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.

The Horse People

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Wednesday, 25 April 2012

There are horse people visiting. I am beside myself with delight. It means that the full beauty of the mare may be appraised by an expert eye. I find I crave an expert eye.

Getting a horse after thirty years of not having one obeys several laws of unintended consequences. One of them is monomania. I suppose I might have expected that, but I did not. I thought I’d just go for a ride each day, and have someone whose ears I could pull. Instead, I plunge into equine obsession. I am like the little pony girls who only read the Pullein-Thompsons and think that all other literature is bosh. (I actually was one of those little girls; clearly, that jodhpur-booted child still lives in me.)

So when the horse people arrive, I am in seventh heaven. I may speak the language of horse without having to stop and explain myself. There are little things I notice, too. I find an odd, keen pleasure in watching someone who knows how to approach an animal they have never met. There is a rather touching politesse in it. The thing is to come slightly from one side, so the creature can see you, with an open, relaxed body, and to hold out a hand so that it can be smelt. Some people do this with an open palm, some with a slightly curled fist, knuckles upward. The horse then can have a good sniff. Scent is very important. Then there is a miniscule pause, almost a little exchange of information, like businesspeople swapping cards. The horse will lower its head, almost give a small nod of acquiescence, and only then may one give it a stroke.

The ancestral memory of the wild lives amazingly near the surface, especially with thoroughbreds; you can’t just march up and smother them with petting. You must be invited in. It is rather lovely to watch someone who knows how to do that instinctively.

As I think about all this, and write about all this, I wonder how it must seem from the outside. What do the non-horse people think of the horse people? There are so many clichés and stereotypes. There are the old chestnuts of leathery, hoary riding school ladies, with their padded waistcoats; the red-faced hunting types; the ruthless polo barons; the hard-drinking racing fraternity; the gymkhana-mad Thelwell pony girls. All of these have a tiny grain of truth; none of them are quite true to life. In some ways, there is no such thing as a horse person. There are factions and cliques; rivalries and different schools of thought. Even within the natural horsemanship movement, there are conflicting camps. To lunge, or not to lunge; to shoe or go barefoot; this type of groundwork, that type of sacking out.

What remains constant are the creatures themselves, and the affection and respect they inspire. What I love, and had rather forgotten, is that horses do not think, in the way that humans do. They react, in mysterious and ancient ways. They run on pure instinct; there is no concept of the future, no logic, no reasoning. They live entirely in the moment, and, at the same time, are a link back to an untamed past. I have to cast aside my empiricism and learn again to see the world through those equine eyes. It is a fascinating shift in perception. The danger is that not everyone will find this as interesting as I do. I have to concentrate now, very hard, on not becoming an ocean-going horse bore.

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