Sometimes, I say to myself: oh, if only it could be easy.
Is this a thing? Is the modern world so ravelled and inexplicable that millions of humans are out there, longing for simplicity? Is that why Instagram is filled with beautiful pictures of clean, white rooms in the Scandi style? (I have an absurd fantasy that everyone in Denmark is blissfully happy.)
I was thinking about this today as I was riding my grand red mare. People had been shouting at each other on the Today programme about terrorism and Twitter had been filled with angry bigots after the car crash in Parliament Square. Goodness knows what Donald Trump has been up to. It all felt too much, so I rode out along the valley for seven miles to escape the world.
This should be the most simple thing in my life, but it isn’t, quite. The red mare is a very emotional person. She has an astonishing array of strong feelings, and they are all on display at all times, as if she is hanging out more flags. She’s been upset lately because her little bay friend has had to go and stay at the vet. She loathes change, and she has abandonment issues all over the shop. (She is crazily like me.) When she gets unsettled like this, I have to do huge amounts of yogic breathing and get her to let go of all her jangles. We do a kind of Zen mistress dance together. This takes a great deal of time, and I don’t have much time, just now.
So the ride was a challenge. I had to draw on all my emotional and technical intelligence. With a sensitive creature like that, you can’t just kick on and impose your human will. You have to empathise and reassure and be clever and kind. You have to guide and soothe and reassure. I could not simply look at the slumbering hills and admire the wide, glacial valley. I had to concentrate. I had to work to get her to relax. I had to run the line of trust from my heart to hers.
At one moment, I said to her, laughing, ‘Why didn’t I get an old push-button horse?’
‘I have absolutely no idea,’ she said. ‘But I’d like to have seen you try.’
There is no such thing as a push-button horse. There are some who are more straightforward than others. We have one in our field. She’s only four years old and she’s not long out of racing, but she’s so transparent and relaxed and easy in the world that working with her brings on an astonishing lightness of being. She does not become overwhelmed by her own emotions like my mare can. She thinks life is marvellous and humans are marvellous and every new day is marvellous.
I love working that horse, but she would have taught me nothing. The complex, demanding, fascinating, endlessly enigmatic red mare has taught me everything I know, about horses and about life. She has taught me rigour, and patience, and humility. I have to put my own frets and desires aside for her sake. If she needs to go slowly, I have to go slowly, for all that I yearn to go fast. I have to check her barometer every day, and adjust mine to match it. I have to put away my own needs and meet hers. She banishes ego with one wave of her duchessy hoof.
And so there we were, out on the trail, and I couldn’t think about the bad news and the shouting people because I had to give my entire self to her. Gradually, she responded and became whole. She put her jangles away. She believed me when I told her that there were no mountain lions in the world. And I let the reins out and she stretched her neck and cantered along in her dear cowgirl lope. I’ve been watching clips of the Mongolian Derby, and I stood in the stirrups like those bold riders out on the plains, and lifted my hand high over her neck, and imagined we were riding, riding, riding, for hundreds of miles.
(I managed this for about five furlongs. I sat down in the saddle with new respect for the horsemen and women who are, as I write this, doing it all day long, on sturdy, determined ponies they have just picked out of a herd.)
It was a dream canter and it was perfect because I’d had to work for it. When it came, it was simple, but it had not been easy. That’s the point, I thought: she makes me work for it. She makes me strive. She requires that I am better. She reminds me that I can’t tick a box and say my work is done. With her, my work is never done. If I give in to idleness or hubris or carelessness, she will throw her head about and become unhappy. When she rises to her finest, most glorious self, the feeling I get is like nothing else in the world because I had to put all my effort in to it. No push-button would give me that flinging sense of triumph.
By the end, she and I were one, and I said to her: ‘Take me home.’ I dropped the reins. She knew the way. She turned left and turned right, as if following the north star. We saw two tiny children on the lime avenue, and she stopped to talk to them. They gazed at her in wonder and touched her nose tenderly with their minute hands.
I looked at their beaming faces. It’s not easy, I thought. Nothing is easy. Perhaps that’s the point. But oh, there are rewards, if you throw your heart into something and refuse to give up. That gentle horse with those delighted small humans - that was my reward. I’m writing it down so I don’t forget. Sometimes, it is the smallest of the small moments that means the most.