I am in a slightly overwhelmed state. The regular Dear Readers will know that one of the things I love most is watching people who are really, really good at something. I adore brilliance. I doff my hat to it, and observe it with awe and wonder.
Today, I saw a horseman so good that it was like watching Nijinsky dance, or Olivier act, or Yo-Yo Ma play the cello.
I was doing my work at HorseBack, cantering about as usual with my camera, thinking of the Facebook posts I would write. I was very excited that Robert Gonzales had come all the way from California to share his knowledge and wisdom with us, and at first was only concerned with capturing the best shot. But after a while, I realised that something so rare was happening that I dropped the camera and merely stared with my eyes. At times, I could feel my mouth dropping open in cartoonish amazement, or my face falling into a foolish grin of pure delight.
Sometimes, at HorseBack, I hear stories from the veterans of the extremes of human experience, so bad and so far from my imagination that I can feel the very atoms of my body rearranging themselves, as if in outrage. Today, the atoms were on the move from the experience of seeing something so fine, so light, so ravishing, that it had a visceral effect of joy instead of sorrow.
What was it, this brilliance? It was so subtle that I can hardly capture it in words. It does not have soaring words to go with it, although it was a soaring thing. It was to do with steadiness, attention, timing, feel, a beautiful sure touch, a sense of something authentic and enduring. It was smooth and certain; there were no jagged edges. The thought was all about the horse, and getting that equine mind to a soft and easy place.
I thought I’d been doing pretty well with my red mare. I’d had moments of pride, which sometimes slipped into hubris. Now, watching the real thing, I realised that I was like a pub singer compared to Caruso.
That’s not the worst thing. I do not feel discouraged or downcast. At least the pub singer shows up. I feel humble, set in my correct and lowly place, but inspired to keep on going down this long and winding road until I can get within hailing distance of that kind of excellence. It will always be ahead of me, way out on the horizon, but if I could just catch a glimpse, I should be happy.
I love that there are people in the world who do such glorious things with horses. I love that the word they use the most is softness. I love that they are fascinated and enchanted by the equine mind and give it the respect it deserves. Until now, I’d only seen them on the small screen – old footage of Ray Hunt and the Dorrances, the documentary about Buck Brannaman, the brilliant training videos of the gentleman I take my instruction from, Warwick Schiller. But I’d never seen it in life before, and, up close, it is quite another thing. It is like a ravishing dance, and it made me smile the goofiest, happiest, most blissful smile in the world.
Just time for two, since it’s been a long day, and I’m good for nothing now.
The magnificent Mr Gonzales, with Brook the ex-sprinter. This does not look dramatic, but it was one of the most striking aspects of the whole morning. It was simply standing and waiting for the horse to soften after a bit of work, standing and letting the new piece of learning soak in, staying quiet and still until the head came down and the muscles in the neck relaxed and the eyes went soft. Sometimes it took a moment; sometimes it took many minutes. It was the unforced, patient waiting, the sense of having all the time in the world, the offering the good horse the space to work it out with no pressure on him that was so very lovely, and it was oddly emotional to watch:
My furry, muddy, red mare and I have miles to go before we sleep. (The woods are lovely, dark and deep.)
But we shall prevail. Because we might have our hopeless moments and our bad hair days and our one step forwards two steps back, but we are triers. Like dear old pub singers everywhere, bellowing out ersatz versions of The Streets of London, we show up. Which must be half the battle: