As I find myself entering a new chapter of my life, I have been spending a lot of time thinking about what’s important to me and how to balance work time, versus play time. A big element of that has been the way horses seem to be creeping their way back onto the scene. With a lot else going on I’ve been struggling to find time to keep up the blog posts so I’ve decided to simply share some of my ponderings with you all.
Topmost of the list this week is – what is it about horses? Why can I not escape them? I’ve even tried leaving the country a good few times and I just seem to end up working with them abroad too! You often hear people using the saying “Ah, well it’s in her blood you see.” By this I don’t think they mean you’ve inherited your passion. I think what they really mean is more of a literal thing, like it’s an incurable disease. Which would also explain the “she’s been bitten by the bug” saying.
Let’s take a more analytical approach to this. Perhaps it is their physical appearance that attracts us? Their sheer beauty. The way every horse is different, each with its own character that you learn to see in their face as you spend more time with them. The pleasure of watching a flashy horse move as it floats across the arena, dressage horses really do ‘dance’. The incredible power and athleticism of a showjumper clearing a huge 1m 60 oxer when you could swear it didn’t even look possible. The bravery and versatility of an eventer. It takes brains, not just power to get round the technical cross country courses at a higher level. I don’t think you can ever cease to be impressed by what a horse can do. I love to watch them having a mad 5 minutes in the field. When they storm around as fast as they can throwing all kinds of shapes revelling in the simple joy of freedom. Well, I love it in between panicking about what injury they’re going to come back in with and how many shoes will be left on!
This is almost certainly a part of it but perhaps another factor is the type of people horses attract. By this I dont mean those who come over when you’re out hacking and go “ah he’s so handsome can I pat him?” then proceed to tell you all about the 3 times they went pony trekking as a kid and how much they love ponies. I mean the real equestrian folk. The ones that regularly get up at 6am in the morning all year round, in all weathers to trudge around in the cold, dark, excessively wet and muddy fields to care for said beasts. To whom callused hands, cuts, bruises and shavings in your bra are the norm. The owners that go without personal treats to pay for their beloveds new shoes and the grooms who have spent most of their lives working for way less than minimum wage. To survive you have to be tough, practical, hardworking and determined.Yet watch any of them around a frightened, worried horse and you will see the other side, the calming touch, the kind words and endless patience – only with the horses though! Equestrian folk are a breed of their own, for the majority fair and honest, for them all slightly mad.
I was watching the Badminton highlights on TV the other day and one of the things that struck me the most was how often when interviewed the riders would give so much of the credit to horse. Reflecting over the years this is not just specific to eventing. I have seen the likes of Carl Hester and John Whittaker do just the same. A huge part of any successful combination is the partnership they have forged with the horse. Through interacting with them every day, learning how best to cope with each of their little idiosyncrasies in order to help them perform to their best. When Gemma Tattersalls completed the cross country phase at Badminton with a brilliant clear her main celebration as the crowd cheered wildly was to repeatedly point to her horse Arctic Soul. She wanted the cheers to be for him. In her emotional interview afterwards she just couldn’t keep saying how amazing he was, her obvious elation and sense of pride was all down to how well she felt HE had done. Just as someone who works in the horse world it brought a lump to my throat watching her. You can understand the amount of hard work that has gone into creating that moment and how it feels to be part of that winning team, at whatever level.
All of these are true and make up the backbone of the appeal of horses but the thing that really makes them special, to me, is their characters. It is infact the element that gives all the above points real meaning. It’s what makes them more than an animal, a price tag or just a vehicle to win prizes. It’s the ‘person’ inside each horse. Knowing the personality of the horse you work with means you have those moments every day, when they make you smile as they wicker at you over the door in the morning, gallop across the field to you like a hooligan or get out of bed with straw or shavings all over their head. When we have the bond, we get the sense of achievement and pride. Whether it’s from coming 3rd at Badminton, winning your local BE90 or jumping their first course. It is what fuels the addiction.
Now to find a way to make it part of my life but not all that I ever do……… that is the tricky part!