Because this is the first Scottish winter with my mare, I am thinking about the weather in a completely different way. Normally, when the mercury falls, it is just a question of battening down the hatches and making sure I have enough heating oil, and dreaming of stews and soups. Now, it is a whole different ball game.
It’s all the general equine stuff: rugs, extra food, sourcing a good supply of hay. The hay has been a nightmare this year because of the wet harvest. I have not thought seriously about hay since I was fourteen years old. Now, it haunts my dreams. And then there is the human stuff. As I get older and creakier, I find that my hands do not work well in the cold. I have to make some serious glove decisions. Usual woolly ones won’t do because they will get wet and dirty; leather ones are too clumsy and stiff for doing up rug buckles. I used to obsess over writing the perfect sentence; now my mind is filled with the perfect glove.
There is also the glamorous question of thermals. There shall be the purchasing of industrial quantities of socks. Luckily, I have found the ideal coat, a lovely puffy thing with a fur hood, so that I look like Nanook of the North. I bought it over the weekend and, when I first went up in it, I must have looked so much like a terrifying Eskimo that the small Welsh pony actually ran away in fright. It took me about ten minutes to convince her that I was still the same person who gives her her tea and scratches her sweet spots.
Winter this year shall be an outdoors operation. There will be dark mornings when I may rue the day I rashly bought a horse, when the sleet is falling and I am hock deep in mud. But mostly I think it is a rather lovely, healthy thing. I like the fact that I shall not be stuffing indoors, but shall stride out in the elements, however extreme they might be. As if to encourage me, the mare was at her sweetest and best this morning. We rode through the hoar frost in easy harmony, with the white-capped mountain gazing down on us in benediction. Her head was down and her neck was relaxed and she carried herself with quiet grace. That’s what makes it all worth it. I grew up in a stable; one of my most vivid childhood memories is of my father getting up at five-thirty every morning to do the horses. I used to follow him out in the pitch dark, to help. Now, forty years later, I am back to that stern regime. It’s just a bit of weather, I think; I can take it.