Dispatches From The North

Tania Kindersley lives in the North East of Scotland with two amiable lab collie crosses and one very grumpy Gloucester Old Spot pig. She co-wrote Backwards In High Heels: The Impossible Art of Being Female, with Sarah Vine.

Back to school

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Wednesday, 05 September 2012

I return to Scotland, after ten days away in the south.

I saw Frankel.

That sentence needs to stand by itself, surrounded by awed space. To see Frankel is one of those things that shall be told to the great-nieces and the future great-great-nieces, when I am crabbed and cranky and loquacious with age, until they roll their eyes and beg me to stop. The funny thing is that most people do not know who Frankel even is. Perhaps he plays golf, they might wonder. Is he that chap who once went out with one of the Spice Girls? Or a fashionable spinner of discs, the go-to DJ for the boho set?

He is, in fact, the greatest racehorse of my lifetime. Him, and Dancing Brave, tied. When he appears on a racecourse, the attendance goes up by 50%. Tiny little York was so crammed that it was like trying to walk about on a tube train in rush hour. The pre-parade ring, where no one ever goes, was five deep, with small children begging to be hoisted onto shoulders, so they could see the champion.

The crowd claps him out of the paddock. They cheer him down to the start. They start crying out, in awe, in admiration, in hope, in amazement, at the two furlong pole. They roar him, deliriously, past the winning post, which is his spiritual home. He has never seen another horse pass it in front of him. He is beauty, and power, and grace, and that indefinable something that the great ones are, the thing for which there is not a word. That is why I drove four hundred miles to see him.

Then I went to a different kind of horse life. One of my relations by marriage runs a polo yard. He plays professionally, but mostly he makes and breeds polo ponies. He is the man from whom I bought my mare.

Watching him with his horses is fascinating. He understands equines with every bone in his body. He keeps them in big herds, so although what they do is very unnatural, they way they live is almost as their ancestors would have been in the wild. All the riveting herd dynamics are there; I can watch them for ages, as if I were in the middle of a brilliant documentary. I hear the ghostly, whispery voice of David Attenborough fire up in my head.

He let me ride the polo ponies, which is a rare privilege. They are all light-boned thoroughbreds, responsive and clever and fine. Some of them are distantly related to Frankel himself. (My bonny mare is his cousin through the Northern Dancer line.) I was so delighted I even bought some new boots for the occasion. I am at the stage now where the buying of a new pair of riding boots is the banner headline of my life. These ones are in the Spanish style, in sturdy brown suede. I love them better than diamonds.

And now I am home. It is September; a new term is starting. I have a new project to work on, and must put the damp summer behind me and get sharp and fit for work again. This morning, I rode my lovely mare, practising neck reining and tight turns and transitions. My dear old dog is delighted to be home, and is dozing at my feet as I write this. George Whyte-Melville, a Scottish novelist and poet, who fought, rather madly, with the irregular Turkish cavalry during the Crimean war, once said a very true and simple thing. He wrote in a poem: I freely admit that the best of my fun I owe it to horse and hound. Me and George, both.

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