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 the drawing board

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Wednesday, 12 September 2012

That clip-clopping sound you hear is me, trotting back to the drawing board. One of the things that strikes me most in life is how one can know something in one’s head, but not quite register it in one’s gut. The intellect understands; the instinct rebels.

I know perfectly well that life is not an easy upward progression from one achievement to the next. It is not always rational: A does not always follow B. But the odd Whiggish tendency in me often thinks it is. I may learn this thing, or understand that, and then on I go, towards the sunny uplands. In fact, I often have to remind myself that life is mostly about rolling back down the hill, and having to pick oneself up, brush oneself off, and start all over again.

Oddly, it is my horse that reminds me most of this. I’m ashamed to admit I had got a bit swanky about my abilities. Oh, look at me, with my no hands and my whispering skills and my knowledge of herd dynamics. Watch me make her turn on a sixpence with only a shift of my body, or back up with only a twitch of my finger. Observe us, after only six months of work, in perfect harmony. I’m afraid I even bragged a little of this, only yesterday. I’m pretty good at groundwork, I wrote, foolishly, to someone.

As if the mare had read this email, she decided to give me a little lesson in humility. The wind is up, and when that happens, she gets the devil in her. When I went out to get her this morning, she walked beside me for a moment, and I was congratulating myself on the unshakeable bond between us, on the astonishing fact that I may catch her and lead her without a headcollar, when something startled her, she got a gust of wind up her tail, and she was off. When she goes, she really goes: galloping, bucking, wheeling round, pawing the air, twisting, squealing, every bronco trick in the book. It’s actually a glory to watch, but it’s not exactly the docile, perfectly trained creature that I had been clapping myself on the back about.

Stomp, stomp, stomp I went, round the field, after her. It took an hour’s solid work before I had her where I wanted her; all back to basics, drawing on patience and doggedness, practically getting out the blackboard. By the end, she nodded her head at me, now quiet as an old hound, as if to say: see, you can’t just be taking me for granted. No matter how much work you put into a horse, there are moments when they will just be a horse. You can’t just tick the boxes, and think, oh, well, that thing is done. You have to respect their essential wildness, remember their ancestral voices, understand that the training has to be done every day.

I do think life is a bit like that. Sometimes I get a bit cocky about that, too. I think: well I know this thing, or I’ve worked out that; look at me, with my extensive study of the human condition. Then someone does something which I do not anticipate, or I find myself in a spiralling mood, or I get whacked with the irrational, and I realise I know nothing. And back to the drawing board I go.

I don’t think this is a bad thing. I quite like the drawing board. A dose of humility is an excellent corrective. I expect I would figure some of this out on my own, but I rather like the fact I have my wild equine teacher, to remind me of it so acutely. Some of the time, I think I am teaching her. In fact, most days, she is teaching me, and not just about horses, but about the whole damn shooting match.

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