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.

Sometimes a bag is just a bag

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Tuesday, 02 October 2012
There are two orange sheep in the field.

This is not necessarily a sentence I ever anticipated writing. Nonetheless, two new sheep have arrived, and they appear to be the colour of mango flesh.

When they were first sighted, on Friday, I could only see the flash of orange backs over the dry stone wall. There have been young cows in that field for the last few weeks. Some of them are a kind of amber colour, and my addled brain wondered if some new dwarf strain of cattle had been introduced. It was only when I got right up close that I could see they were two bonny sheep, quite the smartest pair I had ever seen, as if someone had been combing them every day. I had no idea what they were doing there, and wondered if they had escaped from some kind of cloning project and galloped to freedom over the mountain.
Orange sheep

My mare is still quite astonished by them herself, casting them a suspicious look every so often, as if they are, literally, wolves in sheep’s clothing. Their presence on the other side of the wall was actually quite helpful this morning, since we were doing desensitising training. This is a faintly paradoxical method where you scare your horse in order to show it that there is nothing to be afraid of. The mare is prone to theatrical spookiness out in the stubble fields, and I decided it was time to do something about it.

I found an absolutely terrifying plastic bag. It is of thick, crackling material and makes a loud noise when scrunched. It is also coloured and shiny. Oh, the horror. The theory is that you crinkle it and wave it about, and then the moment the animal stops backing away, you hide it. It’s a pressure release method, and it’s astonishingly effective. Patience, patience; small steps; and then, by the end, she is sniffing the alarming object and will allow me to run it all over her body.

There are two parts to this technique. One is to show that you yourself are not alarmed, so that really there is no possibility of the thing being a predator. The second is to demonstrate that the item will not eat her. One great horseman I know has got his horse to the stage where he can ride it in fast circles whilst lugging a huge, flapping tarpaulin behind him on a rope.

As always, I extrapolate from horses to life. There should be desensitising training for humans too. People do not have the same ancient predator response that horses hold, but there is a tendency to catastrophise. So often, the worst thing assumed does not, in fact, happen, and one is left feeling relieved and slightly foolish. Or, the bad thing does happen, but it’s not the end of the world. One finds an inner resource; one bashes on through. The mountain lion might have shown its claws, but it did not eat one for breakfast.

So many imagined terrors exist only in the mind, and never materialise. Just as, at first, my mare truly believes a small plastic bag will be the end of her, until I prove to her that it is no threat, so humans will conjure imaginary demons or disasters or hurts or slights or failures that never come to pass. Sometimes, the bag just is a bag.

The orange sheep, despite my wild conjectures of radioactivity or cloning, are, in fact, merely dyed. Apparently, it’s a thing that people do with some ovines before they go to market. I had no idea. It’s not a freakish scientific experiment gone wrong; it’s just a sales technique. For some reason, this feels symbolic of something, but I’m not sure what. Perhaps, like the bag, orange sheep are just orange sheep, and I may now learn to slot them into my category of things that I take for granted.
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