I think, as I get older, that things often turn out for the best. Or at least, better than one hoped when the plan changed. Because I got stuck in traffic, I caught that magical programme on Radio Four I would otherwise not have listened to. Because so-and-so was late, I was in when an old friend on the other side of the world happened to ring up. That sort of thing. Little things.
This has happened in two different ways in the last week, both to do with the camera.
On the third day of Cheltenham, I was contemplating not taking the camera. I love catching my equine heroes and my old four-legged friends forever, so I can go back and look at them with love. But the problem with having a camera is that it does get between me and the actual world. I am so busy looking for angles, that I almost miss the beauty right in front of me, in an odd, paradoxical way. Still, I could not bring myself to leave it behind for all that, and I planned my usual snap snap snap. When I got to the course I found I had left my memory card at home.
Because of that, I have no pictures for posterity of the mighty AP winning his last ever race at Cheltenham. But I have it in my head, in my muscle memory almost. I can still feel my throat grow sore with shouting, the hard percussion of my hands clapping, the flat gallop of my boots on the tarmac as I ran to the winner’s enclosure, the beat beat beat of my delirious heart. I don’t have any visual proofs, but I have that moment with me until I die.
Part of the reason that I drive all those miles is that I love seeing the beautiful athletes up close. I rush to the pre-parade ring before each race, and on this day, without the camera, I did what I always used to do, which is get in right up close, on the rail, so I can smell the beauties. Racing horses smell of leather and air and excitement and honesty. I can drink them in and feel the beauty and the glory and the sheer power, right down to my toes.
I never took a photograph of Frankel, but I can still remember watching him stalk round the tiny little top paddock at York, under the shady trees. I can still hear the excited cries of the small boy who was seeing him for the first time, and the hushed, awed murmur of the crowd.
So that was a lack which turned out for the best.
Today, there was a piece of luck which went the other way. I’d done the mare and was dashing off to HorseBack when I remembered I’d left the camera in the feed shed. Back I tore, to find that the two gracious ladies were taking their ease in the sun. There they lay, as dozy and happy and at one with the world as any horse you will ever see, whilst Stan the Man capered about and the bright Scottish light fell down like honey.
If I had not been so dizzy and forgetful, I would not have seen that enchanting sight.
I did photograph it, and then I put the camera away and sat on the ground with them for a bit, feeling the bliss pour out of their great, resting bodies.
When the red mare first arrived, uncertain and unhappy in a strange environment with an unfamiliar, clueless human, I felt guilty. I had acted on a whim, and over-horsed myself. I had not looked after an equine for thirty years, and now I had a thoroughbred mare, and I could not remember how to do anything except grit my teeth and stick on. That was not enough for the duchess. She became troubled and unsettled and started doing wild Champion the Wonder Horse rearing, fast downhill reversing, and her patented vertical leap in the air at the very sound of a pheasant.
In despair, I googled How to Have a Happy Horse. That is how tragic I was. This brought me to this new kind of horsemanship which now gives me so much delight. That is why I can now ride her on a loose rein in a rope halter, and why she will take her ease in the sun, not even getting up as Stanley sprints and barks and jumps, and some random man in a huge off-road truck guns his way round the field because it appears he is lost, and the fellows up in the building yard make crazy noises with vast power saws.
After everything, I got a happy horse. And because I am a bit goofy and always thinking of forty-seven different things and so forgot my camera, I was in the right place to capture all of that sheer joy.
Non-horsey people – look away now. These will sear your eyes with horsiness.
The regular pictures of the early morning. It was bitter cold last night, so the rugs had to go back on:
Then I had to go back, and this was the first thing I saw:
I thought they would surely get up as Stanley raced towards them. He clearly decided this was a splendid new game. They gave him mildly disdainful looks. They were OFF GAMES:
He got bored, and ran off to chase pheasants:
And someone went back to sleep:
They say horses are mirrors of their owners. Looking at this photograph, I really, really hope that is true:
I love the synchronised sleeping:
As you can see, I kept on snapping and snapping, because you can’t have too many lying down pictures. Or at least, I can’t:
Somehow managing to be completely dozy and completely elegant all at the same time:
And then I went off to HorseBack, where the dear ex-sprinter Brook was looking wide awake and extremely handsome: