Tuesday, 28 January 2014

A host of silver linings.

Here is the thing I should have said about moods. They pass.

They pass, they pass, they pass, they pass.

The weather is catastrophically filthy today, so it is like living in a big bowl of dirty washing-up water, but I DON’T CARE.

I took the red mare out into the small paddock and did a join-up so entrancing and graceful and effortless that was as if she were a demonstration horse in a Warwick Schiller clinic. (Schiller is an Australian horseman by whom I am currently entranced, as he combines thoughtfulness with intense, no-messing practicality.)

Back to Square One we went, and instead of making us feel foolish and amateur, this return to the basics gave us both intense joy. There are few things in the world more moving than feeling a great flight animal following you at liberty, moving in step, turning when you turn, pausing politely when you pause.

We stood for a long time afterwards, in the rain. I had a goofy grin on my face. The mare lowered her head and wibbled her lower lip and gave me her forehead to scratch, as kind and relaxed as she has been in days. All was ease and harmony and understanding. For a moment, the universe made sense.

I had a sweet family breakfast and there was joyful family news, on several fronts. It is not only sorrows that come in single spies; sometimes joys come in battalions too. The best of the news is: there is a new great-nephew in the world. He is a very tiny fellow indeed, as he surprised us all by arriving early, but he is a fighter and a battler and he is growing like Topsy and I already feel intense admiration for his bold spirit.

At HorseBack, there were Marines. I’m always cheered up by Marines. There were veterans too, bashing on with hard work in the filthy conditions, making jokes and teasing me. I think of what they have been through and what they have seen. Sometimes I think it is the things that cannot be unseen which is the worst of it. But there they are, laughing their heads off, as the sleet falls on them. They are dauntless.

I backed a winner at Taunton, and wrote 1637 words of book, and even had a coherent thought or two.

One of the thoughts was about something that some of the Dear Readers say, quite often. They say, with great kindness and generosity: Don’t be so hard on yourself.

I have a terrible cussed streak. I am stubborn and ornery. I have a visceral reaction against being told what to do, even when the telling is done with love, even when it is wise and right. This is something I need to work on. It is what is technically known, in psychological circles, as my shit. (Actually, you have to say that to yourself in an American accent. It doesn’t quite work on the page in straight British. It suddenly looks rather scatological. But they are always saying it in films and it seems to me very expressive. Normally I would say stuff, but I think I need something stronger.)

Anyway, because of this absurdity, it took me a while to figure out whether the advice was correct. I grow sad when I see other women lashing themselves, so it seems preposterous to do it to myself.

After some contemplation, I have decided that I don’t think I am so very hard on myself. I do believe passionately in striving. That is why I sometimes ask myself: What would AP do? Tony McCoy never settles for second best. He pushes himself mentally and physically, and that is why he is the champ.

There is of course the point where driving oneself on falls into obsession and monomania. Perspective is lost. Life is not all about winning, and no amount of trophies shall equal the simple victory of loving and being loved. Gentleness and kindness, with oneself and others, are as vital as passion and ambition.

On the other hand, I do think one should kick on. I believe I can do better and I believe it is right that I should try. I want to write better prose, be a better human, grow into a better horsewoman. Every day, I want to learn something, or take a small step forward.

It’s not about perfection, nor about castigating oneself for flaws or frailties. I’m pretty good at facing my flaws, because I’ve had many years of practice. The flaws are so very flawed, and if I do not learn to love them and laugh at them I should be sunk.

But one of the things I love most in the world is a trier. I love horses who try, and I love humans who don’t give up. So, I don’t think of it as hardness. I don’t think it is pitiless lashing. I think it is a kind of try.


Today’s pictures:

Too wet and lowering for the poor camera today. Instead, in the spirit of public service broadcasting, here are pictures full of light. They are of the three beautiful faces I see every day, from a distant time when there was no need for rugs or hoods or piles of hay, when there were leaves on the trees and grass on the ground, when Stanley the Dog did not leave a little trail of muddy pawprints wherever he went:

28 Jan 1

This Lady Bracknell face is because the Duchess has just seen a jogger wearing FAR TOO MUCH LYCRA. There is almost nothing she disapproves of more. Autumn the Filly, as you can see, is much more forgiving and really does not give a bugger:

28 Jan 4

28 Jan 5

28 Jan 8

28 Jan 5-001

And a bit of the river, just for the hell of it:

28 Jan 8-001

Talking of trying, there is a lovely idea in horsemanship called Rewarding the Try. I think it may go right back to the Dorrances, with whom I am currently obsessed, but the good Australian speaks of it a lot. What it means is: don’t wait for your horse to do something perfectly before you give praise and love. It means: celebrate even the smallest move towards the goal.  If you do not do this, the willing equine will turn baffled and discouraged. I like it as an idea because it is generous, but it is also good manners. And that is my final thought for the day.

Very tired now. I know There Will Be Typos. I rely on my kind proof-readers, out there in the ether.


  1. Alternative to My Shit? "That's just my bag" works quite well.

    As for accepting or acting on proffered advice, what I have thought for years is that first-hand experience is tremendously effective but often so very hard-won. Sometimes it is easier, calmer, quicker, maybe even wiser to learn from the mistakes of others. I have often watched others struggle, flounder, fall and thought oh-oh, I must try NOT to do that if I ever find myself in the same position.

    It does no harm to have just one go-to person when up against it. As for unasked-for advice, smile and nod, smile and nod. Perhaps just say Thank You and move on. They are only trying to spare you pain, as they see it. It is kindly meant.

  2. "Stuff" is perfect in my opinion (well after shit obviously). I sometimes work for a company called The People Stuff and it's a title I adore and wish I'd thought of and trademarked.

    And following AP McCoy isn't the road to happiness. Not even for AP McCoy...

    Just saying!

  3. Sounds like "Rewarding the Try" might be a very good thing to do to/ for oneself....

    (Climbing off soap box now... ;) )

    XX Pat

  4. Congratulations! A new baby in the family is always such a joy.
    You're right about join-up. It IS magical, and graceful, and such a gift. Working through my fear of riding our thoroughbred, the join up is always the first exercise before the saddle comes out. I am not sure who needs it more ( me or the darling mare) but it sets the tone for lesson, that is, trust. Sometimes, it is hard to determine who is the brave leader and who is the flight animal,...but we're working on it!

  5. This:
    "But one of the things I love most in the world is a trier. I love horses who try, and I love humans who don’t give up."
    Absolutely spot on.
    And also, your brown suede boots.
    Most excellent.
    Love, Miss W xoxox


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