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.
In which I turn into a weather bore
Everyone in the village looks a bit fed up. We roll our eyes ruefully at each other and try not to talk about the weather and then talk about the weather because it’s all one can talk about. It is five degrees centigrade as I write this. Five. In the middle of May. I actually stood with my mare for about half an hour this morning debating whether to take her rug off or not. The wind was whipping down off the mountain, and, although she does have a good stand of trees for shelter, it is a wide open space, and a lot of weather.
She dozed patiently as I counted the pros and cons. The thing is, horses don’t really like wearing rugs that much; they don’t go about in the wild wearing something developed from the kind of fabric people climb Everest in. (After thirty years of being away from horses, I am quite obsessed with the new rug technology, and bore everyone with it most days. ‘Oh,’ I say, ‘in my day we just had a New Zealand rug, sheet of green canvas with two straps, and that was it.’ I cannot believe that at the age of forty-five I have started using the phrase ‘In my day’.)
On the other hand, I could not bear the thought of her shivering in the absurd cold. She was clipped in March, so her coat is very short; all the protective woolliness of winter is gone. In the end, I decided to let her go unrugged, so she can stretch and roll and feel the air on her back. There are so many funny things I discover as I return to things equine: one of them is that people get really cross about rugs. Apparently, some of them will not put a horse in a rug even in a blizzard. I do not really understand why this causes so much foot-stomping, but apparently it is a thing. (My new favourite place is the forum section of the Horse and Hound website, where I find the rug debate rages with no quarter given, although in a very genteel Horse and Hound sort of way.)
The weather does affect animals in interesting ways. A mare with the sun on her back is a very different creature from one in a rainstorm; you can see her expanding and relaxing and blooming before your very eyes. There are some horses who react madly to wind. I had a very long conversation with the local farmer yesterday about the effect of the gloom on his cows. You might think that cows are placid, unemotional creatures, without much character to speak of. Quite the contrary. The farmer says they have been very down in the mouth with day after day of rain and dreich, and that the moment the sun comes out they all perk up and the calves start jumping like broncos. Our last hint of sun was on Saturday, and he was right, the calves were leaping about all over the shop, like something out of a cartoon.
I think about the weather in a whole different way now I have the mare. I check the forecasts and scan the skies in order to make the correct rugging decisions (who knew that I would suddenly be all about rugging decisions?), watch for mud fever or rain scald, and decide when to ride. The other day we had a hail storm and I could hardly sit still, thinking of her up in her field in her first Scottish hail. But I forget that horses are much tougher than we think, even my finely-bred lady. Often I shall dash up in a panic only to find her giving me a dozy look, as if to say: don’t worry old girl, I’m a horse. All the same, I think all our animals are just as fed up as the humans with these long days of brown skies, bitter winds, and brooding clouds. Even the ewes look a bit grumpy. I’m at the stage where magical thinking takes over. If I knew a sun dance, I would damn well do it.
Daily tip from the lady archive
“A GRACEFUL walk is a great asset, for sometimes it can create an illusion of beauty where little exists.”The Lady. Pleasant Exercises for Grace. 2nd April 1931