Author’s note: I’m sorry to say this is not the most sparkling piece of prose I have ever written. I’m rather over-tired after a packed week, and even iron tonic cannot galvanise my brain. But I wanted you to have something, so I let it stand.
A long and busy week, but one filled with sweetness. A very old friend came to stay, and I remembered the keen sweetness of those long friendships which go back all the way. We first met almost thirty years ago at university. He was in the college next to mine and also read history and we made jokes about Lord Macaulay which we still remember with gusting laughter. I love that with someone like that you can pick up exactly where you left off, and nothing needs to be explained, and all is ease and understanding and comradeship.
The World Traveller and the Landlord came for cocktails, and we wickedly drank martinis on a school night, and all was merry as a marriage bell.
I took the old friend to see the Mother and Stepfather for breakfast. ‘Goodness,’ my mother said this morning. ‘So handsome and charming and easy.’ A palpable hit.
In the midst of all this sweetness, the red mare suddenly went hopping lame. She was picking up her hock so high it looked as if she had stringhalt. I went into a tendon panic, and got on the blower, and two vets arrived, shining with seriousness and expertise.
It turned out the lovely girl had developed an abscess. A great deal of paring and digging went on. I was so riveted by the process of cutting a hole in the hoof so the infection could escape that I went to stand by Red’s hindquarters to watch. The vets suddenly stopped what they were doing, astonishment spreading over their faces. ‘Look,’ said one to the other, pointing. ‘She is standing perfectly still and nobody is holding her.’ I felt as proud of the good mare as if she had won the Oaks.
Ground-tying is one of the things I had consciously taught her, but there is also a fascinating thing that she does when she is in need. She seems to know when I am trying to help her. Whether I am rushing down to fling on a rug in a sudden hailstorm, or putting wound cream on a cut, or applying fly repellent, I find her at her stillest and most accepting. I’m not sure I shall ever quite understand what horses know and what they do now, but I do believe that when something is wrong she senses I am there to make her better. It is an inexpressibly touching thing.
This morning, as I went down to put on a new poultice, she walked up almost completely sound. The abscess had drained, and the soreness had gone. You miracle girl, I thought, you heal as well as you do everything else. Is there nothing you cannot do? She even cleverly goes and puts herself in the shelter, instituting box rest of her own.
As there was no work to be done, we hung out. I always think this is one of the most important things you can do with your horse, although sometimes I get so carried away with riding and schooling that I forget it. It is part of my Zennish notion: sometimes, instead of doing, you can just be.
I took her out for a pick in the lush green grass of the set-aside. I groomed her all over and anointed her with balm to keep off the horrid flies. I chatted to her. She looked at me gravely and gave me her head so I could scratch her sweet spots. There was a spreading delight in doing absolutely nothing, under the bright Scottish sun.
How glorious she is, and how lucky I am. When I think of the whimsical sliver of chance that brought her into my life, I catch my breath. (I had not planned to buy a horse after thirty years of not having one; she was sold to go and play polo in China, only the man with the lorry never turned up.) I can’t imagine my days without her glimmering, benign, beautiful presence.
Happy again, no longer in pain, having her morning pick:
The sweet Paint was also very calm and happy:
BLINKY EYES!!! They get me every time:
The beech hedge has finally gone green:
The old friend brought flowers:
And I arranged some myself:
Sage from the garden:
Stanley the Manly was sadly unavailable for his close-up. He is hunting mice.