Author’s note: really don’t know what I’m writing about at the moment, so the poor Dear Readers need to put their Forgiving Hats on. Or, at least, it might help.
That sound you hear is the sound of hollow laughter. When I said yesterday that I was starting to feel faintly organised, the hubris angels flapped their wings and fell on the floor laughing. Today, I have piles of washing all over the floor, mud everywhere because there is obviously no time to brush it up, a car that needs an oil change (the light flashes plaintively at me, as if knowing that it will get no joy), forty-seven emails to write, a calendar which has question marks all over it as the dates I am trying to confirm prove as labyrinthine as backstage manoeuvring at a G8 summit, and a TO DO list which is longer than the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement.
Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.
Also my shoulder hurts and I’ve only managed to edit ten pages of book and am reduced to sending pathetic pleas to the agent to push the deadline. (Who thought it would be a good idea to write two books at once?)
On the other hand, the frost is glittering in the blinding sun, and the Younger Niece came out with me this morning and did some more filming as I rode the red mare. The duchess started off as relaxed as an old cow pony, but then felt the cold snap and the open grass under her twinkly toes and the antic world around her and threw down a couple of challenges. I could feel the power building in her mighty body and thought: well, this could all go pear-shaped. But it didn’t. I concentrated and kept calm and tried to remember all the new things I have learnt and she came back to me. The adrenaline fell, and I had my sweet girl again, and we ended on the loveliest of good notes.
I had, of course, despite my daily fight against perfectionism, decided to produce a perfect ride, for the Younger Niece to record. Then I could put it on the internet and be covered in glory and everyone would be impressed and tell me what a brilliant horse I had.
The mare said: perfect, schmerfect.
She was enchanting on the ground, as if lulling me into a false sense of security, and then wilful under the saddle. I wanted to go one way, she wanted to go another. I had to use my intelligence and persuade her, going back to a most basic exercise. ‘I have to do this,’ I said, slightly breathless, to the Younger Niece, as we turned in tight circles, ‘otherwise the whole ride will be a disaster.’ So, I fixed the wanting to go home issue, and everything went calm and docile and easy, and then the little Paint started yelling and people were doing strange things in the woods, so the mare decided she was worried about that. ‘I’m changing the subject,’ I panted at the Younger Niece, as we did serpentines and worked the special left-right exercise and made figures of eight round young trees. ‘If I can get her focus back to me and control her feet, we’ll be fine.’
We were fine. But it was not perfect, it was messy. The Niece, who is amazingly wise, looked up at me, as the mare, quiet again, stood silhouetted against the dancing sun, her head low, her neck stretched out. ‘I’m glad it wasn’t perfect,’ she said. ‘It’s good to see what happens when it goes a bit wrong, and then to watch how it comes right. I’m glad she wanted to go the wrong way.’
I sat very still, rather astonished. There was brilliance in her simplicity. She was not judging: she saw the triumph and she saw the disaster, and she treated those imposters just the same. If there was no going wrong, there would be no coming right.
It is my own idiot brain I need to fix, not my horse. I keep wanting to gallop ahead and say: look, look, there, I have it all sorted, I made a Perfection-Horse. Tell me I’m clever; give me a gold star.
I’m forty-seven years old and I still want a gold star.
After thirty years away from equines, I’m learning a whole new way of horsing. I’m still a novice at it, and I’m still in the foothills, and I’ll still screw up. But the point is that in ten years I shall still be learning. I’d like to be in the saddle when I am ninety, and I’ll be learning then too. It’s not about having a perfect horse, or getting any gold stars, or being a finished horsewoman, it’s about opening my absurd mind and letting knowledge come into it every single day. It’s about slowness and humility and concentrating on the process. Some days there will be wild, flinging delight, high peaks of achievement; some days there will be a crashing down to muddy earth.
The red mare is no pushover. She may be one of the dearest creatures I have ever met, but she is still a half-ton flight animal, bred purely for speed and strength and stamina. She has not an inch of sentiment in her, and if she feels fretful and flighty she will let me know and it’s up to me to do something about it. Three hundred years of selection went into her powerful thoroughbred body, and when I feel that power rising I remember that I can never get cocky or lazy or take anything for granted. Every day, she teaches me something, if only I will let her.
I find this a good reminder for life in general. The book I am writing came to me in a rush, and the words poured out, and I love it and believe in it. But it does not mean I can be cavalier about it. Just as I have to damn well ride that red mare, so I have to damn well write that book. I have to cut and polish and reshape; I have to think and think and think. I have to tie up loose ends and not just skate over the difficult parts. I have to go back to the beginning, literally and figuratively, and take slow steps until I get the thing right. I have to fight, every day, against self-indulgence. I have to fight, every day, against rushing and cutting corners and showing off. It’s not tap dances and show tunes; it’s steadiness and rigour. Which may not be glamorous, but it’s real and true.
It was a ravishing day today but cold as buggery, and my fingers are still frozen from removing slabs of ice from the water troughs. So I found some summery pictures from the archive to remind me what warmth feels like: