A friend and I are talking on the telephone. We come to the end of the conversation. I say, ‘See you tomorrow.’
See you tomorrow.
This is the first time I have said that in sixty-seven days.
Actually, that is not quite true. I have written it in a message to the farrier and spoken it to the vet. But this is the first time I’ve said it in a non-essential category. Tomorrow, I shall see a human being simply for the sake of pure pleasure. And I am going to see more humans the day after that. Humans! Face to face! For fun!
Scotland took a while longer than England to loosen the requirements of lockdown. The new rules, which are band-box fresh, sternly say that you can see people from two different households, outside, at a distance of two yards. You can’t suddenly have a party or go to a disco. You can’t, the authorities grimly instruct, do anything so rash as to hug anyone. But you can meet.
The slightly absurd thing is that today was a huge work day, and I saw nobody, and I carried on just as if the rules had not changed. I did all my communication – from clients to the dear Stepfather – via video link as usual. But humming in me was the knowledge that I could have gone to see a person, had I had the time. I could. It was allowed.
I can’t even express what this feels like. The cage had opened. The bird could fly free.
One of the most precious things in my life is a group of young girls who come and work with my horses. They don’t have ponies of their own, so they come and play with mine. This all happened quite by chance. Some of the young ones were complete strangers to me, people I simply ran into when I was riding. They would gaze up at the red mare with such love and longing that I’d say, ‘Come and say hello,’ not really thinking they ever would. And then they began turning up. They turned up and turned up. I taught them horsemanship and they became brilliant and confident and accomplished. I’ve got one eleven-year-old who now rides my ex-sprinter as if she’s been moseying about on thoroughbreds her whole life.
They were once unknown to me, and now they are like family. They are my posse, and we are a band of sisters. The horses adore them. They bring joy wherever they go.
Two of them are sisters so, under the one household rule, we three can meet again. We shall have our daily joy again. I’ve missed that bright spot in my routine more than I can say.
One of the reasons I love horses so much is that there is a purity to them. They don’t care about inessentials or superficials. They are entirely authentic, and they know what matters. My young girls are a bit like that too. However gnarly and complicated my day has been, I know that every afternoon at four I shall have that pure delight. Shrieks of laughter, merry faces, yes to everything. That was my tea-time gift, and then it was taken away, and the gap felt as yawning and profound as the Grand Canyon.
So now, even though I’m so tired after this long week that I can hardly move my fingers across the keyboard, I’m as excited as a tiny child on Christmas Eve.
The last few days have been ugly ones, by any measure. The explosive political row threw people back into old tribalisms. There was a lot of yelling and a lot of hurled insults and a lot of suppressed fury finally breaking its bounds. The thing went way beyond the thing, so that people started howling again about Brexit, and left and right, and the government and the people. Trust, that precious, delicate commodity, cracked and chipped and finally shattered. I would go out and stare madly at the hills and the trees and the green, green grass and try desperately to ground myself. It was proper work, like having a second job.
And then, after all that mayhem, came the beautiful, simple knowledge that I shall see the young ones again.
The funny thing is that our relationship is all about trust. To work a horse well, you have to get it to trust you. You have to earn that trust, day after day. You have to prove yourself to be reliable and fair and kind. That is what I taught my youthful horsewomen, so that trust is one of the words we use the most. The girls have to trust me too, to know that I am keeping them safe, that I am guiding them in the right direction. And I have to trust them, so that I don’t smother them in cotton wool but let them stretch their wings and take flight. (Sorry about the mixed metaphors; I am too tired to untangle them.) I’ve had to learn to let them go, to allow them to do things on their own and not to hover over them all the time.
My mares are the gentlest creatures in the world, but they are still half-ton flight animals, and these children are my responsibility. Letting go was sometimes a thing of straight terror. Yet that trust was rewarded, as they became astonishingly capable and responsible, knowing exactly what they could do and what was a bridge too far.
Out in the wild world, trust is a quality in short supply, but in my field it still exists, in great bucketloads. It’s a real thing, something I know and something I feel. Imagine that. That feels like a gift beyond price.