Monday, 31 March 2014


915 words of secret project. Delightful work at HorseBack, as a new course arrives. A light, flying breeze-up on the red mare of such loveliness that I have no words for it.

Afterwards, as we rode back on the buckle, we ran into a gentleman planting a hedge. He is a very nice man whom I know slightly. I hadn’t seen him about for a bit, and I greeted him with pleasure.

One of the most charming things about the red mare is that she loves human conversation. I think the sound of interested voices and happy laughter soothe her. She can stand for hours, with her dozy donkey face on, just listening. (One of the first things you teach a horse in the groundwork I practice is how to stand still, but with Red this stillness is not just learnt, but innate.)

As the gentleman and I talked, the mare settled herself in for some good chat. The gentleman ran his hands along her mane and rubbed her face and she turned towards him in pleasure. ‘You have made a friend,’ I said to him, with pride in my lovely girl.

It turns out that the reason I have not seen him for a while is that he has cancer. He has been going through desperate treatments, with hideous side-effects. As is so often the case, the treatment was almost worse than the disease. ‘I would not wish it on my worst enemy,’ he said.

I have a lot of practice from HorseBack of not putting on the pity face, when people tell you terrible things. I’m quite good now at being matter of fact, and cracking jokes. My natural British reticence and embarrassment in the face of unimaginable suffering is becoming seasoned with a more resilient practicality. So the conversation was much easier than it might have been eighteen months ago.

The gentleman has beaten his disease for now. It still exists in him, but the treatment did work. ‘I’m lucky,’ he said. ‘I am alive.’

As I rode away, feeling the lovely, easy swing of my great horse underneath me, watching the Scottish sun break through the morning haar, I felt alive too. I felt intensely fortunate and grateful that I have this day, this moment, this place, this mare, this love.

Later, I talked to someone else who might not have been alive, this time from suicide. The subject came up naturally, and was also treated with a low, matter of fact approach. I kept my eyebrows steady and did not exclaim.

It sounds a bit odd, but there is a sort of gift that people offer, when they tell you their profound truths, even if those truths are sad and sometimes frightening. I am crap at small talk and like the big subjects. I love authenticity almost above all things. I feel privileged when people tell me their stories.

And in those stories is perspective. The sharp relief of the mere fact of being alive, not haunted by demons, not beset by sickness, makes me catch my breath. Life is so unfair, so random. I feel preposterously blessed. It is not that I have escaped sorrow or loss or bumps in the road. I am subject to all the fears and hurts that flesh is heir to. On some days, I feel as if my bashed old heart is held together with binder twine. But today, I felt a magnificence in the moment. Everything was sharper, clearer, more vivid. It was day of gifts.


Today’s photographs:

The grape hyacinths have arrived:

31 March 1-001

As has the Japanese cherry blossom:

31 March 2

Stan the Man. Oh, the nobility:

31 March 4

Very sweet moment at HorseBack this morning:

31 March 5

No photographer today to capture the gloriousness of the red mare, so these two are from last week:

31 March 8

31 March 9


  1. Reading this a day late, but no matter, it so fits my today. A day of gratitude so intense it nearly takes the breath away, just for the gift of life and being able to recognize the smallest moments in it.



  2. You are offering a gift just as great - even greater, really - by listening the way you do and by not objectifying the person who is confiding in you. You are giving that person the space and the comfort zone in which to unload their burden, and to build their confidence to perhaps tell it again to others in their life who may not be as considerate or disciplined in their response. You're giving them a safe place to practise talking about something difficult, giving them a chance to normalize and get used to expressing themselves. That is a great gift, indeed.


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