Interestingly, in the light of yesterday’s post, this morning I discovered I had a done a properly bad thing.
It was not one of the usual mistakes I make – not a little bit of goofiness or muddle or poor time management. It was not letting the piles of paper grow up like mushrooms in the office, or the refusal to clear out the cupboard of doom, or the inability to reply to emails. These are regrettable, but you can make a joke about them, see them as almost charming, because diamond-sharp perfection is a sad, repelling ambition.
It was bad because it caused actual pain to someone I love more than almost anyone in the world.
I had taken the red mare up to work with Robert Gonzales again. She was coming on in leaps and bounds, and everything was improving, and I felt happy and proud. But she was still holding something back. That softness that Robert looks for was not quite there. She would blink and soften her eyes, ruminate with her mouth, let her ears fall into the relaxed quarter to three position, but she would not quite release that neck and shoulder. That’s where a lot of anxious emotion gets stored in horses, and if you don’t let it out you have no foundation to build on.
Robert said: ‘I really think you need to get her teeth checked.’
I said: ‘Oh, I have been meaning to do that for weeks, but I’ve been a bit hopeless about it.’
This is one of my less desirable defaults: I admit, with that humorous British ironical twist, to hopelessness, as if the rueful, faintly comical admission makes it all fine.
It does not make it fine.
The vet happened to be there, watching the horsemanship in action, and he very kindly said he could do her teeth on the spot. I had no need to book an appointment and take her up to his surgery. There he was, with all his state of the art tools.
He frowned as he felt in the mare’s mouth. She groaned a little. He exclaimed, in horror. The teeth at the back had grown needle-sharp, and were chafing against her cheek.
It took him twenty minutes to set her straight. He needed to do so much deep work in the back of her jaw that he gave her a sedative in order that his work could be quick and uninterrupted, and so that it would cause her no distress. My poor, stoned girl dropped her head in relief as he finished and I felt as guilty as I’ve ever felt about anything.
There are absolutely no excuses. I’d had the teeth in the back of my mind, in my mental To Do list, but I had not made the call.
I thought of all the work we’d been doing over the last few weeks. I’ve asked her so many questions, and she has answered kindly and willingly. She was in some pain and discomfort the whole time, but she did not buck me off or bolt with me or plant her feet and refuse to move, as she had every right to do. She went on trying, offering, with her good heart.
I write on this blog every week of my love for this horse. I am afraid to say that I sometimes boast on Facebook of the things I do with her. Occasionally, I cannot resist the childish desire to say: look at me, Ma, no hands. Literally and metaphorically. And all the time I was thinking I took such great care of her, I had, through arrant carelessness, allowed her to live with a sore mouth.
I feel ashamed too because I’ve sometimes said that she is not the bravest horse in the world. She is not one of those swaggery, sanguine sorts who deals with everything that is thrown at her. She is sensitive to stimuli, and needs strong boundaries and a profound sense of safety to function well. In fact, I see now, she is a very, very brave person indeed, because never once did she complain, but went on trying her best, with a gentle, doughty courage.
Often, when I feel angst, I talk myself carefully off the ceiling, use the good, rational side of my brain to restore perspective, forgive myself for perceived faults, and generally make myself comfortable again. In this case, I am not going to do that. I should feel some mortification, and I am going to feel it. I am not going to lash myself into shatters, but I am going to sit with the sensation of having made an egregious error. I have given hurt, and I should hurt too.
Then I shall move on, and make it up to her in every way I can think of, and learn this lesson well. I quite often write about the little things, in the context of quiet, daily joys. Notice the small things – the moss, the lichen, the tree bark, the light on a dry stone wall – and every day the heart will lift. I have noticed, watching Robert Gonzales work this week, that he too is a man of the small things. Nothing escapes his eye. He will see from the most minute flare of a nostril that something is happening with a horse; he can divine tension in a hock or tightness in the tail or tautness in the neck from thirty paces. Nothing is too small to be beneath his notice.
Teeth are not a small thing, but I had thought of them as an ordinary chore, something that got put on the list but did not have flashing lights and wailing sirens. In my mind, they should have had dancing girls and pyrotechnic displays and a Welsh male voice choir. I thought I was observant, but I was careless. It shall not happen again.
Just one today, of my poor, brave girl, still a little dopey but comfortable again, with the dear old Scottish sun on her kind back: