Finally, the thing fell into my mind as if someone had sent it through the post. I wrote 1706 words in two hours, which is almost physically impossible. It sometimes happens like that. When an idea has been cooking long enough, and the sun comes out, literally and metaphorically, you can write as if someone is dictating the thing in your ear. This was one of those very rare moments.

The galvanic momentum even led me to get dull, logistical tasks done. I dyed my hair dark auburn and cleaned out two cupboards, and threw away things which were two years past their sell-by date. (They hide in the back of the kitchen cabinets, and occasionally reappear to mock me.)

I even worked out my Cheltenham outfits, because that is where I am going, on my trip south. I am going to see the mighty Sprinter Sacre in the flesh for the very first time, and you can’t just wear anything for a titan like that.

I spoke to the Beloved Cousin, I discussed politics and disgrace with my mother (her mind runs much on the matter of Lord Rennard), I did my HorseBack work.

Then, with an astonishing and most uncharacteristic jump on the day, I allowed myself two whole hours in the sunny paddock with the herd. Lately, time has been so pressing that I run down, at top speed, work, feed, groom, walk Stanley the Dog, and then hare back to my desk. Today, I could let my shoulders drop and enjoy the horses.

There was the great moment of the first time The Horse Talker sat on her beautiful filly. That is recorded for posterity, as such a moment must be, on the previous post. It was filled with great joy and serious achievement, and I could not have been prouder of the filly if she were mine.

Then I worked with my own good girl. We had a little moment in the woods yesterday. There is a particular combination of stimuli which sends her into orbit. It happens very rarely, but when it does, it is quite spectacular. It seems to be to do with being on her own, in a new place, with any sense of confinement. I sometimes think she is perhaps having acid flashbacks to her racing career; maybe she is remembering the tight rattle of the starting stalls.

Whatever it is, I decided we needed to go right back to the beginning and work on trust. That way, when she has these little emotive floods, she will know that she can rely on me to deal with them.

Back to basics we went. She was dozy and compliant and willing. So I took it up a notch, and improvised with the desentising. Off came my cardigan, to be turned into a flappy, unpredictable object. This highly-bred thoroughbred mare stood, stock still, untethered, until she was literally wearing the woollen item as a fetching hat. It might have been a little beneath her dignity, but it showed me that the bond of trust was there. I even blindfolded her with it, and she allowed herself to walk behind me for a few steps without being able to see.

This was not complicated dressage. It was not competition work. The movements I did with her were small and simple. But they were profound for all that. I had held a tiny flutter of worry after our bronco episode in the woods. Was I doing something wrong? Did she not believe in me at all? Had I failed her as the Good Leader? Today, she was so kind and attentive and still and immaculate that she set every corner of my mind to rest.

She got a lot of love, as you may imagine. She gives me so much, it is the least she deserves.


Today’s pictures:

26 Feb 1

26 Feb 2

26 Feb 3

26 Feb 3-001

26 Feb 4

The Horse Talker:

26 Feb 10

The girls, watching the show, like two old ladies at a matinée. I swear they almost handed each other a nice box of Maltesers:

26 Feb 11

Myfanwy was not as impressed as she might have been:

26 Feb 13

Heroine of the day, the lovely Autumn:

26 Feb 14

My dozy old girl, pretending she has never had any bronco thought in her head, ever:

26 Feb 15

Stanley the Dog was a bit left out of all this. He is still uncertain about the horses, not being able to decide whether he wants to play with them, chase them, flirt with them, or live in fear of these huge red and white creatures, so for serious work, he has to stay away. He was rewarded with some serious stick action:

26 Feb 18

26 Feb 19

26 Feb 19-001

The hill. Even after two days of a balmy seven degrees, it still has snow on it:

26 Feb 22

Two blogs today. Or, something really wonderful happened.

It was such an ocean-going, fur-lined, five-star, Red Letter Day today, that one blog post is not enough.

This is the first.

This is a little photo essay. It was the day that, after weeks of gentle but intense work, Autumn the Filly was finally backed. She has had everything on her, from trousers filled with water bottles, to astronaut space blankets. She has been led through rivers and into the dark woods and even down to the village to see a bus.

Step by easy step, the process unfurled. Everything was done with quietness and patience, so that she had plenty of time to get used to each new thing. She is only three, and quite often young horses, when they first feel the weight of a saddle and then a human on their back, will bronc and buck and rear.

Not this filly. It got to the stage when cunning plans were being hatched to find something, anything, that would surprise her.

The reason all this matters is that, by the time the humans got on her, she was so relaxed and trusting and accustomed to the unexpected, that it was just one more simple progression for her. Her first sense memory of being ridden will be one of ease and pleasure. This is profoundly important, because horses remember like elephants.

She took it all in her lovely stride. She did not so much as swish her tail.

I have to say that I was so proud of her that I had a small tear in my eye. It was a great day for the herd, and a testament to the thought and care and effort that has gone into her handling.

