I’m not really here. I’m supposed to be getting ready for my trip, and so this is not really a blog at all. But I had to tell you of my red duchess. So this one is really for the horse people. The rest of you, just carry on as you were.
Yesterday was one of our worst days. Everything was out of kilter. We were like a scratchy old married couple, sniping and misunderstanding and missing the point. I actually felt properly cross with her, which happens about once every six months, as well as livid with myself. All hopeless and feckless and pointless. Into the garden to eat worms.
I never quite know how these things happen, although they always occur when I am getting cocky. I wonder if the cockiness transmits itself to the mare, and she does not like it. She is a very sensitive person, and although she has grown mightily in confidence, she is not a swaggery, sanguine sort. She feels things keenly. Because of this, she craves steadiness and consistency and calm. I wonder if the cocksure alarms her in some profound way.
My rule is that I leave all the personal stuff at the gate, as if I am carting it about in a great suitcase. My frets and worries are not her business. My job is to make her feel safe. But sometimes one can be carrying a little attaché case that one is not even aware of. I thought I was pretty fine and getting on with it yesterday, but I see now that I had some fairly gnarly tensions and furies twisted up inside. It is perfectly possible that my clever girl felt those, and was responding to them.
Today, the sun shone, and my demons had gone back into their cave. I had stopped lashing myself about yesterday’s debacle and went out with the intention of doing some lovely, slow, basic groundwork. Everything would be the kindest and sweetest and smallest of steps. I would concentrate on softness and feel.
And there she was, my gentle, saintly girl, back again. The crosspatch of the day before had vanished. We did a lovely free-school of such elegance and grace that I tried to make snapshots of it with my mind, so I could remember it always. Her dear ear flicked towards me, waiting to see what I would ask of her next.
That was the plan: do the fundamentals on the ground, and re-establish the harmony between us, and finish. But my friend the Horse Talker was up on her sweet Paint, and I thought, well, perhaps just a little ride. Just a nice extended walk, nothing more. The most important thing after a bad day is not to ask too much.
Round the field the two companions went, their ears pricked in the balmy sunshine.
‘Shall we go round the block?’ said the Horse Talker.
Bugger it, I thought. Stupid to waste a glorious morning.
Off we went, into the wide open spaces. Everyone was happy. The mare was all ease and lightness.
Up at the road, the girls observed the traffic. The road is our traditional stopping point. We are incredibly lucky to have plenty of fields to play about in. There is no call to go out on the public highway, where crazy people in vans might drive up our arse. (I have no idea why I think they might do this. Despite my attempts to eschew irrational thinking, I sometimes have a tendency to catastrophise.)
‘Oh, come on,’ I said, on a wild whim. ‘Let’s go out.’
The ex-racehorse and the novice Paint, who was only backed last year, both in their rope halters, walked out as calmly and politely as if they had been riding the roads of Scotland since birth. Huge lorries did pass by, although the kind drivers slowed with great care and courtesy. No rogue vans appeared. The girls did not bat an eyelid. Into the back lanes of the village we went, past barking dogs, random humans, and excellent building men constructing a whole house. Not so much as a flinch or a twitch.
To get back into the woods, we had to slide through a narrow gap between an old iron gate and a stone wall. It was so narrow that I had to lift my legs out of the stirrups. The mare did not pause, but kept a true line.
At that point I was so delirious that I dropped the reins and steered her gently with my body, waving my arms in the air as I sketched for the Horse Talker the full magnificence of the red mare and the mysteries of the equine mind. Red stretched out her neck and lengthened her stride, her body athletic and rhythmic under me.
As we got back to the field, one final test awaited. A vast oil truck was delivering its load of heating fuel. To get to the gate, we had to pass right next to it, as it was virtually jammed up against a tree. The space was perhaps three feet wide. It was a huge article, humming and grinding and shuddering away as it pumped its oil out.
Again, neither horse looked twice.
You may imagine the festival of pride and congratulation. You may imagine the kisses and hugs and strokes. I thought my heart would burst.
How can it go from dislocation and despair to harmony and communion, in 24 short hours? A long field discussion ensued, as we tested out various theories, covering everything from the jagged human mind to a spring-fit horse to a bad sleep interrupted by screeching owls.
I quite favour the notion that the dressage squirrels came in the night, and that was what made the difference.
I said to someone today: ‘The red mare not only teaches me about horsing, she teaches me about life.’
Today she taught me never to give up, that things are never as bad as they seem, that tomorrow really is another day. She taught me to return always to fundamentals, to have faith, to be kind and patient.
She also offered me a great gift. She did not get my best self, yesterday. Mostly, she brings out my better angels, but yesterday I fear she saw a glimpse of my darker demons. What she did today was so generous and moving that I feel tearfully humble, even thinking of it. She forgave me. She did not hold it against me. She took all her trust, in her dear hooves, and presented it to me, believing that I would keep her safe from the great lorries and the construction men and the barking dogs and the honking oil truck. It was if she was saying: well, you may not be a perfect person, but you are still my person. I still believe in you.
It seems curious that a flight animal, who has no concept of abstract thought or philosophy or psychology, can give a flawed human back a sense of self. But that is what she did.
Well, her, and the dressage squirrels, of course.
The glorious pair, relaxing after their morning of triumph: