When I was two and a half years old, I fell head over ears in love with a gentleman called Eddie Harty. He had just won the Grand National on a horse called Highland Wedding when I first met him, but I knew nothing of that. I was far too young to be starstruck. I just knew that, of all the people who came to the house, and there were many because the front door was always open, he was the one who made my heart want to burst.
Whenever he arrived, I would run upstairs and put on my best party dress. ‘We sometimes had to wait for you,’ my mother says, drily. Apparently, I would give strict instructions that nobody was to do anything until I was properly dressed. Then I would run back downstairs, cast myself shamelessly onto Eddie Harty’s knee, and gaze up at him in adoration.
Forty-six years later, I still think of that most excellent gentleman. He was not a classical beauty, which apparently gave my mother great heart. She thought that I would not grow up to be led astray by a pretty face. Even at such a young age, I was all about the character. He was brave and dogged and determined and a great horseman, from a dynasty of great horsemen.
I think: it’s funny what one remembers.
When I get on a thoroughbred, I feel as if I have come home. My red mare carries with her the ghosts of all those mighty equine athletes among whom I grew up. I remember many of them too. My favourite was the grey Dolge Orlick. My father had a lot of horses who were named after characters in Dickens, which is quite odd, since he was famous for never reading any book except the form book. Lovely Dolge could not have been worse named, since, far from being oafish and evil, he was bright and bonny and kind.
The mare carries the ghosts too of the great racing men who illuminated my childhood. Quite often when I am riding her I think of Fred Walwyn and Fred Winter and Dave Dick and John Lawrence. She carries the spirit of my old dad, although he would have laughed out loud, in a characteristic mixture of puzzlement and pride, if he could see me riding her in her rope halter with one light hand on the reins as if she were an old cow pony out in the American prairies. My favourite set of books when I was eight was The Green Grass of Wyoming trilogy, and every morning, as we lope around the emerald fields of Scotland, I think of that, too.
She defies the laws of physics, acting as a kind of equine worm-hole, collapsing time and space.
I’ve moved a lot in my life, leaving my childhood home, going through ramshackle, gypsy teen years when we were always packing, having an antic London life in my wild twenties, before finally putting down deep roots in an adopted place which had nothing to do with racing or Ireland or horses or any of the things which were part of my young days. Scotland came about through whim and chance, and yet it is here that I belong. The mare, I suddenly realise, was the last piece in the puzzle.
Some people find thoroughbreds alarming or mysterious or incomprehensible. Some people really don’t like them. Yet every time I sit on that noble back, I am in a place I know and love, a place entirely familiar and easy. No matter how much is going on in my life or in the world, no matter how jagged and jangly I am, the moment I get into the saddle, I am home. It’s a tiny, workaday miracle.
The dear Dear Readers gave me such a glorious welcome back to the blog that I feel quite bashful. (I am British, after all.) I can’t thank you all enough. You have put a huge and rather surprised smile on my face. I know you love the pictures of Scotland, so here are some more of Queen’s View, especially for you.