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Spring.

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Tuesday, 11 March 2014
As world events get very gnarly, and Russia rattles her sabres, the shouting about Scottish independence seems to stop for a moment. The headlines in my little field are all about the changing of the season. Every year, this takes me by surprise.

Crocuses.
We have not had a bitter winter as we did last year, when snow and ice lay on the ground for three weeks at a time. It’s been quite mild, with hardly any of the glittering hoar frosts that usually run through January and only a little snow on the hills. But it has been wet and stormy and we have been hock deep in mud. The thing that wears away at the spirit is the lack of anything growing. At first, in November and December, this stark minimalism can seem quite delightful. The trees look dramatic and sculptural; the single robin stands out like a star actor, because there are hardly any birds around.

But by March, one’s very soul is weary of the nothingness. I suddenly crave green grass and leaves. I stare doggedly at the horses’ paddocks, willing something verdant to begin.

Snowdrops.

The grass is not yet arriving, and the mud still reigns, but, just as I can’t stand it any more, there are growing things. My hellebores are in their pomp, and the brave little winter viburnum is putting on a show. The snowdrops came two weeks ago and are particularly dramatic this year, bigger and bolder than ever before. The first daffodil shoots, which are only just arriving, are starting to poke through the thin turf as if they really mean it. Tiny, delicate, acid-green leaves have come out on my philadelphus. There will not be a leaf on a tree for a long time yet, but if you look closely, you can see the minute buds filling with life.

Viburnum.

Birdsong has returned. I do not realise how silent winter can be until the birds begin to sing again. There is a proper chorus now, so that even the questing lurcher lifts his head to listen. Yesterday, I saw the first pied wagtail of the season. She flew low over the horses’ heads and came to a dramatic landing in the west paddock and preened and flirted about, as if delighted to be back. They go south in the winter, not to Africa like the swallows, but just over the border, perhaps to somewhere charming like Northumberland or the Lake District. The oystercatchers, who take themselves off to the coast, are also back, singing their gaudy songs all night like drunken sailors. They come here to nest and breed each year, and they are the official harbingers of spring. I also saw a perfect gang of black-faced gulls yesterday morning, milling about as if they were at a cocktail party.

It is not quite yet serious spring. But is the promise of spring. And it is like being given a present.

How standards have slipped.

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley has not set their biography yet
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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.

In which I contemplate the weather

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley has not set their biography yet
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on Monday, 10 December 2012
I scan the horizon, looking for weather. I scan the internet too. I am old school and new school. After many days of investigation I have found the best weather forecast, with helpful two hourly reports and a seven day long-range prediction. The only problem is that it changes from moment to moment. Yesterday, the seven days were: sleet, sleet, light snow, fair, light snow, rain, fair. Then it changed to mostly fair. At one point, someone at the meteorological centre got a bit giddy and put up some yellow sun, admittedly hedged with cloud.

All this is because of the horse. In my old life, I did not worry about the weather. It was wet or cold or frosty, or it was not. It only meant that I might have to wear a hat. Now, the weather is stitched into the very sinews of my life. It dictates how much hay I need, and what rugging programme should be implemented. The detachable neck, the under-rug, the mediumweight, or the serious winter heavy?

There are people who are frightfully butch about rugs, and insist they are the work of Satan, and that horses should be allowed to revert to their natural state. The animals will grow good long coats; they will build up a clever insulating barrier of oil against the skin which acts as a waterproof. It is unnatural, even unkind, say these zealots, to cover the poor animals in heavy clothes.

I see photographs on all the absurd horse sites I follow on Facebook of glorious equines, quite rugless, frolicking in the snow. But these are usually native breeds, hardy Icelanders, sturdy mountain ponies or the Highland strain. My darling mare is descended from three Arabian sires; her ancestors started out in the high, dry desert plains. Admittedly, the thoroughbred foundation sires were sent to good Irish mares, who must have had a bit of bone and toughness about them; that is where you see the strong steeplechasing horses come from. But still. I am not sending my delicate lady out naked into the Scottish winter.

I think that I am a bit like a farmer now, reliant entirely on the whims of weather. It has been bad lately; I struggle through wind and ice and snow to get the outdoor work done. People talk doomily of Siberian fronts bringing the most bitter winter for a hundred years. How shall the mare and I get through that, I wonder?

There is a faint hysterical edge to the meteorological reports. Channel Four is even running a whole programme about whether the weather is going to hell in a handcart. It’s not just that there may be no respite till March; there may be no respite ever. It’s all going to be freezes and floods and every kind of disaster. The way people are talking, you might think that poor Britons shall never see an ordinary sunny day ever again.

Sometimes I give in to the doom. As I skitter and skid and strain every muscle not to fall over, I wonder if no-one shall ever rid me of this turbulent ice. Then I remember the old men round here, who will tell you tales of their childhood winters, when they were snowed in for three months at a time. Now, our snows last for a week at most. Last season, there was a three week snow, which was regarded as very remarkable indeed. It was nothing compared to what those old-timers lived through.

There is a seam of granite which runs through these north-eastern Scots. It is in the landscape, where that stone is indigenous, and it is metaphorically in the character. There is a doughtiness here that astonishes me still; it is nothing like the soft south where I grew up. It took a bit of getting used to, when I first moved up here. It can come out as curtness; strangers sometimes think it almost rude. But it is just a very splendid attitude of getting on with it. Historically, merely surviving in these parts required a gaunt steeliness, and that strain lives here still.

I like it. I can learn from it. Even my highly-bred duchess is toughening up, taking this hard northern weather in her stride. Even if it is the worst winter ever, we shall stock up on hay, and rug ourselves up, and put our heads down, and bash on through.


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