This is an indulgent Red the Mare post, so those of you who are not interested in the horsing, look away now.
We’ve been working on straightness lately. The mare has a tendency to drift, and I suddenly realised that I had spent so much time concentrating on the groundwork, I had rather taken the riding side of things for granted. So I went back to basics, to teach her to go on a true line at a steady pace on a loose rein.
This morning, we had moments of absolute triumph – trotting for a full quarter mile without reins, the pace controlled with voice and seat. (I must admit there were moments when I was madly waving my arms in the air, I was so exhilarated. Some walkers who came round the corner looked slightly surprised.) And there were moments when she tested me – leaning all over the shop and deciding it was time to go back to the home paddock, so I had to grow stern and determined. She even got a little excited and put her sprinting shoes on for a quarter furlong, which she has not done for months. She is getting fitter and it’s starting to show.
So, there were ups, and there were downs, and after one of the downs, as I stiffened my sinews and gave myself a good talking to, and kept on, because one must always find the good note to end on, she suddenly went forward into the most glorious, relaxed, cowboy lope, and she softened, and we were all at once in a rolling, singing harmony. We went in long, wide circles, out in the open green spaces, the reins loose, keeping a beautiful steady pace. Everything fell into place. This was once a racehorse, I thought, and now look.
Then, I let her go, pointed her up a gentle slope, and gave her her head. And there it was, our first absolutely straight fast canter, with not a hint of drift or lean or jink.
We’ve done fast canters before, but they always ended with what I think of as a polo swerve, and I’d let it get a bit too swervy and out of hand. This was a different order of things altogether.
It had taken an hour of solid work. I had followed the brilliant method of an Australian horseman I admire called Warwick Schiller, and I could not believe the transformative effect. His idea is that you do not correct them when they drift off a true line, but simply turn them in the opposite direction. (We were describing wide arcs all over the place, drawing circles on the green grass.) Then, the idea goes, the moment they are moving straight, you leave them alone. I love this technique. It is so much calmer and more graceful than endless correction. Turn, turn, turn; and then – bang – there is the lovely true line. When it comes, it feels as if everything in the world has grown light and possible. There is a feeling of such effortlessness, and a communion, between human and horse, which is impossible to describe.
Although there were moments this morning when I grew frustrated, and had to control that frustration – she is just being a horse, and it is my job to teach and guide, with patience and calm – I looked back and was glad it was not foot-perfect. When she gives me little tests, it makes me better. She is, as ever, my best professor. She reminded me that I had made assumptions, taken things for granted, skipped a step. She took me back to Square One, which is an important place with horses. She keeps me humble, and brings me joy, and you can’t say that about too many people.
When it was over, and I got off and walked her home, the two of us swinging along together in perfect unison, at one with each other and the world, I thought that I can never pay her the debt I owe. She got extra love and food, of course. She got the good apple chaff and the fine new hay. But what she gives me is beyond any price. She makes me feel as if I can fly.
Sadly there was no photographer on hand to capture the Glorious Moment, as we were out on our own, but here is a picture of her from a few days ago, doing some impressive ground-tethering and showing off the full duchessy profile. That stretch is where we did the reinless trotting.