Monday, 7 April 2014

A bit of a ramble.

Author’s note:

This is one of those blog posts which is far too long and rambly, and in which I don’t quite get to the point. I’m also perfectly certain it has typos and other possible errors. It’s been a long day and I’m too tired to edit it. My cautious brain is saying: don’t post it; give the Dear Readers some nice, diverting Stanley the Dog pictures instead. My what-the-hell brain is saying: oh, go on, they’ll navigate their way through the thickets.

What the hell wins.

I give you full permission not to read it and to come back tomorrow when I may be more pithy and coherent.

Here it is, more woolly than the red mare coming out of winter:


This is a very horsey story, but, as is so often the case, I believe that my equine professor has given me a good lesson in life.

I’ve been thinking lately about all the things I do understand about the human condition. Most of the time, I find that the older I get, the less I know. Certainty seems to flee with age, but perhaps that is a good thing. It saves one from the didactic at least. But sometimes I like to shuffle through my internal files and see if there are some things I think are true.

Lately, I have decided that one of the most important of those things is to compare yourself down. Actually, I think comparisons are generally pernicious, but they do seem to be ingrained in human nature, so if one has to compare, one should do it downwards. My failing is a tendency to look at people who are much, much better at things than I am. I then feel like a hopeless case beside them. I shall never write as well as Scott Fitzgerald, or ride as well as William Fox-Pitt, or be as clever as Simon Blackburn. Might as well go into the garden and eat worms.

Then the good rational brain kicks in, and I think of the things I can do, which perhaps other people cannot, and the lashing subsides a little. This goes along with my gratitude list, which sometimes takes another form of comparison – I can drive, which is more than the ladies of Saudi Arabia may do; I do not have to walk ten miles each morning to get water.

However, sometimes I slide. This weekend, I was looking at my favourite horse forum on the internet, where people who have ex-racehorses gather. It’s a very kind group, and everyone is very pleased for each other’s successes. Just lately, people have been having a lot of successes. There have been dressage triumphs, and cross-country schooling, and working in a perfect outline. I suddenly felt terribly amateurish and second-rate. I’m just pootling about with my mare, and we shall never win any prizes. (When I get this sort of feeling, I quite forget that I do not want to win prizes.)

To compound the problem, Red and I had one of our three steps backwards moments on Saturday. I don’t know what it was – I was tense, she had had a bad night, it was the spring grass. Whatever the mystery, she was resistant and heavy, leaning all over the shop and throwing her head in the air. I had to work and work, and even though we do not have battles, it felt a bit like a horrid tussle. I did find a good note to end on, because one must always have a good note, but I was left with not much sense of achievement.

This always tends to happen when I get a bit swaggery. We have good days, and then I can’t help boasting about it, and then she shows me that my hubris will not stand.

This morning, I had a serious conversation with myself, and decided to go back to basics and work out a proper training programme. Otherwise how would I ever compete with all those people with their dressage and their rosettes? (You see already the flaw in this thinking.)

I must admit that I was slightly braced for failure. But I squared my shoulders and marched into the fray.

We started with some free schooling. This is where I take her into the smallest paddock and send her round in circles in walk and trot and canter without any halter or rope, just using my body language and a bit of voice.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, the old harmony came. Not only was she going beautifully, but her inside ear was flicking towards me, constantly listening for my next instruction. Encouraged, I sent her on into a fast canter. She remembered that it was spring, and suddenly put her sprinting shoes on. I could see the adrenaline flow through her, as she recalled her fine racing blood.

Let’s just see, I thought, if I can bring her down again. So I asked her to walk. She walked. Then I asked her to trot. She trotted. Then I asked her to walk again. She walked. By the end, we were doing three steps of walk and three steps of trot, using only my voice. Trot on, and walk on. Trot on, and walk on. It was as if there were an invisible thread between us. I don’t think I’ve ever been so amazed by anything in my life. When I asked her to stop, she stopped, and looked at me as if to say: well, of course I can do that. I, on the other hand, could not contain my astonished delight, and threw myself on her neck in a fever of congratulation. She nodded her head sagely, taking it as her due.

This is a tiny thing. It would not impress the dressage judges. It would not win any silver trophies. But to me, it was absolutely huge. It does not matter that we shall never look as shiny and smart as those show horses, or jump double oxers, or complete a perfect test. It’s pointless comparing ourselves to those who can do those things. What matters is that there, in that quiet Scottish field, with nobody there to validate or witness, we were in perfect union, in profound sympathy, horse and human crossing the species barrier.

It was so lovely in itself that there is no need for comparison. It stands alone, as a moment between me and my horse. But if I were to compare, I could be proud that some people will never know that feeling I had today. Or, I could look back at my own self, when I started with this remarkable equine, when I did not have a clue, and felt that I had bitten off way, way more than I could chew. Step by humble step, with mistakes and muddles and setbacks and all, we built a relationship. That is my silver trophy, right there. That is my life lesson.


Just time for one picture, from Saturday evening, of the good companions, enjoying that spring grass:

7 April 1


  1. What a wonderful, wonderful connection you two have - so many people must be envious of that - possibly don't have that kind of connection between two people. Isn't this what it is all about? The connection? Isn't that what we all want, really? It's why we read blogs, books, twitter, Instagram, write poetry/books, make films or smile at others?

  2. With those transitions it seems to me that a dressage test would be quite the thing altogether. For the fun of it, naturally :) Some horses like a trip out as much as the rest of us.

  3. I know you started out writing about comparisons. And I also know that it's not about competition.
    That said, I think that your patient perseverance to come to a "good note to end on" is so much more valuable, worthwhile (can't find the exact adjective I want!) than any trophy or some such. The bond between you & wonderful and wonder full.

  4. This is not a tiny thing - it is an amazing thing! An ex-racehorse doing as you ask her on voice alone. If I could do that, I wouldn't stop grinning for days.

  5. The balance between pushing yourself to be the best you can be and yet not minding when you are not as good as you want to be or as somebody else is very hard to achieve. In yoga they call it "non-attachment to the pose". I suspect it's the journey in the end that counts rather than the destination but most of us just shuttle back and forth between enjoying one and fretting about other. Also some days letting go of the ego is just easier than others. Increasingly I think it's in the stars - which is another way of saying I don't seem to have any control over it. But a horse that responds to the sound of your voice - that must surely be a great thing? Rachel


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