Monday, 25 August 2014

A small thought on happiness.

The blog may be a little spotty in the next couple of weeks as I am up against a hard deadline and my brain is about to explode. Forgive me.

Today though, it turns out I do have one small thought.

This weekend I went to the Blair Castle International Horse Trials, as part of my work for HorseBack UK. The team did a mighty demonstration there, and it was my job to record it.

Blair is in one of the most ravishing parts of Scotland. I drove through the indigo and purple glories of Perthshire, with the glancing early morning sun shining ancient and amber over the folded hills. I have not been to a three-day-event since I was a child, and it was rather thrilling to see so many powerful and supremely fit equine athletes.

The worry always in this kind of situation is that I should look at the gleaming stars and think of my scruffy, muddy mare back in her quiet field, and feel inadequate. Why were we not winning silver cups and red rosettes? Why was she not getting the first prizes which she deserves?

I’ve been thinking about happiness lately. I have read quite a lot about the science of happiness (it really appears that such a nebulous concept is now being codified) and I have, you will be amazed to hear, several theories of my own. Most of the theories, you will be even more amazed to hear, revolve around love and trees.

My enduring line is that high expectations are the enemy of happiness. I think what I really mean by this is unrealistic expectations, or wrong expectations. Comparing yourself upwards and wanting what you don’t have both factor in to this equation. Why am I not like this? Why can I not have that? More and more, I come back to the immediate, and the small. Love what you have. Cherish what is, not what might be.

Because I’ve been thinking of all this, I had no batsqueak of longing, when I saw the Blair stars. They do what they do, and the red mare does what she does. She does not need a silver challenge cup, since she is the holder of the perpetual trophy which lives in my heart. She does not need to prove herself with prizes. She is perfect just the way she is.

Instead of wondering why we were not jumping and competing and doing dressage and winning things, I noticed the qualities Red has which those brilliant competitors perhaps do not. She needs no fancy tack. No martingales or drop nosebands or Pelhams for her. She goes sweetly within herself in a rope halter. She will come to a dead stop from a fast canter if I say the word ‘and’. (This has happened by accident. I was teaching her whoa, and I always prefaced it by and, so now ‘and’ is all she needs. She is that clever.) She can free-school with such astonishing precision that she will now do transitions from my body alone. I merely raise my energy for a trot and lower it for a walk. (It is at this point that the crazed voices in my head start shouting MIRACLE HORSE!!!!!)

But actually, even that is not required for happiness. Of course I love that she can do all these things. I am so proud of her on some days that I feel my entire body might just take flight, and soar away over the Scottish hills. Yet, the happiness part is more earthed, more humble, more ordinary than what she can do. It lies in what she is: in her gentle presence, her kind face, her horsey horsiness.

It lies in these pictures. This is what she does when I arrive at the gate each morning. She looks up, thinks, nods, seems quietly pleased, and mooches over, with her eyes bright and her ears pricked. This is not one of the many things I have taught her to do. She just does it. She is a mare at ease with herself and her human. That, that, is the gift; that is what makes my heart sing.

I’m not sure there is a secret to happiness. I’m not sure there is supposed to be. But if ever anyone were to ask me advice on the subject, I would say: think small. It is in the very small that some of the greatest joy is found.

My morning love:

28 Aug 10

28  Aug 11

28 Aug 13

28 Aug 14

And here are the majestic Perthshire hills, through which I was lucky enough to drive on Saturday, and which also bring me simple joy:

25 Aug 1

25 Aug 2

25 Aug 3

25 Aug 4

25 Aug 6

25 Aug 9

PS. Here is another small story about taking delight in the ordinary things. There is a horse I adore called Beacon Lady. She is not a famous horse, and she will never make the front page of the Racing Post. But she is tough and willing and she has a fabulous quirk: she only likes Brighton and Epsom. Those two courses are where she does all her winning.

Her connections recently put her up in grade, out of the unremarkable handicaps she had been winning, and she had the slight humiliation of trailing round behind  much, much better horses. Today, she was back at her own level. Still, there were good reasons to think she would not win, and the bookmakers reflected this when they priced her up at 10-1 first thing. I whacked a tenner on her out of love and loyalty. If I did not back her, she would of course know, and never forgive me. (You see how well my battle against magical thinking is going.)

It was raining so hard that the cameras could hardly see the start through the gloom. Beacon Lady did her usual thing of loping round right at the back, about twelve lengths off the pace. Even though I am used to her doing this, I did not take it as the most brilliant sign. Then her good jockey switched her to the middle of the track, so she had plenty of room, and sent her for home. The sweet girl lifted her head, as if to say: I’m at EPSOM, my favourite place in the world. She put her sprinting shoes on, and scorched through the mud and murk, leaving the rest flailing in her wake.

I’m not supposed to be watching the racing today. I’m far too busy writing 2332 words. But I stopped the clocks for Beacon Lady, who will never trouble the headline-writers, but who is always above the fold in my heart. A handicap at Epsom in the rain on a Monday is virtually the definition of a small thing. It will have me smiling for the rest of the day.


  1. One of my favorite posts in a while. Such a simple sentiment that so many of us lose sight of so easily.

    I don't comment much, but I do read often and enjoy your thoughts and the views from your part of the world.

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  2. What you seem to me to be describing is the sweet contentment of true love that is fully reciprocated. It can come in many forms, between lovers and spouses, in very deep friendships, between parents and children and in this case even across the species divide. However it manifests there is the wonderful feeling of clicking and fitting and valuing, so that one never envies others what they have. It can even happen when a house becomes a home, the same feeling of rightness and completion.

    You are bang-on correct about not comparing up. It's a pernicious habit to be avoided at all costs, a recipe for discontent. One also loses sight of those less fortunate, and with it a bit of our human compassion can be chipped away so easily.

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