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Walking the Horse

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Wednesday, 25 September 2013
This morning, on a gloomy, dreich Scottish day, with a lowering sky and the suspicion of rain in the September air, I took my horse for a walk. She was galloping round the field in the high winds of last week and managed to pull a little muscle in her shoulder, so she’s a bit too tender to ride. Instead, it seems perfectly logical to me to take her for a walk each morning.

Out of the paddock we go, through a high stone archway, past the mighty Wellingtonias, over the burn, and down the long line of beech trees to the south. Here, there is an excellent stretch of flat drive, good for conditioning her hooves. (I keep her without shoes.) An occasional car or van drives by, but there are fine wide verges where we may get out of the way, and, despite being an ex-racing thoroughbred, and so supposed to be mad in the head and skittish and spooky, she does not blink an eye even when the most rattly of lorries rolls past.

The red mare, on a sunnier day, having a good graze out in the set-aside with her friend Stanley the Dog, before we set off on our morning amble.The red mare, on a sunnier day, having a good graze out in the set-aside with her friend Stanley the Dog, before we set off on our morning amble.

This morning, a gentleman I know screeches to a halt in his big black truck. He is rocking with laughter. I wonder if I have hay in my hair or mud on my face, both of which are fairly usual occurrences. ‘I’ve seen people take their dogs for a walk,’ he says, in high merriment. ‘But I’ve never seen anyone take their horse for a walk.’ And he drives off, still laughing. My grand mare stares after him, with a de haut en bas look, as if she is Maggie Smith playing the Dowager Duchess of Grantham in Downton Abbey. (She can do dowager duchess better than any horse I’ve ever met.)

We carry on. She walks kindly on a loose rope, with her head down and her ears in their relaxed donkey position and her lower lip wobbling into a dreamy equine smile. We go through the Scots pines and the silver birches, back over the burn again, along the beech hedge, which is just starting to turn as autumn begins to get into gear, under the biggest and most venerable of the horse chestnuts, and back to the gate, where the little grey pony whickers in greeting, glad to see us back.

Part of our route, complete with dashing caninePart of our route, complete with dashing canine

I could make a fairly sensible case for walking a horse. Teaching an equine to lead politely, without pulling or barging or pushing, is a foundational pillar of horsemanship, in my view. This kind of simple daily routine builds trust, deepens the relationship between horse and human, and is a nice, relaxing thing to do. I think it’s quite important not always to ask them to do serious work, but to mix it up a bit. Sometimes, I just go and sit in the field and read a book, so that the red mare does not only associate me with action and demands and doing things. Sometimes, I think, it’s good merely to be present.

But really, it’s not what people do. The laughing gentleman is right. Most people go out and school their horses seriously, do lunging or flatwork, teach them to do side passes or flying changes, practice dressage or jumping. They have serious goals. They enter competitions. They win rosettes and shiny silver cups. I see their pictures all over the internet and wonder at their accomplishments. But the funny thing is that I get as much profound pleasure from slowly walking my grand duchess past the old oak trees, under the benign gaze of the blue hills, as I would from any number of glittering trophies. Just watching her happy face is my prize.

In which weather takes on vanity, and weather wins

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley has not set their biography yet
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on Thursday, 14 February 2013
The snow comes barrelling in again, this time, rather oddly, on gales blowing up from the south. There is no warmth in them, whatever their origin, and wind-chill now becomes a subject of intense importance. I try not to moan about the weather, and fail. An amber warning is out for the region, and many conversations now revolve around the correct application of layers. Layering is the only way to keep warm, at this stage, and must be taken very seriously.

Working with horses in these elements means that all vanity is fled. It really is what the business types call a Zero Sum Game. Either I can keep my equines warm and fed and comfortable, or I can look respectable. There is absolutely no way to do both. Clothes, boots and often face are spattered with mud; every woollen article I own has little bits of hay clinging to it. Due to the crucial application of a hat to fend off the blizzards, my hair has become unspeakable.

My current sartorial look, seen when giving the mares their morning haynets. The hat, of which I am rather fond, came from the tremendous N. Armison and Sons of Penrith, established in 1742. I'm not sure the hat was designed for feeding horses in the snow, but it does the job very well.My current sartorial look, seen when giving the mares their morning haynets. The hat, of which I am rather fond, came from the tremendous N. Armison and Sons of Penrith, established in 1742. I'm not sure the hat was designed for feeding horses in the snow, but it does the job very well.

In the equine brochures which now thump through my letter-box, people who have clearly never been through a Scottish winter show off all kind of horse-wear, in varying states of pristine immaculateness. I gaze at them with a hollow laugh. My default mode now involves low-level dirt at all times.

Funnily enough, I think this is rather a good thing. It’s nice to brush up well, every so often; to put on one’s lipstick and get out a velvet coat or a shiny pair of shoes. Occasionally, I do manage to graduate from mildly damp socks. But so much of the media seems devoted to telling women that they should aspire to impossible levels of loveliness. We must be willowy and elegant and perfectly dressed, like this film star, or that model. It’s rather lovely when that simply is not an option. I do not have to feel like a failure in the glamour stakes, because there is no question of even making an entry.

I do dream of spring, when I no longer shall have to tog myself up like the Michelin man. It shall be rather charming to cast off the exclusive scent of wet horse. (Not exactly Chanel No 5.) But in the meantime, I quite like that fact that there is no room for vanity. I am a creature of the earth, just at the moment, stomping through the mud, head bowed against the wind, getting the important things done.

Back to the drawing board

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley has not set their biography yet
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on Wednesday, 12 September 2012

That clip-clopping sound you hear is me, trotting back to the drawing board. One of the things that strikes me most in life is how one can know something in one’s head, but not quite register it in one’s gut. The intellect understands; the instinct rebels.

I know perfectly well that life is not an easy upward progression from one achievement to the next. It is not always rational: A does not always follow B. But the odd Whiggish tendency in me often thinks it is. I may learn this thing, or understand that, and then on I go, towards the sunny uplands. In fact, I often have to remind myself that life is mostly about rolling back down the hill, and having to pick oneself up, brush oneself off, and start all over again.

Oddly, it is my horse that reminds me most of this. I’m ashamed to admit I had got a bit swanky about my abilities. Oh, look at me, with my no hands and my whispering skills and my knowledge of herd dynamics. Watch me make her turn on a sixpence with only a shift of my body, or back up with only a twitch of my finger. Observe us, after only six months of work, in perfect harmony. I’m afraid I even bragged a little of this, only yesterday. I’m pretty good at groundwork, I wrote, foolishly, to someone.

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