Today, I had the dazzling good fortune to take the red mare up to HorseBack to work with Robert Gonzales.
I knew that I was at the very beginning of my journey, and I understood, humbly, that I was in the foothills whilst he bestrode the mountain peaks. Even so, when he took the mare in hand and showed me all the things that I had been getting wrong, in the gentlest and politest way possible, I did feel a moment of chagrin. I’ve been learning this new kind of horsemanship with the dedication of someone taking a university course, and I had felt that I had made some strides forwards.
In fact, I saw at once that I had been mimsing about. One of the things my father disliked most was mimsiness, and he was a horseman to his bones, and I should have damn well learnt that lesson by now. I’d been staying in a safe comfort zone, and letting the mare get away with things that I should have corrected. I write a lot here about rigorousness, but I had sadly lacked rigour.
When I had got over the bruise to my amour-propre, I felt excited, because a new door had been opened, and I could step through it. We’ll go on learning and I’ll go on getting better, and when you start from such a low place, the only way is up.
The mare, once she dealt with the slight shock of having someone work her who really was not messing about, had a lovely time, and when her lesson was over, rested happily, ground-tied, whilst the ex-sprinter Brook went through his paces. When they were formally introduced, she took to him with a faint degree of shamelessness, breathing into his nose and batting her eyelids at him. Often, when two strange horses meet, there is a degree of squealing and tail-swishing and a little dance as they work out the hierarchy. There was none of that. Just a gentle, questing hello, as if he were an old friend she had been missing. It was very touching.
Apart from not being firm enough, I think I have let emotion get in the way. The thing I notice about Robert is that he brings a delightful, calm neutrality to each horse. He does not get frustrated when they do the wrong thing, just keeps on persisting until they give him the right answer. When that answer comes, he does not, as I am prone to do, shriek and whoop and fall on the horse’s neck. He merely exudes a quiet satisfaction and gives them a good rub.
The love I have for this mare gets in the way of working her well. She does not really need human love; my bursting heart is all to do with my delight, not hers. She wants a place of safety and a sense of ease. My new resolution is to leave not only my worries and tensions at the gate when I work her, but to leave the love there too. I may indulge that when we have finished. It’s one of the hardest lessons in the world to learn, but I must learn it – it’s not, not, not all about me. It’s about her. That is the very least she deserves.
Oh, and PS. I was so inspired by this revelatory lesson that I cast away any shyness about saying the thing. I looked the great horseman right in the eye, smiled my goofy smile and said: ‘Robert, you are a giant among men.’ And that is no more than the truth.
Resting, after work:
Despite being in a new and antic environment, she settled very well, just casting the odd look out of the door, where she could hear the rest of the herd moving about in the fields:
It was quite tiring:
I love this picture for about eighty-seven reasons. First of all, you are popularly not supposed to be able to do any of the things that we are doing here with ex-racehorses. One is standing quite happily by herself, with no human constraint, whilst another horse and several humans are working away about her. The other is going easily on a loose rein in a rope halter, stretching down his neck to find the place of softness, whilst his human rides him bareback. He is also in the middle of doing an exercise which he would never have learnt in his racing days, of yielding the shoulder, so he is having to concentrate very hard. Despite that, the softness is there. I also love the look on the mare’s face:, a little bit dozy but a little bit thoughtful, as she processes everything she has just learnt:
Oh, those hot-blooded thoroughbreds, those crazy ex-racehorses; can’t do a thing with them:
She worked so hard she actually got sweaty, which is not what normally happens, so on went her cooler, making her look like a proper show pony:
I didn’t take any pictures of Robert working the mare, because I was avidly absorbing everything with my human eyes. Here he is with Brook, waiting for softness. He’ll wait, and wait, and wait, and wait. As long as it takes. That patience is one of the great lessons I take from all this. You can’t rush this, or skip parts, or think that half a loaf is a good enough. You’ve got to wait for the golden moment:
I try not to fall into anthropomorphism, but my idiot brain says the mare is flirting. I don’t blame her. Brook is a very handsome fella, as well as a very nice one. Actually, she is not really flirting, she’s just saying hello. But there did seem to be some sweet sense of recognition in her. They are related, after all. You have to go back four generations on his side, and three on hers, but there it is – Northern Dancer, in black and white, the grandaddy of them all. Maybe that good Canadian blood really is thicker than water: