Author’s note: Because I’m off to the south, I’m allowing myself the unabashed indulgence of a post which is all red mare and nothing but the red mare. When I am yearning for her in the next few days, I can take down this book and slowly read. Although it really is about a horse, I do think there is a human life lesson in there somewhere. It doesn’t sound much, but I suspect it might be quite profound. It is: concentrate on the thing, not the intended result of the thing. It’s not mine, I pinched it. But I love it and I’m going to try and remember it.
Back on the 15th. Kind horse-sitter and dog-sitter in place. Packing done and plans made. I never go away at this time of year, but I’m going to see the oldest and best beloved of the nearest and dearest, and I am incredibly excited.
Here is your farewell post:
Today, I gave myself the great treat of a whole morning with my dear red mare. I stopped worrying about everything – logistics, packing, emailing, book, blog, HorseBack work, tidying the house for the dog-sitter, whether I would have to drive through Glenshee in a blizzard, getting an Irish stew cooked for my mother, and, most of all, I stopped worrying about the thing that I fret about most, day after day, which is time.
I allowed myself to exist purely in the moment, in the frost and the Scottish air and the dazzling sun, with my happy, furry horse.
As the temperature has dropped, she has cleverly fluffed up her sweet coat to trap all the warmth generated by her mighty body. As a result, she is less a thoroughbred aristocrat and more a great big teddy bear. She is in teddy bear mood too, stillness on the monument, peace radiating from her like smoke.
There is an idea in sport psychology, which I have just learnt from the brilliant Australian horseman whose methods I follow. It is: concentrate on the action, not the goal. So, as I understand it, if you are bowling a fast ball, you think about the run and the arm and the position of the fingers, not the fact you are trying to get the batsman out. This suits my current Zennish, concentrate-on-the-moment mood. I’ve applied it for the last two days to the good mare. Instead of thinking I’m teaching her on the ground to disengage or flex laterally because, later on, under saddle, this will give us a set of tools, I just think of the present action, and getting it right. The aim always is lightness and softness. The more you teach them, the more they respond to the slightest cue, and then they are happier, because you don’t have to get after them. I think they grow in confidence, because they have the answers to the slightest question. Oh yes, they say, I know this one.
And because I was just thinking of the thing, not the end, all was harmony and communion and joy. Everything was ease. For two hours, I came as near to crossing the species barrier as one flaky human can.
Later, after riding, I stood the mare for her photographic session. (Obviously, I need many photographs that I may gaze on when I am away, and missing her.) She stood, quietly dozing, not moving a foot. Then I untacked her and took off her halter and slightly hoped she would mosey off into the set-aside, so I could get some nice pictures of her grazing in the sun. But no, she wanted to stay. She rested with me, from her own choice, occasionally lifting her head to watch with interest as I pootled about in the shed.
I love that horse, you all know that by now. I love her with a great, singing, bursting love, a love that sometimes overwhelms me. She, much more flinty and practical and unsentimental than I, does not do love in the same way. I don’t think she even feels love. She is a horse, after all. She is a flight animal, and her ancestral voices tell her that her driving imperative is to keep safe from predators. That quest for safety is how her species survived and flourished. When a big horse leaps away from a tiny leaf, it is not being silly or naughty, but merely obeying its biological imperative. No point waiting around to see if that flash of movement is a mountain lion or not. Run first, think later.
If I stay steady and patient and rigorous and reliable, I can get the red mare to feel safe, and that feeling of security is as close as she comes to love. When she chooses, of her own volition, to stay by my side, she is telling me that I am her good place, and that is the highest compliment she can pay. That is her version of love.
That is good enough for me.
Posing for her close-up:
But really much easier to have a little doze:
Me: ‘You can go, you know.’
Her: ‘I like it here. I think I’ll just stay and have another little kip.’
Me: ‘You could prick your ears and put on your duchess face for the camera.’
Her: ‘I could. Nah, can’t be fagged.’
Can’t ever quite believe the colour she goes when the winter sun shines on her:
(Also can’t quite believe that she manages to eat and doze at the same time.)
And this is why she is called The Red Mare:
Stan the Man, here with his sternest face on, is beside himself. My lovely old black girls used to fall into a pit of melancholy when they saw the suitcases. Not Mr Stanley. He adores the dog-sitter, and looks forward to her visits. She is much more fun than I, because she does not sit all day at a stupid desk writing boring books. She thrills him to the depths of his lurcher soul:
Thank you, lovely Dear Readers, for all your kindness and patience with my absurd ramblings. Back soon.