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Lost in the dreich.

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Wednesday, 29 January 2014
I have now entirely given up my tragical attempts not to complain about the weather. Last week, I heard something I thought madly wise. ‘Experience the rain,’ said a clever man; ‘don’t wish it away’. Ah yes, said my inner hippy, who only wishes to be at one with the universe. That’s the ticket.

This blissed-out, Zennish acceptance of the weather lasted about 36 hours. Then the sloppy sleet started. With gales.

The thing about weather is that it is fine if you only have to go to the shop in it. In that case, the old saw about no such thing as wrong weather, only wrong clothes holds true. The trouble comes when you have to stay out in it for extended periods. Because of my work at HorseBack UK and looking after my own horse, I am outside for about three hours a day. This is nothing compared to the doughty farmers, but it is time enough for the right clothes to become laughable. The wet and the cold insinuate themselves, no matter how carefully one does layering. And I am quite proud of my layering. The chill gets into the bones and will not leave. My coat never entirely dries out, even though I leave it on top of the radiator. (Please don’t tell me to get an Aga, or I shall lose the will to live.)

Tania KindersleyThe determined red mare, wading into the shallows and striking out towards the deep water.

The other trouble is that it is relentless. It’s not a matter of a couple of days of storm and then a new front blowing in. Every day, the sky is the colour of despair. Every morning, my beloved hills are obscured in a dour, beige murk. Because of the horses, I have to check the weather forecast about five times a day. (Weather means discrete actions, in this house, mostly to do with rugging decisions.) Usually, this checking is just a matter of form. Now, it is like reading a Russian novel. It is an old-fashioned forecast, with little suns and fluffy clouds and a short description. For the next seven days it says: light rain, light sleet, heavy rain, snow, light rain, sleet, cloud. The heavy rain symbol is the most threatening: a black cloud with three fat blue drops falling from it.

And then, this morning, I go down to the paddocks to find a loch where my lovely fields once were. The water is so deep and comprehensive that it has a life of its own. It has a current, for heaven’s sake. It is actually flowing to the west, as if it wants to get to the Atlantic ocean.

I stand for a while, nonplussed. The horses watch me patiently. They have found a small piece of high ground, and are waiting there for me to tell them what to do. The friend whose Paint filly lives with my red mare arrives. She has got the whole right clothes thing to a high art. She is wearing a sort of cross between chaps and waders, lined with sheepskin. I regard them with envy.

There is nothing for it. We set off into the water. We are foiled twice, in places where it gets too deep for humans to navigate. We finally find a channel where it only comes to the knees, and wade on. The water is over the tops of my boots and I feel the gloomy squelch as my feet are drenched. We reach a stretch of field which is not under water, by the western boundary, and set up a relay system to get hay and food there. We have let the horses out into the set-aside, and they gaze at us from across the water. Just as we are discussing how we can lead them across, my brave mare makes her own decision. She puts her head down and strikes out into the deep flood, leading her little Paint friend behind her. She’s coming to me, and some absurd water is not going to stop her.

Tania KindersleyPart of the loch that now exists where our fields should be
When she arrives, I congratulate her as if she had won the Oaks. I’m not sure I was ever so proud of a horse. ‘You have the frontier spirit,’ I tell her. ‘You are the kind of horse who would have led the wagon trains to settle the west.’ This is what the weather does to my brain.

‘Well,’ says my friend, looking out over the drowned land. ‘We are lucky. This could be our houses.’

We pause and contemplate the horror of a flooded home. People in the West Country have been going through that; they must be drawing on a stoicism beyond the call of duty. My friend is right. We are lucky. We could be in Australia, where forty-three degrees of heat is baking the country. Huge swathes of America have been entirely frozen by the terrifying polar surge. It could be so much worse.

I think of the look on my thoroughbred’s face as she stalked through water that came over her hocks. It was a dauntless look. As always, I take my example from her. We are British, after all. We shall keep bailing.

In which one majestic mare soothes my jangled nerves

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley has not set their biography yet
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on Wednesday, 30 October 2013
I am up against a hard deadline. The world shrinks to the size of my desk. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see the vivid autumn colours, gearing up for a serious pigmental show-down at the OK Corral. I vaguely notice the Jane Austen sheep, and the very elegant cows, in their different shades of dun. But really all I stare at is the screen, and the new words which I scratch on it. The tension builds in my body until my shoulders are up around my ears.

The one thing I make myself do is ride in the mornings. The mare has been off for a couple of weeks with a sore shoulder, but now she is sound again, and the weather has turned kind, and it’s stupid to have a thoroughbred lounging away in the field in this glorious October sun.

On the other hand, I am tight with deadline nerves, and I have no time to waste, which is not the best frame of mind to be in when leaping on a highly-bred flight animal who used to race for a living. Horses are crazily telepathic; they pick up on these things from two fields away. I actually apologise to her out loud for not being in the good Zen state which is normally required.

Herself, having a good old donkey doze after our morning adventures.Herself, having a good old donkey doze after our morning adventures.

I take a chance. I do all the things I should not do. I tack her up, and recklessly neglect any of the normal groundwork, just quickly check her mood, which is sanguine, and jump on. Usually, after a break, we do a lot of very slow and steady walking, to get back into the swing of things. Today, I think: dammit, let’s get the twinkles out of our toes. So we lope into a spanking trot, rolling round the regal beech trees, twisting up into the mossy woodland. She wants to go, so I let her, and suddenly, there I am, cantering along on a loose rein, past the limes and the silver birches and the observing cattle. ‘Steady,’ I say, and she falls back to her gracious duchessy walk, pricking her ears with elegant calm.

And all at once, none of the other things matter: the deadline, the word count, what the agent will think. Because it’s just me and this astonishing horse and the open air and the blue hills and the emerald turf under our feet.

I do the riding because I think it’s important to perform some proper physical act before I am confined to a sitting position for the rest of the day. I think it is the least I can do for the poor body. In fact, I realise that it is more profound than that. It gives me a store of joy off which I can live for the hours until dark, like a camel living off its hump. The visceral sense memory of the pride and the delight will lift me up, even as I am tempted to slump into gloomy defeat. The red mare is my therapy horse, holding my sanity in her delicate hooves. She is better than the best shrink ever invented.

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.

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.

...

The soup won't work.

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley has not set their biography yet
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on Tuesday, 29 May 2012

I am in fairly severe trouble. The courgette soup is not working.

In life, I labour under the entirely unproven belief that almost anything can be cured by the judicious application of soup. It’s not so much the eating of soup, although of course this must help, with all its goodness and nutritional marvellousness; it’s the making of it and the preparing of it. Even the quickest soup can’t be too rushed; there must be chopping and contemplation. It’s a back to first principles thing, which may soothe the unquiet mind.

It doesn’t have to be chicken soup either, although that is of course the gold standard. It can be any soup. Just at the moment, I am in a vogue for green soups, probably because my body is craving the iron.

...

In which I turn into a weather bore

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley has not set their biography yet
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on Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Everyone in the village looks a bit fed up. We roll our eyes ruefully at each other and try not to talk about the weather and then talk about the weather because it’s all one can talk about. It is five degrees centigrade as I write this. Five. In the middle of May. I actually stood with my mare for about half an hour this morning debating whether to take her rug off or not. The wind was whipping down off the mountain, and, although she does have a good stand of trees for shelter, it is a wide open space, and a lot of weather.

She dozed patiently as I counted the pros and cons. The thing is, horses don’t really like wearing rugs that much; they don’t go about in the wild wearing something developed from the kind of fabric people climb Everest in. (After thirty years of being away from horses, I am quite obsessed with the new rug technology, and bore everyone with it most days. ‘Oh,’ I say, ‘in my day we just had a New Zealand rug, sheet of green canvas with two straps, and that was it.’ I cannot believe that at the age of forty-five I have started using the phrase ‘In my day’.)

On the other hand, I could not bear the thought of her shivering in the absurd cold. She was clipped in March, so her coat is very short; all the protective woolliness of winter is gone. In the end, I decided to let her go unrugged, so she can stretch and roll and feel the air on her back. There are so many funny things I discover as I return to things equine: one of them is that people get really cross about rugs. Apparently, some of them will not put a horse in a rug even in a blizzard. I do not really understand why this causes so much foot-stomping, but apparently it is a thing. (My new favourite place is the forum section of the Horse and Hound website, where I find the rug debate rages with no quarter given, although in a very genteel Horse and Hound sort of way.)

...

Into the wild

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley has not set their biography yet
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on Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Today, I rode out into the glen.

I really love being able to write that sentence. I think how soaringly lucky I am to be able to write that sentence.

First of all, I am damn lucky to have a glen on my back doorstep. That is not something everyone has. Although, interestingly, most people, even quite old friends, think I am a little bit nuts to live so far north, almost six hundred miles from dirty old London town. I adore London; I lived there for almost twenty years. I love the National Portrait Gallery and Bar Italia and driving through Hyde Park early in the morning before anyone is up except for the cavalry officers, schooling their horses. But London does not have glens.

...


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