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.

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.
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