I especially set up a Facebook page for my red mare so that I would not endlessly bore the poor Dear Readers with her here. I know that some of you really had had enough. One or two people said so, in terms. But today she taught me something very valuable which goes for human life as well as horse life, and it was far too long for a Facebook post so I'm telling the story here. This is not, I promise, the thin end of the wedge.
This is how the story went:
Today, I never felt so grateful for the perfection that is the thirteen foot rope. Today, my red mare, my sweet, dozy dreamer, the one I put children and beginners on, had one of her most splendid wig-outs.
How can this be? you ask. I might have once asked the same thing. Not that kind, gentle soul, the Zen mistress, the keeper of the peace.
‘What happened,’ Ray Hunt used to say, ‘before what happened happened?’
The red mare is a creature of perfect storms. She can deal with one thing, she can deal with two things, but she can’t deal with the third. Or at least, she can deal with anything if I have been doing my work right. If I have not, then the storm blows up. She is a duchess of absolute safety; if she feels secure she can do anything. If her safe world gets cracks in it, she expresses herself with tremendous vehemence.
The immediate happening was that the little Paint filly was taken away for a long walk. They haven’t been parted for a long time and this was way out of the routine, and the red mare is a very responsible lead mare and does not like people going away without a permission slip. But even so, separation anxiety is something we put to bed years ago. Yet there she was, carrying on, screaming and calling, pulling herself up to her full height, tail in the air, snorting like a freight train, looking no longer like an Exmoor pony but like the racehorse she once was.
Ah, well, I thought. I’ll work her. That’ll get it out.
It did get it out. In all the mighty ways that a half ton thoroughbred can get things out of their system. We had the racing around at top speed, the rearing, the bucking, and, one of her signature moves from the old days, the rear-plunge-twist-buck combo.
That was when I blessed that thirteen foot rope. If a horse wigs out on the end of a lunge line, you’ve got nothing but a tangle and a wreck. If it does it on the end of a traditional short lead rope, you have to drop the thing and run. Those thirteen feet allowed me to stay at a safe distance from that powerful body and squint my eyes at her and gather clues. There is no such thing as bad behaviour, only good information.
It was fascinating. She was not being naughty or silly, words which have absolutely no application or meaning when it comes to horses, but are sadly too often used. She was genuinely upset, even a little frightened.
So I moved her on through the rodeo. I wasn’t scared, because she has not a bad bone in her body. I was not going to stop her. She genuinely needed to run and jump, to get all that tingling emotion out of her great physical self. I stood steady and directed that jagged energy. I moved her hindquarters back and forth, and then yielded the shoulder. I did a lot of sharp turns, to get her mind on me and off her demons. I did several changes of gait, up through the gears, from walk to trot to canter and back down again. Because I sensed she really did want to run, when she gave me a nice dancing canter I ran alongside her for a bit, as if we were playing. I didn’t want to batter her into submission with work, but balance up her mind again with as much lightness as I could.
Eventually, we stopped and her head came down and I let her rest. After a while, I rubbed her poll and her ears and talked to her for a bit. Then the head went back up and there was a bit more yelling, so we went through the turns and yields again. We did some moving forward and backing up, and what I call creative leading, where I mosey about all over the place, describing circles in the grass, stopping and starting, making sure I had her focus.
At last, I had to stop and go back to my desk. I was not quite sure whether I had done enough to get all the trouble out, although she was much calmer than when we started. As I slipped off the halter, I wondered whether she would gallop off into her twenty acres like a brumby. But she stayed by my side, very politely, until I left. Then she walked away under her own control.
As I walked down the hill, I pondered the good information. In the early days, I would have seen this as a huge failure. If I was doing everything right, then she would never be bucking and plunging and yelling on the end of a rope. I might as well give up and work with rare goats. Now, I take it not as failure, but as another valuable page in the classic novel that is The Red Mare.
There are two things that horse hates. One is when I get cocky. The moment she hears the hubris angels flapping their wings, she lets me know about it. The other is when I am not firm and consistent enough. She craves strong boundaries; that is part of her desire for safety.
I think lately I had got a bit cocky. I’d been thinking about how brilliant the mare was and how settled and relaxed and what a poster girl, and not concentrating on keeping those boundaries strong. What with the floods and the frosts, looking after her has been a matter of atavistic survival, with no work to merit the name. It is possible that I had let a few bad habits creep in.
And on top of that, there she was, in her new field with a new routine, with a human whose mind was not on the job. I’ve been feeling very vulnerable and worried and a bit fearful lately, about a lot of different things which are crashing together, some of them out of my control. For all that I swear I never take emotions into that field, I think I had been bringing my jangly self instead of my steady self. The brown mare is so mentally sturdy that she does not seem to mind this; she was not shrieking and galloping and snorting, just looking about her in vague interest. But the red mare believes that once I’ve got the jangles nobody can save her from the mountain lions.
Whatever is going on in my human life, I have to separate that from my horse life. She’s had to put up with me in deep grief after the death of my mother, and then in the absorbing sadness which comes afterwards. She’s had to put up with me being fretful and distracted and in a nervous worry. She was saying to me, in the way that only she can: enough.
There is nobody in the world who teaches me such good lessons as she. This was a dilly. Sometimes you have to put your own self aside, for the sake of somebody else. If I cannot give that mare peace of mind, then I have nothing. So I square my shoulders and remind myself of first principles and go back to the beginning.