It’s been a mighty, mighty week, and there is so much I would love to write for you. I have, however, reached the stage that the poor Dear Readers know so well, when my bamboozled old brain is trying to crawl out of my ears and find a place of safety. Still, I’m going to type a line or two, and hope that I make at least some sense. (At this point, there is a very real danger that I won’t.)
There is a line in The Big Chill, one of my favourite films of all time, which goes something like: ‘How much fun, friendship and good times can one man have?’ Of this week I feel like saying: how much learning, revelation, brilliance, elegance and sheer poetry can one woman take?
I could fill a volume with the specific things I have learnt from watching a great horseman in action. I’ve already applied some of them to the red mare, and even though I am clumsy and bumbling in comparison to the grace and accuracy of Robert Gonzales, we have still made a glittering leap forwards. This week, we rode round a huge open field, with no reins, in a steady sitting trot. NO REINS. I tucked them safely under the pommel of the saddle and lifted my arms in the air, and let the good mare find her own direction. The important thing was that she should keep the same, even gait, with her neck nice and relaxed, going kindly within herself, which she did, with all the fine poise of a dowager duchess.
We did it on two consecutive days, so it was not a fluke. I was so proud of her I felt like crying absurd tears of amazed joy.
I am still in the scrubby lowlands, but I can raise my eyes to the hills, and that view shines like diamonds in my mind and heart.
But perhaps more importantly what I learnt was a human lesson. When somebody is really, really good at something, and has all the quiet confidence that brings, they do not need to hector or swagger or showboat. They do not need to prove anything, or cast anyone else down, or put out more flags saying Look at Me, Look at Me. They quietly go about their business, drawing other humans in through gentleness and politesse. They make their point by shining example. They remain absolutely present, in the moment, carrying their talent and their assurance lightly, so it is a lovely generous thing which sheds its refracted light into observing eyes. Perhaps most importantly, they are entirely themselves.
That is what I saw this week, and it was a great privilege. For once, I am not reaching for creaky jokes, or clever lines, or antic paragraphs. I am committing the great British sin of being as serious as stones. But sometimes in life you see something which is serious, which leaves a profound mark you know you will never forget, which is so beyond the run of the ordinary that it lifts you up and gives you a new and gleaming perspective. Respect is due.
Because I am British, I can’t possibly speak these words to the gentleman in question. In real life, I have to scuff my foot along the ground, and be ironic, and smile a goofy smile and look away. But I can write the words, in the shelter of the page, even though I feel quite shy about doing even that. Sometimes though, you’ve damn well got to say the thing. Because life is too short.
So - thank you, Robert. You are a remarkable horseman. But you are an even more remarkable human being.
Happy friends, sharing their morning hay:
Stanley the Manly, ear flying, with a triumphant stick. It’s not the best picture I ever took in my life, but I wanted you to have the action shot:
I grew up in a racing and showing yard, where every single equine was gleaming and pristine. I could not hold my head up unless each hoof was gleaming with oil, and manes and tails were neatly trimmed, and coats were shining from grooming. I used to brush my ponies until my arm ached. Now, even though I can still appreciate a Best Turned-Out, and know how much work goes into a polished horse, I appreciate a different kind of beauty. It is the beauty of a mare just being a mare; hairy, scruffy, unadorned, covered in the glorious Scottish mud, with no prizes to win or points to prove. Herself is herself, and that is the thing I want most for her: