It is a horrid, dirty, rainy day in Scotland, although we are very lucky in not getting the gales which are battering the rest of the country. I quietly contemplate the new secret projects which are growing in my head like saplings, and take one last day off as the Christmas season rolls to its close. I am now at the stage where I have had enough old lady early nights and days of thinking of nothing but my beautiful red mare and walks and laughter with my dear family to restore me to agency. I look forward to getting galvanised again, and pummelling my brain back into action.
I’ve been reading all my Christmas books (very well-chosen this year by kind relations) and playing about on the internet, where there is a lot of sweetness and funniness, and watching the racing. I’ve even had time for cooking.
As I was wandering about on Facebook this morning, I saw yet another doleful story about someone having to put up with ill-mannered and ill-bred remarks about thoroughbreds. At once, I wrote a furious defence in my head. I was about to post it here. It was going to be very long, excessively detailed, based on empirical evidence, and shatteringly comprehensive.
Then I thought: bugger it. Stupid people will think stupid thoughts and say stupid things. Almost all prejudice comes from ignorance and fear. I’m not sure that anything I can write will counter it.
I think: living well is the best revenge, and the best refutation too. Each morning, I get to stand with my beautiful, kind, clever mare, and admire her. I never get tired of admiring her. She is my great professor. She has taught me about the fine virtues of consistency and patience and kindness. She brings out my best self. I am slightly ashamed to admit that I probably behave better with her than I do with humans, because she can’t speak English, so I can’t explain myself to her.
I have to show her, every single day, that I may be relied on, through actions. You can’t say to a horse: I’m so sorry, but…
You cannot wave your hands in the air and relate how you would have done this if only you had the time, or you forgot that because you had a deadline, or you really did mean to do the other but were prevented by circumstance. You have to damn well DO THE THING. Day in, day out; whatever the weather, whatever your mood, whatever demons have you in their crocodile jaws.
And she teaches me that if I can do that, she will reward me with a sweetness and loyalty that has no end.
It’s not just that thoroughbreds have strength and courage and speed and beauty. It’s not only that they are intelligent and willing and generous. It’s not merely that they have unheralded comedic skills. They turn out to have a PhD in life too.
When I got a horse again, after so many years, I thought it would be fun. I thought it would be good for me to be physical, to get fit, to be rousted from my desk. I knew dimly, although I could hardly admit this, that it was a way of staying close to my darling old dad, because he was a horseman to his boots. It held strong memories of the best parts of my childhood. Thoroughbreds are what I grew up with, and when I sit on Red, I feel as if I have come home. What I did not expect was that it would make me a better human being.
A single mare cannot wipe away all my flaws and frailties. I’m still disorganised. I still procrastinate horribly. I am still flaky. My time management is rotten. I still get myself all jangled up and fall prey to horrid imaginings and crashing angst. I still do really, really stupid things.
But this remarkable horse has taught me about the things which are really important, and they are not the shiny, glittering, headline things. They are the good honest quiet things, which come from the earth, and from the heart. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to thank her enough for that.
PS. I had not actually intended to write this. I was just going to tell you it was a rainy day and that I was not doing much and that I would be back to full blogging strength on Monday. This all came flying out, rather unexpectedly, from the depths. I think perhaps the love has to go somewhere, and sometimes it is too vast to be contained in my puny chest. It has to soar into words, as if I am laying down a marker, offering proofs, or, perhaps even more importantly, recruiting witnesses. You are my witnesses.
I imagine that you all have sentient beings, animal and human, who make you feel this way. I imagine also, especially if you are British, that you might be a little shy about expressing that feeling. It is not what Ordinary Decent Britons are trained in, here in funny old Blighty. One must be ironic and self-deprecating and restrained. Gushing really is a bit of a cardinal sin. But as the Dear Readers know, I sometimes think one has to SAY THE THING.
I am also keenly aware that I have written versions of this before. I fall into the wicked pit of repetition. But when something is so true, I think, I hope, it can bear a little repetition. I like to remind myself of it. I like to have it written, so that I can take down this book, and slowly read, as Yeats said.
Thank you for listening. You are so very patient and good. I feel better now I’ve got all that off my chest.
Oh, and since you have got this far, here is a little reward. I suddenly think: I’ll give you the full Yeats. It’s one of my very favourites, and one of the few poems I can recite by heart:
When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.
There is a man who knew all about the power of repetition.