This morning, in the misty, rainy field, I find the red mare and her Paint friend lying down, taking their ease like two old ladies. Red scrambles to her feet and does her Minnie the Moocher walk towards me, her head down, her ears gently pricked in greeting. Hey, she says, there you are. There are no operatics, no prancing or whinnying or snorting. It is just a contented horse, happy to see her human. My heart blossoms and blooms, like a flower in springtime.
Thoroughbreds are bred for speed and strength. They are all power. Even when Red is at her most relaxed, when I sit on her I can feel that mighty engine, humming underneath me. At the moment, she is still off games as her abscess heals. At the moment, I feel a different kind of power from her. It is the power of stillness, of authenticity, of a good mare at ease in her skin, of a living creature with a mighty spirit.
I go to do my HorseBack work. Today, this takes me to World Horse Welfare’s Belwade Farm. They are having an open day on Saturday, and the members of the HorseBack team are practising in the indoor school for the demonstration they will perform. Belwade rescues horses from lives of pain and neglect and abuse. As I arrive, I see one of the happiest sights I know – the green, wooded hills of the Dee Valley dotted with contented equines given a second chance at life.
One of their rescues was Polly the Cob. Her early existence was a nightmare of neglect, and she ended up brutally tangled in wire, which has left a deep scar on her hind leg. Belwade saved her and then sent her to HorseBack, where she has been learning her new job. She has come on so well that she has already worked on a couple of the leadership days, and soon she will take her place on the courses proper, with the veterans and servicemen and women who have suffered life-changing injury and Post-Traumatic Stress.
This morning, as she returned to Belwade to show off her new skills, she brought dazzling smiles to the people there who remembered her well. It was a very moving moment. I think she remembered them. I have a belief that horses have a very strong sense of humans trying to help them. (If the red mare ever gets a foot caught in a rope, she will stand perfectly still and look to me to come and untangle her, as if she holds a granite certainty that I am there to get her out of any mess.)
I did my usual cantering about, taking hundreds of pictures for the HorseBack archive. Polly was exemplary, standing like a statue as a tarpaulin was draped over her and a giant pilates ball bounced on her tremendous arse. She was vivid proof of the value of desensitising training.
She was proof of something else, too, just as the red mare is. Both horses, in their very different ways, bring me back to what is important. They are reminders of all the unflashy virtues – kindness, steadiness, reliability, gentleness. You can’t blag or bluster or cow a horse. It sees through phoniness with its eagle eye. Swagger and vanity and narcissism mean nothing to it. If you offer a horse patience and sympathy and a good heart, that half-ton flight animal will do anything for you. It will go with you to the ends of the earth.
This never ceases to amaze me. It never stops delighting me. The rain may fall, the news may be bad, the slings and arrows may come, along with all the sorrows that flesh is heir to, and yet there, in a quiet field, is my one true thing. If Red were a human, she would read Keats. She might misquote him slightly. Truth and beauty, she would say, nodding her wise head: that is all you know and all you need to know.
And, I might say back to her, the small things. Know the small things. Find loveliness and solace in the small things, and, however bleak the weather, the internal sunshine will break through the clouds.
At which point she would pause, snort, give me a look, and say: you’re going to start talking about love and trees again, aren’t you, you mad old hippy?
Polly the Cob, this morning, with her old friends at Belwade:
And showing off her considerable tarpaulin skills:
Could any horse take a huge flying ball more in its stride?:
Little and Large, at Belwade:
The view looking south-west:
Another southern view:
Misty hills to the east:
And, rather randomly, here is a chicken, for the Dear Reader who loves chickens. It is not my chicken, but it is, indubitably, a chicken:
The elegant ladies and their lambs:
Red the Mare, from a sunnier day:
Even Red is not this red, but I was having fun playing about with the contrasts:
Oh, that face:
Stan the Man. Love this rather contemplative expression. And the heart-breaking ears, of course: