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 the sun shines

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Even the glory that is Scotland can look a bit demoralised after days of gloom and cold and dreich. With no spring to speak of, I felt my spirits lowering and my shoulders hunching against the daily chill. Today, there was sudden, blinding, serious sun. I went up to the horse with a rising heart.

In celebration of the warmth, I decided to try a new technique. Coming back to horses after thirty years, I am operating on old, childhood instincts, ancient things known from growing up in a stable. But I am also wide open to new things, to learning anything that will make my mare happy, and will make my life with her easier and sweeter. Just because I grew up with racehorses does not mean I know it all. So I have been reading a lot about natural horsemanship (or, in my case, horsewomanship). Some old hands scoff at this, and don’t like the idea of it at all; it’s seen as a namby-pamby, new age lot of nonsense.

Tania Kindersley's horse

Instinctively, I like the idea of it very much. The theory is that instead of imposing human thought and agency on a herd animal, you attempt to think like a horse; in that way, you are working with their natural instincts, going with the grain.

I’ve been doing bits of it, here and there, but not the central technique, which is the famous Monty Roberts idea of join-up. You drive the horse away, keep it moving, and then, when you sense it is ready, stand still, in a submissive posture, and let it come to you. This is when it ‘joins up’. The idea is that you are not forcing the animal into anything, but letting it make the choice to be with you, and from this all else flows.

I had not tried it because really you need a small enclosed arena to do it properly, and I just have a huge open field. Bugger it, I thought, the sun is shining, it’s worth a shot. At first, the mare clearly thought it was a hysterical game, and galloped about all over the shop, doing bronco tricks and tossing her head in the air as if she were a two-year-old. I doggedly stomped after her, keeping her moving on. I could not see in a million years how she would ever come back to me, she was having far too much fun, pretending she was in the wild west.

Oh well, I thought, at least she’s had a laugh and done a bit of exercise. But then, she suddenly started moving in gentle circles around me. Once I saw I had her attention, I stopped, and stood like a rock with my head down, as Roberts instructs. I did not think that it would work in such a wide, open space, but after three minutes, I heard a little snort, and felt her breath on my hand, and her muzzle against my arm. I walked forward, and she walked with me, like a dear old dog.

It felt like a miracle. The sun beat down on us, in benediction. Then I stopped again, and she stopped with me. She shifted herself to get closer, and leaned her head against my chest, and I very gently stroked her face. She breathed out, it seemed in happiness. We stood like that for about fifteen minutes. There was no rope; she could have moved away at any time. A tractor roared up the hill as the farmer went about his business, the kind of thing that would normally distract her, but she took no notice. She just rested against me, dozing in the sun.

She’s only known me for a few weeks. We get on pretty well together, and there have been signs of trust, but nothing like this. This is huge. It was like getting a vast, existential present, with a delightful equine bow on top. It was like Christmas and Easter, all rolled into one.

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