This took an hour and a half. First of all the leaning, then the weight, then the walking with the weight, and finally, finally, when she was completely ready, the great moment when she was sat upon for the very first time -

The gentle start:

26 Feb L 1

Testing the waters. The waters are fine:

26 Feb L 2

Even the kicking up of heels does not bother her remotely:

26 Feb L 3

At this stage, mild curiosity was her strongest emotion:

26 Feb L 4

A little rest and some congratulation:

26 Feb L 7

26 Feb L 23

Notice the low head and pricked ears. She is alert, but completely accepting of this strange new procedure:

26 Feb L 8

The first sit:

26 Feb L 9

26 Feb L 10

Proud owner, with admiring dog:

26 Feb L 11

At this stage, they are FLYING:

26 Feb L 12

What a wonderfully good girl:

26 Feb L 13

Could this filly BE any more relaxed?:

26 Feb L 15


26 Feb L 16

Silhouetted against the dazzling Scottish sun:

26 Feb L 21

Meanwhile, the lead mare, seeing that her charge is in very good hands, has a little doze:

26 Feb L 16-001

The quality of these photographs is not what I would wish, since this all took place in the middle of the day, the worst time for the light. But I don’t care, because it’s such a lovely story. And today, that story was what mattered.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Good news. But a slight failure in processing.

I got GOOD NEWS today.

I’ve been working on a secret project, something quite new and faintly unexpected. It was all because of my friend The Playwright, who rang up one morning and said: ‘I know what you should do.’

As all members of my family know, I do not take kindly to being told what to do. I’m not normally touchy, but, for some mysterious reason, in this area I’m like an Oscar diva being told that her manicure is all wrong. I can bridle and kick out at even the mildest suggestion. Even though I know most of them are meant kindly, and gently, the cussed bronco in me sees them as insidious judgement. What I want to scream, but mostly don’t is: are you telling me I don’t know how to run my own life? Or: do you think I am a snivelling IDIOT????

So it is some reflection of the love and awe with which I view The Playwright that he is pretty much the only person who can say this kind of thing to me and live.

Anyway, I followed his suggestion. The secret project was born. It went through a few twists and turns, stops and starts, jerks and swerves. It got reviewed and reincarnated, and then, hesitantly, I mentioned it to The Agent.

She asked for a lot of material. I wrote it, madly, rushing up to a hard deadline. Then: silence de glace. She was busy, she was in New York, she was being an International Woman of Mystery.

After a while, I convinced myself that it was so bad she genuinely did not know what to say. She had run out of pages in the thesaurus. I suspected that she was hoping if she went very quiet I might just forget about the whole thing and move to Canada.

Finally, this morning, the email arrived. Luckily, I was too busy to avoid reading it. If I have too much time to think with these things, I will procrastinate like gangbusters.

She likes it. She really, really likes it. She said kind things. There is a lot of work to do and a long road to travel, but the glimmer of gold stars was there.

The funny thing is that this has not sunk in yet. I am delighted, of course. But the week is so packed and fraught, my logistics are so demanding just now, that the brain appears unable to process Good News. Yes, yes, it says, immediately firing back an email about how the work can be done and the required changes can be made; yes, of course, it says, already mapping out the twisting way forward.

There is a little tinny trumpet in the background, echoing plaintively, offering a little tattoo of triumph. But I could not hear it very well.

It is good. I am happy. I’ll process it later, when my shoulders are not up around my ears. I’m going down to Red now, to tell her. She doesn’t really give a bugger about agents, but she is very excellent about pretending she cares.

This morning, when we were doing schooling circles, she suddenly stuck her tail straight up in the air and began doing a prancing, snorting canter. We were really only doing quiet work, but some devilry caught her. She was not being naughty or evasive; she was doing exactly what I asked of her. But the wild grigs were in her, the voices of her ancient past calling, her fine blood was up, and I looked at her and felt overwhelmed with delight.

So, it’s not as if I’m not feeling anything. I suppose the feelings she generates are incredibly simple ones. Mostly love, but also amusement, awe, admiration, and some visceral connection to the animal world. She does something wonderful, I am happy. She does something absurd, I kill myself with laughter. Yesterday, with her delicate mouth, she picked up the little hopper that we use for clearing the dung, and handed it over to the Horse Talker, as if to say: this field needs a bit of work. It cracked me up.

So it’s not as if my emotions are shut down. This is the kind of news that normally would have me doing cartwheels, yet I am not, quite. I feel a little battered and disbelieving. I suppose work is always complicated. Perhaps I had tensed myself for failure for so long that it will take a moment or two to realise that there is now the glimmer of success.


Today’s pictures:

It was a beautiful day today. But I have not had time to go through the pictures. So this is a small archive selection:

25 Feb 1

25 Feb 2

25 Feb 3

25 Feb 4

25 Feb 6

25 Feb 7

25 Feb 8

25 Feb 8-001

Sleeping in the snow:

25 Feb 10

And just sleeping:

25 Feb 11

And doing her Minnie the Moocher:

25 Feb 12

M the P:

25 Feb 13

25 Feb 14

Autumn the Filly:

25 Feb 16


25 Feb 21

24 Feb 20

This is actually today’s hill, in the astonishing Scottish light:25 Feb 33


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