As some of you may know, my last few months have not exactly gone according to plan. Who would have thought I wasn’t in charge?
A summary of recent times: THE VERY day we return from Philippe Karl’s instructor training course in May the golden horse injures himself in the field. Again. He is handsome and talented, but without a doubt the most accident prone horse I have ever know. This time he really hurts himself and ends up having several months off and a whole load of veterinary treatment. He is not yet mended.
Therefore, plan no 32.b – buy another horse. I have been glancing at the advert of Remy for months. However, I did not need another Lipizzaner. The last one broke my heart and my bank balance. I certainly do not need another one from Hungary. And what on earth would possess me to buy a mare? But, still, I look at the advert. And then it seems I do actually need another horse if I want to continue training with PK. Well, of course I don’t need one, but now there is a reason. What I actually should buy is an up and running, sensible of mind, strong of body, easy to work with horse who has seen the world, is fairly advanced in their work and just needs ‘tweaking’ according the principles of Legerete. That’s what I should do.
I drive a long way to see Remy. She had been out of work for some considerable time (3 years hanging out with her mates in the field, only really coming out with an equine friend to have her feet done) and as her lovely owner describes some of Remy’s foibles, we walk over to see her. She is both odd looking and to my mind, fabulously beautiful. She has no mane to speak of, an enlarged oesophagus, and a back which could be described as verging on sway. But, she is also regal and glorious. When we do some very basic lunging there is something very familiar about her. Plus, she is as light on her feet as a cat and seems to have replaced trotting with floating.
She has not been ridden for 3 years (although we do ride her when I meet her and she doesn’t put a fairy hoof wrong) and since she arrived from Hungary 6 years ago she has only lived here with her herd and her human. She is currently secure and happy. I don’t hear some of the stories the owner tells me about her somewhat dramatic reactions to life. I buy her.
Remy arrives 4 weeks before I am supposed to go off training with Mr Karl. My plan is to work with her in hand for 2 weeks, ride her for 2 weeks and then take her to meet the Frenchman. Remy’s plan on arrival is to stay alive, at whatever cost. And then my Mum, who has been very ill with Alzheimer’s for a very long time , for whom I am responsible and who I love, and who I have imagined would live for many years to come, dies. Time stops. Now both Remy and I are working on surviving. None of us go to train with the Frenchman.
I don’t know if horses experience grief. I am sure scientists can tell us exactly which emotions they experience and we know they don’t process thoughts in the same way that we do. But what happened to Remy had clearly turned her world upside down and she didn’t know how to proceed. She could barely breathe and was panicked, furious and unsafe to be around. I know how that feels.
I did not enjoy the first few weeks I spent with her. It seemed every single thing we did together was traumatic , but I was the one who had put her in this situation, so I needed to be the responsible adult. I dearly wanted someone else to step in, but when I looked around there was only Herbie.
I am not someone who is big on black and white ‘Do this horse’ horsemanship. I like things to be nice and soft and based on mutual understanding. My boys and I have been together quite a long time and we know how to be with each other. People tell me how lucky I am to have them, and I often think that myself. It is easy to forget quite how much hard work we have put in to achieve this equilibrium. Remy has been a family sized reminder of this. If I am ever in a position where someone says to me, ‘If only we all had a horse as easy as Remy’ (which someone said recently about Des, little knowing...) I will either laugh and laugh and laugh, or be so delighted I will only be able to agree.
My brilliant plan was to offer Remy a ‘feel’ which was so lovely and inviting that she wouldn’t be able to resist it and the two of us would blend in mutual understanding. Well, I’m not that naive really, but I certainly hadn’t banked on having to spend most of the first few weeks working on ‘just don’t bloody run me over’, carrying a tea towel on a stick to try to keep her from flattening me, and wearing a hat when I lead her in from the field. We practically had to have a man with a red flag walking in front of us so that we didn’t take out innocent bystanders on route to the stables .
I have experienced grief and loss on a number of occasions now and I can see that people often do not know how to respond. Some either avoid you altogether, many say things like ,‘Let me know if there is anything I can do to help’. I do know how well meant this is, but it is a semi useless thing to say to a person who is grieving, as it relies on the person having a) the wherewithal to be able to articulate what they need in terms of help and b) it puts the ball back in their court to ask. What they actually need is for other people to just ‘do stuff’ – take it upon themselves to have a go at helping.
I dearly wanted to say to Remy, ‘Let me know if I can do anything to help’ and leave her in the field. But I had put her in this position, and now she had nothing to rely on and did not have enough in place to be able to manage herself in the way a more experienced horse might. She did not make friends with the other horses. It seemed that her level of anxiety was so great that even they didn’t want to hang out with her. She spent her time at the edge of the field pacing up and down, peering at the horizon in this odd other worldy way that she has. My day job was helping people with challenging horses, but now I had one at home who was a bigger challenge than any I had faced in a long time.
Therefore, it was up to me to explain the basic rules. I use the word rules purposefully. These needed to be absolutely black and white, ‘This is how it works and it never changes’ standards for us both. My first priority was to make her safe for people to be around so we could take down the black and yellow hazard tape, and my second priority was to give her something that she could understand and rely on with the hope that in time, she might start to have something she could understand and feel better about. In the same way that I needed people to tell me how to live my life in those first few days after loss – put your clothes on, go to work, eat, don’t go to work etc. Sometimes you need someone to tell you what to do, as you just can’t figure it out for yourself.
I gave Remy two or three things which were basic rules and for the first few weeks we didn’t do anything else. Do this one thing in whatever situation we are in. I know it is keeping us safe and in time it will help you to feel better. For a while I had to tell myself it would work, as Remy and I were both somewhat sceptical.
It has been an exhausting, physically and emotionally, and a massive wake up call for me. And actually probably, perfectly timed in terms of giving me something to pour myself into which isn’t about death certificates and funeral arrangements and packing up my Mum’s clothes for the very last time.
Next time. Part 2 – What I have actually been doing with Remy and how she seems to feel about it. She is still here, I am still here, and she now trots over to meet me in the field, so there is hope...