I met some absolutely fascinating people today. One of the great things about my work for HorseBack is that I encounter people I would never otherwise come across. My horizons are widened and I am offered glimpses into worlds I might not know about. But most often, these meetings are just sheer pleasure.
They were the kind of people where all it took was one smile, one shake of the hand, one ‘how do you do?’ and we were off to the races. I joke about not getting out much, but I really don’t get out much. My social skills can grow dank and rusty. I am capable, in the wrong company, of being struck with catastrophic shyness, so that I can only speak in halting platitudes. If I get the right people, however, there is no stopping me. With these ones, there were quickly jokes, galloping conversation, happy laughter, even a bit of teasing, which normally takes long-term intimacy to achieve.
What was it, I wondered, which made them so charming and easy? What was it in them that drew out my very best self and allowed it to dance?
We did not have that much in common. I keep horses; they keep Aberdeen Angus. I write books; they make whisky. I am a racing geek; their faces were blank when I mentioned Nigel Twiston-Davies. We were different ages, and from different backgrounds.
There was a glimmer of shared cultural references, a nice reading between the lines, at once getting the joke, not having to explain anything. But it ran much deeper than that.
They were, I think, two exceptionally nice people who were very comfortable in their own skins. They were radiators. (Two types of human, my wise old friend The Designer used to say: drainers and radiators.) They were enthusiasts. They saw at once the positive. They were And people rather than But people.
I think a lot about being comfortable in your skin. It’s a gaol one tries to achieve with horses. If you train a horse well and give it good leadership, it has an ease in itself which means that disaster is much less likely to strike. A horse who is confident in the world is much less prone to bolt or buck or rear or panic. Humans who are comfortable are a pleasure to be around, because they don’t need to prove anything. They allow space for others, seeing no necessity to colonise everything themselves and plant defensive flags. They don’t have to show off or hog the conversation or put anyone down. They can understand arguments which are not their own, and do not take needless offense. They can laugh at themselves, and bring out the laughter in others.
I think this ease, this sense of proper self, is a good goal, because of the lovely ripple effects. People talk a lot about how to be happy, and I’m not against that, although I think happiness is a nebulous thing which can have twenty different interpretations. I read a really peculiar article by a ‘happiness expert’ yesterday. This professor of joy wrote proudly: ‘I have never read a novel in my life. There are only so many hours in the day and I have decided to fill them with activities rather than made-up stories’. Each to each and all that, but it seemed to me quite radically odd to dismiss War and Peace and Middlemarch and Persuasion as pointless made-up stories. I am still wondering whether the whole piece was a spoof. Perhaps in very, very small letters at the end it really said: ‘as told to Craig Brown’.
So, the pursuit of happiness comes with complications and problems of definition. But being comfortable in your skin is a solid, known feeling; it endures. It has nothing to do with mood or outside influences or changes in circumstance. One may be sad, and still comfortable in one’s skin. I’m not sure if one can learn it, or get it from a book, or achieve it through striving, but it is rather my ambition. When I see it, in its pomp, as I did this morning, I watch with awe and wonder the sheer pleasure that it brings. I spent forty minutes with two complete strangers, and I drove away feeling better about everything.
This person is entirely at ease with herself at the moment. She is woolly and muddy and scruffy, absolutely a horse, happy that the rain has stopped and we are working again, back in our routine. She gave me a free-school this morning of such poise and grace that I kept her going and going, just so I could watch the beauty:
I bang on a lot about the red mare and the love. The love is of course the overwhelming thing. I swear my heart has grown bigger since I’ve had her. Every day, I feel huge, huge love, that never diminishes or grows ordinary. But she also gives me daily aesthetics. Even as scruffy and covered in mud as she is, she is still a creature of glorious muscles and athleticism and moving parts. When she does her collected dressage trot at liberty, as she did this morning, I really do catch my breath, it is such a thing to see. Everyone needs beauty in their lives, and she gives me that gift daily, on top of everything else.