Warning: this is a very silly story. Occasionally, I am driven to share silly stories with you. Nobody really knows why.
Yesterday was a really good day. The farrier came, which is always a delight. The horses love Wendy the Farrier and so do the humans. Everyone ends up happier, and with very smart feet. I rode the mare and she was funny and dancing and fine and the dear Stepfather came and took some photographs of us. The dogs were in a good mood and I wrote 2455 words. This was especially gratifying because it was supposed to be an editing day, so the words were a flying bonus.
At about four-thirty, I discovered, to my intense shock, that I was in a perfectly filthy mood. I could not understand how I could have had a good day and be so cross. I was far too furious to excavate the muddled moody feelings and see what they were really about so I ruthlessly ignored them and then dreamt all night of death and disaster. I even had a finals anxiety dream, which I have not done for twenty years.
This morning I faced the dirty truth. I can hardly write this, it is so shaming. I was cross because of those damn photographs.
I have been reading a lot lately about very brilliant horsemen and women, and I’ve been watching very brilliant horsemen and women. I've been inspired recently by Ingrid Klimke and Michael Jung. I've been very proud of the red mare and getting more ambitious for her and I watched the dazzling horses and riders and dreamed dizzy dreams. I think I thought, in the very bonkers recesses of my brain, that we were Michael Jung and Roxie.
That was why I wanted the pictures.
I got home, looked at them, and felt my heart sink.
This was entirely irrational. They were charming pictures. There were some lovely bits, but I was blinded by the thing I know most surely is fatal to peace of mind, which is: false expectation. I felt like a world-beater, but I looked like what I am, which is a middle-aged amateur. The truth is, the mare and I have both taken ourselves back to school and learnt a completely new form of horsemanship from what we grew up with. We are both ladies of a certain age and going back to the beginning was always going to take time. We don't look like Michael Jung and Roxie, whatever I have in my head. We look like what we are: a slightly goofy pair of beginners.
The second heart-sinker was much, much more embarrassing. I had a picture of myself in my head not just as a Badminton-level rider, but as a slender, fit person. I pretend that I have no vanity and that I don't care about body shape. (I almost believe this.) I refuse to go on diets on principle and don't weigh myself. All the same, I believed that I thought I was going into the thickets of middle age in pretty good shape. I’m always doing stuff, after all, humping about hay bales and walking dogs and riding horses. I must have a muscle or two.
There, in the pictures, on the elegant red mare, was a rather dumpy person. DUMPY. I stared in amazement. I thought: who is that woman? I had an athlete in my head, all sinew and muscle. This person looked as if she spent quite a lot of time eating cake.
But what about all my cherished feminist, humanist, and every other bloody -ist principles about it not mattering what you look like? What about the fact that it is your good heart and your questing mind that matter, and not your damn hips? Turns out my principles aren't so cast iron as I had thought. For half a day, I felt like a wailing child. I really wanted to look sharp, and instead I looked blurry around the edges. I was that superficial.
This morning, finally understanding what the shit storm had been about, with all the stupidities dissolved after a night's sleep, I stood in front of the glass and looked down the barrel at my body. Sure enough, it is not the body of an athlete. There is a little curving about the middle. But you know, it's not bad for that of an old girl. I looked at my body and saw it as it is and I was not ashamed.
It makes me want to cry that so many women are taught to hate their bodies. I don't know what it is like for men. I suspect not quite so extreme. The women are bombarded, every day, with images of the perfect. I had thought I knew better than to fall for the con; I thought I was immune. I thought I was above all that. Serve me right for being so damn smug. Those photographs from yesterday and the lunatic reaction I had to them showed me I was not as safe as I had thought. Those haunting visions of perfection had crept into the darker parts of my brain, for all that I think I avoid them and their cunning plan. I wanted to look like one thing and I looked like another. That was a more severe crash than I like to admit. It took me 12 hours to talk myself down off the ceiling and face reality and remember about the fatal tendency of false expectations. It took me 12 hours to feel again at home in my own skin.
The red mare is not a championship horse. I am not a championship rider. She is the horse of my heart, the one who drives me on, teaches me lessons, and gives me joy. I love her so much it hurts. I am the human who is good enough for her, who keeps her happy and makes her feel safe. We don't look like something out of a magazine. We are not poster material. We are what we are: two old girls, in a Scottish field, finding something a little bit beautiful in every day. It does not have to be perfect. It just has to be ours.
I’m slightly embarrassed that I had my wig-out and that it took me half a day to understand this. But I got there in the end.