It’s been a long and odd week. I’ve been rather grumpy and scratchy, only finding moments of calm and bliss when I’m with the red mare, who made it her business to be at her most charming and enchanting and antic and interesting and clever on every single sunny morning. I can’t take any emotional nonsense down to her, so the hours I spend with her are like daily meditation.
All the same, I knew something was going on, but I was not sure what. It’s tiredness and anti-climax, I thought, vaguely. I was at full stretch at Aintree last week, physically and emotionally, involved in the HorseBack work which meant so much to us all. I’d been travelling, which always exhausts me. I’ve got a lot of work to do and am still waiting for the agent to get back to me. I need to get this damn book sold. When I found myself weeping at the thought of AP McCoy retiring, because I’m going to miss The Champ so much, I suspected that there was a little glitch in my emotional wiring. But you know, it’s just life, and all its demands.
This morning, an old friend called. She’s one of those ones who has been there for over twenty years. We have so much shared history and old jokes and mutual affection and understanding. We exclaimed and bantered and shouted with laughter.
And then, she told me exactly what it was that was going on. I’d hardly said two sentences when she cut at once to the heart of the matter. ‘Oh,’ I said, amazed, ‘of course that is what it is.’ She then teased me about it for five minutes whilst I actually slapped the walls with hilarity and merriment. And relief, too. At last, I knew, and knowledge is power.
The mare has done glorious things this week. I’ve asked her many more questions than I usually ask, and although she has expressed moments of doubt and astonishment, once she realised that I was serious and steady she gave the good answers. We’ve found the most lovely trot, and she is learning to bend her body and drop her head and go from left to right like a dressage diva. But, oddly enough, the thing of which I am most proud is her newly intrepid spirit.
We start each ride with an offering. I give her the reins and ask where she would like to go. She has the whole set-aside to play in, and generally she describes a known circuit, from the feed shed to the top gate to the bottom gate to the far paddock and back again. About a month ago, she delighted me by striking out to the scary woods, where the treeline starts and shadows and rough ground are found.
Today, she went to the even more scary woods, which run to the south and go up a sharp hill. When she first arrived and I took her there, she wigged out entirely, rearing and reversing downhill like a crazy horse. I didn’t blame her. The trees are thick and the shadows deep and the going treacherous and I won’t walk far into those woods myself, for all my rational cast of mind, because who knows what sprites are hiding in the dark.
To get to that place where Here Be Dragons, she had to walk all the way around the main paddock railings, along a fairly narrow path, taking two sharp right-hand turns. It’s not an obvious route. And the really funny thing was that I was on the telephone at the time. (Children, do not try this at home. It’s very, very naughty and I should not do it.) Because I was chatting away and had no hand on the rein, I did not really realise where we were until I suddenly looked up and found that we were about to fall off the edge of the world.
As I did so, I heard the sound of rattling hooves. The little Paint filly, obviously believing that we were about to strike off into the unknown and leave her alone, was remembering her barrel racing ancestry and was charging down the field at full gallop.
‘Hold on,’ I said to the person on the telephone, ‘it’s all kicking off here. I had better concentrate.’
It’s spring, and I was out in a strange part of the field, and the red mare’s friend was going loco. That should have been a light the touchpaper and then retire moment. I fully expected the mare to want to gallop too. Instead, she regarded her charge with tolerant eyes, and did not move a muscle. I put my hands on the reins, certain an explosion would come. Nothing happened. The Paint, as if also expecting at least some reaction, and quite miffed that her glorious display produced no more than a sceptical eyebrow, did a perfect sliding stop in front of us and then put on a small rodeo display, as if she were in the Calgary Stampede. She wheeled, did twisting bronco leaps, bucked, snorted, and danced in a circle.
The red mare sighed.
‘Well,’ I said into the telephone. ‘I think we are all right.’
Then I turned the mare’s head towards home and walked back on the buckle.
I write all that because I want to illustrate how far she has come. That moment was far more impressive, in a way, than the delightful bending trot. But all the same, I have had a suspicion for some time that I have not quite got to the bottom of her. I think I’ve excavated about 90% of her, but there is a lurking 10% of old emotion, trapped feelings, subterranean worry, that lies at her core like black old silt. If I can dig that out and bring it into the light, then we shall be all glory.
They say that horses are the mirror of their humans. I think that I too have a layer of silt, difficult or shameful or stupid feelings which I don’t want to look at too closely. That is what has been going on this week. That was what my dazzling friend saw at once. She cast daylight on the mystery, and at once it had no more power to paralyse me.
This particular friend has faced things in the last two or three years which would have sunk a lesser woman. She has stared straight down the gun-barrel, unflinching. There is no frailty or self-pity in her voice. She is exactly the same as she always was: incisive, clever, idiosyncratic, funny, absolutely her own self. As we talk, and she makes me laugh so much that I can hardly breathe, I silently take all my hats off to her. I don’t say that. I wonder if she knows. For all that I pride myself on Saying the Thing, I am still British, and do irony and jokes better than earnest sincerity.
As we finish our conversation, she says, another teasing note in her bright voice, ‘Well, at least you have that horse.’
‘YES!!!!’ I bellow. ‘I have the horse.’
I have the old friends; I have Stan the Man; I have the red mare; I have this place, these hills. I have love and trees. I’ll be all right.
Far too much going on to take out the camera, so these are from the week:
You can see the start of the scary woods in the background. To the right, out of shot, is the place where they get really dense and alarming. That was where my brave girl went: