Author’s note: I really had intended to tell you something which was not about the horse today. But the red mare was so lovely this morning that it had to be recorded. My work is on full beam stress at the moment, with all kinds of pressures. In the midst of the maelstrom, this kind horse gives me a still small voice of calm, and there are not that many people you can say that about. So she gets her moment in the sun.
Quite often, I want to be somewhere else. When I am buying boring food in the boring shop, I want to be at home, at my desk, writing my book. When I am running dull errands to the post office, I want to be wrangling with the pacing in Chapter Fifteen, and working out whether that sudden tense shift works or not.
The place where I do not want to be anywhere else or think about anything else or fret about anything else is on the back of my mare.
We went for an adventure this morning. The little Paint had done a majestic escaping act yesterday, due to my arrant incompetence, and had been on a Magical Mystery Tour of her own. It seemed only fair that today they should both go out. It was the prettiest autumn morning and we had the time.
We took them on a new route, a perfect carnival of every single thing that should make a flight animal roll its eyes. Flapping washing, builders’ fencing, shiny tarpaulins, mysterious collections of barrels, men with power hoses, workers in high visibility articles, savagely barking German Shepherds hurling themselves against a boundary fence – not one of these could make the clever girls turn a hair. ‘Ha, HA,’ I shouted, hysterical with pride. ‘See how brilliant they are. All that groundwork really paid off.’
As I was gleaming with delight, showing off my thoroughbred champion through a pristine housing estate, the most prim and proper collection of houses I’ve ever seen, without a speck of dirt on the roads or a rogue leaf on the lawns, I imagined people inside, peering out, thinking ‘I wonder if that mare’s grandsire won the Derby?’ The Paint filly’s father is so famous that people send their mares to him from far and wide, and he has won so much silverware that I imagine his local joiners are in full employment, building new cupboards for the cups. Any silent observers were surely in for a treat.
At this point, the red mare, who likes to bring me back down to earth when I am going loco, lifted her tail and dumped a lovely line of healthy green dung on the immaculate tarmac. ‘Oh, I expect it will blow away,’ said the Horse Talker, quite unfazed. ‘Don’t worry.’
But I have a terrible bourgeois streak in me. I could not leave the mess. I leapt off, told the mare to stand, and left her slightly baffled in the middle of the crescent whilst I hid the droppings under someone’s laurel bush. ‘Compost,’ I shouted. ‘They won’t mind, will they?’ I raced back to the mare, who had not moved a hoof, and leapt on. The street reverted to its previous untouched state.
On the way back, I was in full bragging mode. The Horse Talker is used to this and listens kindly, in quiet amusement. ‘Oh, they are so perfect,’ I bawled. I listed all the frightening things they had walked past without batting an eyelid. I noted that both horses had been on the buckle the whole time, in their rope halters with no bits in their mouths, relaxed and biddable and like the polite ladies they were. ‘You know,’ I shouted, ‘I really think they are miracle girls.’
At which point, a black and white cat shot out from behind a dustbin. The red mare is used to dogs, but the sinuous flash of a feline is novel to her. Neat as a cat herself, she pivoted on her hocks and performed a dashing pirouette, worthy of the Spanish Riding School of Vienna. It was a fast turn, quite unexpected, and in the old days it would have had me off. This time, I went with her, not even unbalanced, as if I had asked for the manoeuvre myself. She and I are one person, I thought, happily. She snorted. I could feel her heart beating. She had had a proper fright.
‘It’s all right, old lady,’ I said, rubbing her withers. ‘It was just a cat.’
In the old days, the dial would have gone to ten and stayed there, and I would have had to get a horse packed with adrenaline home, clinging on with more hope than expertise. Now, quickly reassured, comfortable with herself and her world, she understood that the danger had gone and was not really a danger anyway, and reverted to her dear old donkey self and put her head down and stretched out her neck and walked home without my hands on her reins.
‘That’s the difference,’ I hollered, in wild joy. I was so happy, I laughed and laughed and laughed, as if someone had made the best joke in the world. ‘Best spook in the world,’ I cried. ‘Just one little moment of alarm and then back to sweetness and dearness.’
There has been an outbreak of anti-thoroughbred prejudice on the internet in the last few days, and I had got angry about it. I was going to write a whole essay about the might of the thoroughbred: the beauty, the bravery, the power and the glory. I was going to prove, point by point, how remarkable the breed is, how fine, how clever, how bonny and blithe. I would give examples; I would show my working. Those idiot people with their narrow minds would rue the day. Yes, there is a lot of power under the bonnet, even in such a dear old slowcoach as the red mare, who could not be fagged to race when that was her job and merrily sauntered round at the back, not seeing the point at all. There is that blue blood and that high spirit. But all they need is a steady human and good work and they become steady themselves, as docile as the sweetest cob.
I won’t write that essay. Closed minds will stay closed, however much I ransack the thesaurus for different words for wonderful. There is no point my ranting and raving. I can just tell the small story of the perfect ride and hug the memory of my poster girl to my heart and bask in the joy she brings. The pressure of work pushes on my head like a heavy iron plate, but every time I am on her back, the lightness comes and my monkey mind is stilled and my sense of self is restored and my sanity is preserved. Everyone needs their one true thing, to keep them whole. She is my one true thing.
PS. One of the Dear Readers asked about the Paint and whether she is ridden. She has a lovely owner who shares the field with me, and, as you can see, we ride out together when time allows.
PPS. The Horse Talker sent an email to the owner of the laurel bush, explaining about the droppings and apologising. He sent the loveliest message back, saying that he had been longing for dung and could we bring him some more. Clever red mare, I thought, even happier than before. Clearly she took one look at that garden and divined that her offering was just what was needed. She really is Champion the Wonder horse and no mistake.