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:
Then, on a whim, caution to the wind (which was blowing a hooley), and LET’S GO:
Coming back, nice and easy:
And let’s do it again:
And, after all the excitement, she immediately settles back down for a nice sunshiny doze:
We did try to get her to prick her ears for the camera, but no, donkey face:
And then, for a finale, we rounded up the little Paint, who was not altogether impressed, but it made us laugh and laugh:
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.