Friday, 21 March 2014


Pictures first today, because I want you to see the visual joy before I give you the words.

There was a ride of loveliness and delight on the red mare.

Starting off nice and steady:

21 March 1

Then, on a whim, caution to the wind (which was blowing a hooley), and LET’S GO:

21 March 2

Coming back, nice and easy:

21 March 3

Happy face:

21 March 5

And let’s do it again:

21 March 7

Whoop, whoop:

21 March 9

And, after all the excitement, she immediately settles back down for a nice sunshiny doze:

21 March 11

We did try to get her to prick her ears for the camera, but no, donkey face:

21 March 12

And then, for a finale, we rounded up the little Paint, who was not altogether impressed, but it made us laugh and laugh:

21 March 14

I love the tender look on Red’s face. She bosses that Paint mercilessly, and puts up with no nonsense, but she watches over her and keeps her safe from mountain lions, and takes her job as lead mare very seriously indeed.

And now for the words. Which, after those pictures, might not necessarily be what you expect. They weren’t really what I expected. But this is what came out, after all that joy. Bear with me; there is a point to it all. Or at least, I hope there is a point -


I fear death. I am most ashamed of admitting this, but shame thrives and grows in the dark, so the only remedy is to throw sunshine at it.

Fear of death is fabulously illogical. Death is the one certainty in life. Fearing it has no utility. It will not put off the dread reality; it merely clouds life.

I’ve been thinking lately why it should exist, this terror. I don’t think about it all the time, but when I contemplate mortality, a clutching fist grabs my viscera.

A couple of weeks ago, I was riding the mare on a quiet Sunday morning. The sun was out, she was light as air, we were in perfect harmony.

I thought, as I rode: perhaps the fear is due to greed. I always want more. Even when I am having a perfect ride, I am thinking of the others I will have, the progress I wish for, the adventures Red and I shall have in the future.

In the early days, when I was falling in love with her, I wished for more horses. Having an ex-racing thoroughbred was such a delight, I wanted a whole field full of the beauties. I used to go to Lucinda Russell’s website, and look longingly at the retirees she had for rehoming. (I do still think that if I should ever write a roaring best-seller, or get that crazy million-to-one accumulator, I would set up a sanctuary for retired racehorses and every day I could cast my eyes over a festival of thoroughbred beauty.)

It took me a while to realise that this one glorious mare was enough. I could put all my heart and soul into her.

As we rode on, on that sunny Sunday, and I thought of this notion of grasping, desirous greed, I suddenly realised that I was in danger of missing what I had under me, which was a responsive, happy horse, perfect in that moment. There are days when we wrangle a bit, slightly out of step with each other, and I have to work hard. And there are days when I get on and all is ease and light, and I don’t have to think, and we are together in everything we do, and it makes me feel like singing. This was one of those days.

I thought, quite out of the blue: if I die tomorrow, this ride will have been enough.

This morning, again, we had such a ride.

Every day we do something different. I teach her things, and I learn from her. Today, we ended up just playing. I let her breeze, as fast as she wanted to go. I have been concentrating for months on teaching her the joys of slowness, as a contrast to her fast working life. I wanted her to learn that velocity did not have to mean adrenaline or tension. Thoroughbreds are bred for speed; it is in their DNA. The fastness they use in their working life is often accompanied by pressure and excitement – they are on the racecourse or the polo field, and there is competition, and a human on top who wants to win. It is all zoom, zoom. I was turning her from a Ferrari into a stately old Bentley.

This morning, she picked up the pace, on a loose rein, and the excitement was there – she did that lovely racing snort I remember from childhood – and I felt the energy build in her great, strong body, but it was a lovely, dancing, contained thing. It did not overflow and master her. She was the mistress of her fate, the captain of her soul.

The steadiness that I have built into her, from months of slow transitions and work on the ground, acted as a delightful ballast, keeping her earthed. I stood up in the stirrups and whooped into the bright Scottish air.

And at the end of it, she came back to me on a voice command, and then moseyed over to say hello to the Horse Talker, who was taking the pictures of the momentous moment, and had a little doze in the sun.

What does all this have to do with death? It is - and I am scrambling to put this theory together in a way that makes sense - that I think that these flying moments are my own ballast. They are complete, in themselves. I do not have to grasp and stretch for more, and regret that one day I shall no longer be alive to have them.

I suppose it is the Buddhist idea of living in the present. There will be people out there who have worked all this out years ago, and will be smiling indulgently and thinking: I could have told you that. I had to figure it out, slowly and painstakingly, for myself.

I don’t think this revelation will be a miraculous resolution. I shall still have my scratchy battles with mortality. But it does amaze me that finally, on the back of my beautiful red mare, I have had a glimpse of wisdom and truth. I always say that she is my best professor, but I did not think that she would teach me such a profound lesson.

It is so simple and yet so hard to believe.

It is that this, this is enough.


  1. Repost this every day. It is the life lesson of which we need reminding :)

  2. Very good lesson. Horses are such good teachers of not being greedy and being happy with what one has. I also think being around horsey people is good for getting rid of any leaning towards the pathetic. I nearly fell off this morning and got the shakes. I had a sort of sideways whinge and was told bluntly that it is good for me to be out of my comfort zone sometimes; so true and so easy to forget as an adult.

  3. I'm not usually one for opening up about my feelings on-line (or anywhere else for that matter) but your blog today was very poignant to me as a few recent events have forced me to contemplate the big questions.
    My mum & dad both hit 80 this year and as much as I am acutely aware that not many are lucky enough to get to see both parents reach that milestone with their marbles intact and relatively good health I know that they won’t be here forever.
    My elder sister, who turns 53 this year, has been diagnosed with secondary cancer nine years after she ‘beat’ her first cancer. She is having surgery in early April and I have high hopes that she will come through and have many more healthy & happy years. She is very strong and I’m immensely proud of her (even if we don’t have the kind of relationship where I tell her that very often). It’s a worrying time for us all. If I could have the operation for her I’d do it in a flash.
    I think the acceptance of your own mortality is a gradual process. It was for me anyway & I’m sure some never get there at all. Of course we won’t really know if we are just ‘kidding’ ourselves that death doesn't scare us until it is put to the test.
    I've found that the more I learn about the vast age and size of the universe & the astronomical odds of any one of us being here at all the easier it is to accept and enjoy our brief flicker of consciousness. I’m always reminded of the great Mark Twain quote “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”
    All that’s very well of course, but it doesn't stop me wanting to be here long enough to find out the answer to some of the big questions;
    Will we ever contact life from other worlds?
    Will we discover a unified theory of everything?
    Will we blow ourselves up before those questions can be answered?
    And a few closer to home;
    Will Sotomayor’s high jump record ever be broken?
    Will England ever win another football world cup?
    Will we ever see another horse to match Arkle or Frankel?
    I can actually get quite annoyed that I won’t be around to find out the answers to these things so that in itself is a good enough reason for being pig-headed and staying around for as long as I can.

  4. My God, Tania, you are so honest. I think self-awareness equals wisdom when coupled with honesty and gratitude and some sense of connectness. I suppose I worked out the mortality/joy in today thing around ten years ago - when I was as young as you are - but what I've also learned it that we have to KEEP ON working it out as we go along. So glad to know you.

  5. I think this is probably the life lesson, as makemeadiva says. Thanks for pointing it out so beautifully - Rachel

  6. I don't fear death so much as the way in which I will get to that point. The thought of a piano falling out of the sky on my head and ending me in an instant is perfection. The thought of being old and infirm, alone, in some nursing home or out on the street, in an agonizingly slow fade, terrifies me. I have no children, and neither does my sister. There is no younger generation that will take care of me. My mother is past 70, and will be gone before I reach dotage most likely. My husband is older than I am, and so statistics tell me he will die before I do. Which leaves me alone. So long as I am a tough old bird and can still drive, work, and do what needs doing, I'm fine. But the thought of becoming incapable - that is my worst fear, and nothing that I do now, no momentary joy, however brilliant, makes it any less.

    "The readiness is all" - Hamlet


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