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How standards have slipped.

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Wednesday, 19 February 2014
My mother looks at me quizzically. ‘In my day,’ she says gently, ‘we did not ride in gumboots.’

This is what it has come to. The rain is so relentless and the mud so deep that I cannot put on my lovely brown suede riding boots, but have to keep on the old wellies. Luckily, the kind of riding I practice is a sort of Western hybrid and does not require much leg on. But even so. The Derby-winning ancestors of my red mare would be horrified.

What my mother does not mention, but what her beady eye doubtless takes in, is that the grand horse is also covered in mud. The moment the rain stops, the rugs come off, and the mare takes the opportunity to open her own day spa. Often, when I return to the field, she looks as if she has taken some kind of extreme mud bath. The earth is caked so deeply into her coat that even the sternest brushing will not remove it.

She may be scruffy, but she is as happy as a nut. And that is all that really matters.She may be scruffy, but she is as happy as a nut. And that is all that really matters.

Must be good for her skin, I tell myself. Still, this means that on top of her winter furriness, there is now a regular dose of dirt which I can never quite banish. I look at my mother. I remember the days when she would wake us at five in the morning so we could get ready for shows. She was the mistress of the best turned-out. My grey pony was washed using Reckitt’s blue bag, so that he was whiter than white. Vaseline was applied around the eyes, to make the dark skin there shine. Our boots were polished to such a shine that they really were like mirrors. We did win an awful lot of silver cups.

Now, it’s gumboots and a gracious thoroughbred who looks more like a donkey than someone who can trace her bottom line back to the Byerley Turk. I do feel a bit sad for my poor old mum. She must wonder how I can have let her standards slip to such a catastrophical degree.

I take the mare up to see her, once or twice a week. My mother is not very mobile, so she cannot come to us. Instead, we trot up to her front door, and my stepfather comes out and gives the good mare apples, which he carefully cuts up into nice, elegant pieces. He is the only person who is allowed to feed her by hand. The whole thing makes my mum smile, and cheers her up as the horrid osteoporosis gallops through her body. (Eat your calcium, I want to shout at every young female I see.) I think that she forgives me for having a bit of a scruffy horse, and for riding her in a rope halter instead of a double bridle. I explain that I think about horses in a different way now, and imbibe cowboy wisdom rather than dressage rules. The most important thing is that the horse is allowed to be a horse.

All the same, as winter drags on, scuffing its feet on the floor, I do dream of light days, and green grass, and a moment when the red mare loses her teddy bear aspect and her coating of mud, and grows sleek and smart once more.


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