Yesterday I watched Simon work with Tory, the Shire mare. She’s elderly, semi-retired, and all I’ve seen her do so far is stand patiently in the stable yard, her halter rope trailing, while small children are popped up on her back for a moment. She didn’t move even when one regular small visitor embraced her foreleg, much as you might hug a tree.
But yesterday she was harnessed to a harrow, to do some light work ‘weeding’ between the flax crop and the potatoes. She was a different horse, full of energy and far more highly strung than I expected. I watched Simon manage her skillfully as she lunged at the job in hand, swinging off her line at a cracking pace. He explained, as he stood her to calm down, how she throws herself too fiercely into the collar, and then, startled by the impact of the sudden weight, refuses.
Later I saw her do just that. Simon took her back, set off again but with a lever lifted the harrow’s teeth so there was no friction. Tory pulled it successfully through the chickweed, he slowly turned her and just as swiftly dropped the teeth as she pulled it back. As she was already moving steadily she had no problem towing it through the matted weeds. “It’s just how she is,” he said, “Too late to teach her any different now”.
I have a poem developing, here’s the beginning –
sets off too fast, throws her weight too hard
into the collar and it’s no good.
The harrow yanks the chickweed and jams tight.
She stops, throws up her head.
Her forehooves brace.
He talks to her, she shines. I slap
a horse-fly on her crest and her red blood
runs in the palm of my hand.
At the back of the blinker her eye’s
a dark lake, and flickers.