I have slightly been living, like a camel, off the hump of the triumphant visit of the red mare to the care home last week. It was such a crossing of the Rubicon in so many ways. Flushed with the happy memory, I went back to easy, slow work in the safety of our home fields, doing things at which we could not fail. I became a little shy of marring the Great Moment with any subsequent setback, as if now only the highest accomplishments were acceptable, and any ordinary, muddly imperfections would render the whole thing a phoney and a fake. (The irrational mind really is a fiend from hell sometimes.)
Perhaps because of this, we had not made a firm date to return, although it was in my mind that I wanted to, since turning my lovely girl into a proper therapy horse is the dearest wish of my heart.
This morning, the sun was gleaming and beaming in a most unScottish way. We had a lovely lope out into the hayfields and felt friendly and relaxed and in tune with each other. I am crazy busy just now, and did not think I had the time to go and see the old people today. But I decided on a whim that we would just cross the main road into the village, so that the iron bars did not harden in my soul, leaving us once again paddock-bound.
Last week was low and cloudy. Today, because of the glittering sun, there were dazzles and reflections everywhere. Glancing light on shining surfaces has been one of the red mare’s bugbears since very early days, when she could go into top-speed reverse at the mere glimpse of sun on water.
Up went the head, on came the aristocratic snorting. Something had caught her attention like a laser, and it took me a moment to work out what it was. She had seen herself, in full view, reflected in the window of the local bank. Whoa, whoa, who is THAT??? For some moments, she could not process this new apparition in any meaningful way. The ladies in the chemist were laughing their heads off.
Bugger, I said to myself. I thought it had all been going so well. We’d got everything so soft and low and lovely, and now she was high as a kite again. For a moment, I was seized with shame and a sense of crashing failure. Then I took a grip, and worked her through it. Rather madly, we went down to the tiny industrial park, where the car mechanics are, and the recycling plant and the mysterious shuttered units with secret lorries coming in and out. There, as the rattly recycling trucks trundled back and forth, with their recorded voices shouting ‘CAUTION; LORRY REVERSING’ and their beep beep beep, we worked on lateral flexion and delicate turning to left and right until her stiff neck relaxed and stretched and eased. It took fifteen minutes. The lady with magenta hair walking her dog clearly thought we were nuts in the head.
Perhaps it was a little step backwards. If you educate a horse well, it should be able to deal with almost any amount of stimuli. But before I fell entirely into the beckoning pit of shame, I reminded myself that we are still in a learning curve, and that we did work our way through it. She came back to me, and stopped snorting at the glitters and gleams and the strange people and the alarming moving vehicles. She breathed out a long sigh, and decided that the mountain lions were not, after all, going to eat her whole. She dropped her dear head, and flicked her ears back to listen to me once more, instead of blindly staring at the hills, from when the attack bears would surely arrive.
So, after all that, we went to the old people. Because settling her had taken longer than I thought, they were going in for lunch. But two enchanting ladies disdained such ordinary things as food, and came out and gazed at the mare and admired her and said hello. She stood beautifully still, and tickled their hands with her whiskers. One of the ladies was so overcome with delight that she sang a special song. ‘Tail up, horsey,’ she sang, in a light, reedy, happy voice; ‘and bring out the sunshine.’ Red dropped her head to listen, much struck. I practically burst into tears. ‘That,’ I said, staunchly, ‘is a great song.’ My lady smiled so much her ears almost fell off.
As we rode home on a loose rein, composed again, a line came into my head. ‘Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.’ I have a suspicion it was first said by someone very wise, and possibly very famous. I don’t know where I heard it or how I know it.
It was not perfect. There was tension; there was snorting; there was some initial fear. We are progressing in so many ways, but my work here is not yet done. The progress will never be seamless and Whiggish, on a smooth upward curve. There always shall be blips and small reversals. The important thing, I think is to mark the fact that the good was so good. She was still and gentle with the two delightful women. She walked right up into a strange porch and looked in the great plate-glass window of the care home, so that those inside could smile at her. She brought joy to people who are stoically dealing with the twilight of their lives, when dignity is so easily stripped away, and mortality is starkly on show.
And once again, most generously, she left a steaming pile of dung for the roses.
All hosed off and cooled down and posing graciously for her close-up:
And demonstrating her tremendous ground-tying skills:
Which is doubly remarkable when you consider that Stanley the Dog was having a hell of a rumble with his new best friend Spike: