Out into the bright Scottish autumn we go - the red mare, the little Paint, the Horse Talker and me. The leaves on the trees have turned such a radiant colour that it is as if they are being illuminated by some mysterious inner light. They glimmer and gleam against a dusty Wedgewood sky. The splendid cows, big and burly and imperious, convinced of their own superiority, stand silhouetted against the horizon, a slight mist blurring the hills behind them, which roll in indigo waves like a silent sea.
The horses are bright and relaxed. They love this still, clean weather. We take the now-traditional obstacle course – past men with buzz-saws clearing the fallen trees, the mandatory wigged-out dog with its tremulous owner, gentlemen with leaf-blowers, a mysterious rattling vehicle in angry burnt orange with a roaring grill effect and a quick, clanking way of moving. Yeah, yeah, say the good girls, hardly flicking an ear; nothing to see here. Up into the deep woods, where the mountain lions certainly live, and the forest floor is gloriously muffled by moss and old pine needles, the red mare gives half a snort, as if she is contemplating putting herself on alert. Then she thinks better of it and stretches out her neck, calm as an old hound. On the way home, we exit, pursued not by a bear but a running man in screaming day-glo.
‘Jogger!’ calls the Horse Talker, to warn me.
Afterwards, I laugh. ‘Do you think,’ I say, ‘that he’s run all the way home muttering I’m not a jogger, I’m a runner?’
It was the perfect ride, the perfect gift. Two kind horses, in harmony with their humans, on a loose rein, in rope halters.
We are very proud of how kindly they go in their halters. It’s not a whole anti-bit thing, it’s just that’s how we train them on the ground, and those are the cues they know. The mare’s old snaffle droops in the feed shed, slightly redundant. We have a little joke that the people in the village secretly feel sorry for us, thinking that we are so scruffy we cannot afford bridles and martingales and proper kit. ‘Perhaps they’ll have a whip-round,’ I say, slightly hilarious with joy.
All the things, I think, that thoroughbreds are not supposed to be able to do, because they are too wild, too hot, too untameable. All that nonsense. The mare sighs with content, at ease with herself. I’m going south for a while. I took the time this morning because this will be our last ride for almost two weeks. It will gleam in my memory as I drive to the Beloved Cousin, lifting my heart.
I want, for a moment, to write to the horseman I bought the red mare from, to tell him of her brilliance. I want to tell him of how beautifully she goes, across all terrains, with me riding her with one finger. I want to tell him of how she can do transitions now from voice only. I want to tell him that she will politely back up when I merely squeeze my fingers on the reins, that she can do self-carriage as elegantly as the most stately dowager, that she no longer drops her shoulder or leans against me, but goes straight and true and light, within herself. I want to describe for him the lovely, long muscles she has developed on her great, athletic body. But he is gone to Argentina, to make ponies for the ten-goal titans they have out there, and I suspect this is all very small potatoes to him. (It is huge potatoes to me.) He is a professional, after all, with horses in his bones. We are a pair of gentle amateurs, in the best sense of the word, with its root in the Latin for love.
Love, love, love, love. That is all it is, really. Glorious, earthy, daily, heart-stopping love. She really has no idea what it is she gives.
As I go on my travels, I shall almost certainly neglect the blog. I’m going on my traditional autumn visit to my family in the south so there shall be cooking and chatting and children and all sorts. A great deal of life, in other words, which shall get in the way of pondering and writing. Forgive me. Back with a bang on the 17th.