All right, I give up. When I started this Gratitude Project, I was determined that it would not all be about horses. Even though it’s a private experiment, I knew that some people out there in the world would read it, and I knew that many, many of those people would not be horse people. I would write about life and the universe and everything. It would not all be clip-clop and trot on.
I would not, not, not be a horse bore. After all, my red mare has her own Facebook page, with her own self-selecting band of fans, and I can get all my love and passion out there, in a safe space.
And then I realised that pretty much every bit of my gratitude so far has been to do with thoroughbreds, or my quiet Scottish field, or the sweet young girls who come there every afternoon. It’s to do with Clova the Connemara finally doing a grand, expressive, relaxed walk on a loose rein, and leaving her anxiety behind. It’s to do with watching the little bay mare with her small friend Cara, and seeing the great tidal currents of love that run between them. It’s going down to the field like I did today and finding three beautiful, bright faces looked at me, with their ears pricked and their eyes gleaming with expectation, and the red mare letting out a low, rumbling whicker of welcome. (Oh, my beating heart.)
It’s to do with horses I don’t even know, like the ravishing Laurens, whom I cheered on with banshee howls for the last few seasons. I saw a little clip on Twitter this morning of her swinging away on a date with her very first stallion. I loved everything about that clip. She was all polished up, just like a human female going on a first date. She had the smartest blue tail bandage. She went up the ramp of the horsebox without hesitation, and I thought, ‘What a good girl’ with as much pride as if she were mine.
Whenever I go on Twitter now, I almost shut my eyes, because every trending subject is War, or Iran, or Trump, or Airstrikes. I’m a bit fragile at the moment and I can’t deal with the terror of what might happen. (When I woke up this morning, I thought that my gratitude list might have one item on it. It would be - I am so grateful that I am not Donald Trump.) But there is lovely Laurens, going off to her romantic assignment, and I think well, perhaps everything will be all right after all.
Perhaps that is why I am more obsessively focused than ever on my horses. They are a still point in a mad world. They know nothing of geopolitics, or tribalism, or the military-industrial complex. They don’t care where Boris Johnson went on holiday. They have absolutely no opinion about who is going to be the next Labour leader. They are not quarrelling about Brexit or shouting about trade deals or bitching about which columnist has said what. They are not woke, and they have no use for virtue-signalling.
They are completely and absolutely and utterly themselves. They embody authenticity. They also have a beautiful capacity for peace, in its most profound sense. They teach me to live in the moment when I am with them, to practise a kind of mindfulness I never thought I’d be capable of. And if I do that, they go into a dreamy trance of Zen, and I can feel the stillness and the contentment and the wholeness coming off them in waves. For that second in time, everything is right.
I’ve got a bit of a bug, so I’ve been doing a lot of sleeping, but this afternoon I tottered down to the red mare and took her out for a gentle ride. I really did feel ridiculously weak, but she carried me kindly out into the big meadow. The sky was clear and singing over our heads and the moon, which only five minutes ago was tentative and new, was almost full. It had on its full face, and it smiled down on us. I’m missing a beloved friend who died not long ago, and I looked up at the moon and thought that somehow he was up there, in the moon, of the moon, belonging to the elemental part of the world. So I said hello to him and told him I hoped that he was peaceful and safe.
And then the mare offered me a canter. For a moment, I hesitated. I really am quite wobbly, and we haven’t done a collected canter for ages. Unheralded, uncharacteristic dark thoughts rushed into my head. What if she trips, or swerves, or something disastrous happens? I nearly said no. Then I thought: you have to be brave and you have to believe, even when you are not feeling very strong. So I let her go, on a completely loose rein, and she found her perfect rhythm and cantered about that field in a glorious, big circle, as if we’d been schooling every day.
Oh, I was grateful for that.
So, I’m afraid there is going to be a lot of horse. That’s just the way I am, and I can’t apologise for that. It’s where my joy lies. But what I do think is that horses are never just horses. They really are metaphors for life. They are all about believing, and being a bit braver than you think you are, and thinking about something bigger than your human self. They are about living in the moment and not rushing to judgement and not taking everything personally. They are about allowing yourself to be creative and to use your imagination and to take risks. They are about connection and harmony and love. And those things are universal, I think. I hope. I believe.