I woke to blinding sunshine and ridiculously loud birdsong, as if the local avians were having some kind of arcane competition. I arrived at the field this morning to find two horses and a human fast asleep. It was one of the all-time great sights.
My little great-niece came for a ride. The red mare was, as she always is, utterly enchanting when faced with a small child. It is as if she knows, deep in her bones, that absolute gentleness is required.
We played around with the mare on the ground, and she showed off her paces in delightful fashion. Then the little jockey got up. She was suddenly a tiny bit doubtful, as it was the first time she had been on the mare, but her mother and I delicately encouraged, and she lifted her chin and screwed her courage to the sticking place and got into the plate.
‘Just sit there for a bit and feel the mare under you,’ I said, smiling up at the little face, which had a mixture of joy and uncertainty in it. ‘Feel the peace coming off her. That’s it. Now breathe, big deep breaths in and out.’
She thought this game was very funny, so we did silly breathing for a while. The red mare went to sleep. ‘Now,’ I said. ‘Big smile. And wave your arms in the air.’
The arms went up, into the blue Scottish sky. The mare stood like a statue, still dozing. ‘Now give her a good old rub on the neck to say well done,’ I said.
By this time, as the small hand ran up and down the great chestnut neck, there was no need to instruct the smile. It was beaming out into the day, as bright as the sun.
We walked, very very slowly. The good mare, understanding that she had precious cargo, perhaps sensing that her young passenger was not brimful of cavalier spirit but feeling her way, put each foot on the ground with as much fine delicacy as if she were treading on bone china.
‘Feel her moving under you,’ I said. ‘And just go with her. Don’t forget to breathe.’
And so we did a little walk, and then we did some more standing, and the smile stayed steadily in place, without wavering.
‘And say thank you,’ I said, laughing.
So the little person thanked the big thoroughbred, and everyone was smiling, and the swifts flew low over our heads, and Stanley the Dog larked about by the treeline, looking for pheasants, and everything was merry as a marriage bell.
I was very impressed, and said so. Some children leap up onto that mare as if she were a Shetland pony, with no fear. Some of them want to go off on their own, and I take my hand from the reins, and, even though staying close and keeping a strict weather eye, let them ride by themselves. Some of them are so excited that they would probably kick off into the horizon if I would let them.
This small person had adored the idea, but was daunted by the reality. She loves the mare, and knows her quite well, but when it came to it, that big athletic body did suddenly seem quite a climb. She had to grit her teeth a little, and face her doubts, and she did, in fine style. Her mother and I were quite prepared to say: never mind, another day. But I’m so glad she did get on, because facing your fears is the greatest triumph of all, and that tiny girl could teach a lot of burly grown-ups a good life lesson.
I loved the mare very much for being so tender with her, and felt profoundly touched to know that I can trust this horse with one of the best of the Best Beloveds.
Then I drove the long way round to buy some delicious meadow chaff for my good girl, because it’s the least she deserves, and looked at the blue hills basking in the sunshine, and wrote half a book in my head, mapping out each scene as if I were watching a film, and felt lucky. The Beloved Cousin rang up, and I pulled over and had a long and fond conversation, and then went home and did my work and reflected that it was hard to think of a day filled with more love.
I think sometimes about the people I know who have had great worldly success, and earned money, and got their existential passports rubber-stamped. I admire them vastly and don’t know how they do it. I could no more build a business up from scratch or transform an ailing company or star in a film than fly over the moon. My successes and rewards are tiny, private, and make no headlines. They bring in no great salary or tremendous bonus. But they are worth more than diamonds to me.
A girl on a horse, the smiles of my family, the voice of my dear friend on the telephone, the rolling Scottish hills – these are my glittering prizes. It’s more cheesy than cheese on toast with extra cheese, but there it is: the truest fact I know.
‘Love the small things,’ the Cousin and I shouted at each other, laughter in our voices, mostly at ourselves, at our own follies and idiosyncrasies. But the older I get, the more I think it is the secret of life, if there is a secret. Take joy in the very, very small and the big things will take care of themselves. That’s my damn theory, and I’m sticking to it.
Two drowsing horses, one drowsing human:
We were concentrating so hard on the riding that there was no time for pictures, but here is the small great-niece and her mother before the Great Ride. You can see the Paint in the background, contemplating where she should actually get up or not. (The answer was: not.)
The long way round to buy the meadow chaff. Not a bad drive to the shops:
I’m not sure why everything was quite so blue today. The light was doing something fascinating, as if it were throwing a fine azure veil over the sleeping land:
After everyone woke up, the Paint and her human went out for a ride, closely overseen by the red mare. She does not like her charge to go anywhere without a permission slip:
Every day I think I could not love this mare more, and every day I do. It’s as if she breaks all the laws of physics and human emotion and neurobiology and I don’t know what all. She is a sort of miracle: