Thursday, 3 February 2011

mary-anne, and resolutions willfully broken

If you have read my blog on my new year's resolutions you will be aware that I have a horse. You will also be aware that the resolution that refers to my horse dictates my need to see her and ride her more, as it is something I have not been doing enough of in the last year or two. So, I've been trying to do these resolutions and see her more but recent events mean that I no longer can and part of this post is to lay this out. The larger part of it though is to talk about her.

When I was young I loved animals. We had pets, our black and white cat called posie, then our very own starting with our fish (cheesy and eggy) and then our guinea pigs (babybel and cilla) and then more and more guinea pigs. Being me though, I always wanted more, and I always wanted a dog. I remember writing about dogs and drawing dogs and playing with 'puppy in my pocket' constantly. It was all I wanted. It has become a little bit of a weird legend, which my Dad highlighted in his speech at my wedding, that instead of upgrading from cat to dog, I upgraded from cat to pony. I suppose it has always irritated me that there is some view of people who have horses as being the elite; that I was constantly parading around arenas in tweed speaking the queen's english. It was far more like getting covered in muck, riding around anywhere like a nutter for hours and then getting recovered in muck. I did love it though.

I started horse riding when I was around eight years old at Charmichael Visitor Centre. There was a woman called Theresa, who had long, messy ringletty strawberry blonde hair and can only be described as buxom. Two hundred years ago she would have been a side in a Jane Austen but in the last 1990s she was round, course and chain smoked. Strangely she was friends with a girl my age who was "bad" and they seemed to make eachother's lives more dirty as it seemed to me at the time. The eight year old girl was Christina. She called her T-Guy. I only realised recently it was because her last name was indeed Guy. Anyway we rode the horses there for a few years, my brother, me and sometimes our neighbour Sarah. I only have good memories. My favourite horse was called Jazz; and 13hh dapple grey. Jamie rode Kizmet, a hairy old man of a dun 14.2hh horse who was so the plodder. My Mum rode Vienna who seemed idyllic and Theresa the extatic Gi-Gi, who pranced and rose as she jittered along. Later on Theresa stopped working there and the yard stopped doing horse riding. My Mum and Dad tried to purchase Jazz from the owners who refused and presented me with a grooming set for my birthday and the affirmative decision to purchase a horse, just not Jazz. Inbetween times I remember the love of yard chores as Jamie and I were permitted to visit the horses alone. Without Theresa guiding us we mixed up feeds, deciding what we thought each horse should get, brought them in from the feild and groomed them, and mucked out as if we owned the yard. It was the end of an era there and though I visited Jazz probably three more times once I had gotten my own horse, and vowed into his mane to come back for him eventually, I have no idea what became of him.

And so I got Mary-anne. I had been having riding lessons at Haynses since Theresa left Charmichael and the nearer riding school in Lanark was a shambles, sitting Jamie on a 17hh shire and my on a pony that would only turn left. In hindsight we bought Mary-anne not because she was the right horse but because she was a horse. She was stabled at Haynses and she was then ours, and the struggle commenced. While I never regret any of it, and am indebted to my parents for allowing me to have a horse, Mary-anne was a handful. She was head strong. She wasn't the best schooled. She was liable at any moment to change and do something ballistic just for the hell of it. She was moody. She was trying. She refused to hack out alone. She wriggled and bounced when you tried to wash her. She was female. I was watching the news recently and the police horse people were talking of there only being like 1% of police horses who are mares. The difference was all too apparent when I rode a girl called Kim's horse, Dylan, one day. I took him in the arena and glided round in glee, popping over fences without exploding into a gallop afterwards, and hacking out down the road to cool off, feet out of the stirrups, cool as a cucumber. I suppose if I could choose now I would have chosen that we were given a horse like that to buy from the start. But once Mary was ours she was the family, and you can't pick your family.

I did have a lot of fun with Mary-anne, and I think as a character builder, she is an everest. But it just feels now that all of that is over. I had dreamed since I was old enough to care of what my future was after I left home, of a modest country house. There was a well kept garden and a drive and behind a perfect wooden stable with tackroom, feed storage and boxes that open to the stable and to the feild behind. I had a feild and a smaller paddock for exercize. I would have Mary and I would have one more horse, my dream horse, much like Dylan I suppose. This dream had never altered. It has always been my long term plan. It hasn't ever been seemingly feasible or fitted with everything else but I have just taken it as a given that it would be accomplished. I guess that this has all changed too now.

Last Sunday I went up to Mary-anne to ride. The week prior I had wahsed her tail and clipped her legs and ridden. She was an angel. Ok, she was out of practice and fitness but she did her best, I had fun, and it was a good visit. I came up on Sunday to do the same and felt myself ready to enjoy riding again, enjoy and look forward to going to the yard, being outside and outside of the city and relaxing the way I used to. I figured five years in Glasgow hadn't changed me in the slightest. I rode Mary and she was fine. Granted it was a little more windy and the horses in the feild were running a little, but Mary seemed not to care. She cantered around at a steady pace, no need for pulling her up. I decided to give her one last whirl round on the right rein and call it a day. Mary cantered calmly up the longer side of the rectangular school. As I rounded the top corner of the arena to the A marker though it was as if someone had planted a firework under her tail. I am used to Mary. I am used to her quirks. I am used to her suddenly bucking or bronco-ing. I stick to her like glue. You can read a horse as you ride, you know my the slightest twinge of a muscle that they are going to change. Every other time, I have felt it. 90% of those times I stuck on. In the instances that I fell I knew it was coming, and I could plan a gentle semi-dismount accordingly. That day there was none of that. I don't know if it was my own complacency, or being out of practice, or Mary not even knowing it herself, but she moved. All I remember was a bronco type movement, where she seemed to launch herself up with her back arched. That is like a still shot in my head and then I remember seeing rubber. Chopped rubber, grey fuzzy stuff, and sand at point blank range as I fell to the arena floor over her left shoulder. Then there was an almight thud on my hard riding hat.

I know I didn't pass out. Infact, I leapt up immediately, and went for Mary. A horse running loose can step on it's reins and break a leg easily. Of course I went for Mary, it was ingrained to do so. But as I did I could tell in the back of my head that I wasn't right. My shoulder was killing, and my head felt like a balloon. Still, I was the logical idiot who took the pony to the stables and untacked her. I was the methodical moron who put her rug on and her in the feild, before tidying up all my stuff. I then started to drive. I said to myself, "I don't feel so good, but if I get the car home I can deal with it then". I did. My vision left a lot to be desired. At first it was fine, then there was a big blurred fuzzy spot which followed me. Like when you look at the sun then a spot appears when you blink. This gradually eased. At one point I felt excessivley sick, then it passed. I drove to my Mum's and parked and went in. I sat down and my vision was now just a blur. I called Stuart then I called 999.

It turns out I was fine though. Concussion. I was sick and very tired. The ambulance journey was worse than the fall itself. There was a long wait at the hospital. It was all a bit surreal. It wasn't very nice.

The point is though that when I was getting up from the ground I remember a clarity that shouldn't really have existed after a horse's iron-clad hoof collides with one's skull, in my mind. I remember thinking, 'Okay, it's okay, it's all over. That's it. It's done.' As I walked towards Mary-anne, who was standing with a foot over her reins, I knew that was the last time I would ride her. As I made her lift her foot and fished her reins out the image of the modest country house with the stables and paddock carbonated, fizzling away into nothing. I didn't feel sad, I felt like it was meant.

I still love the idea of horse riding and having my own yard but I know it will never happen now. I suppose for how many people does it happen. Can you become a different person without realising it? Now I am sitting in my city flat and every day it seems more and more like home. It smells like home. I don't mind the lack of space. The paved back court will do without a garden. I grow things in pots, tidy and clean. I like the smell of linens and central heating drying them. Every day this flat seems less like a compromise and more like my destiny. I go to my Mum's house and I feel lost in the vast empty darkness of night as I walk to the car. The stars are beautiful, but they are like strangers. As I drive home, the closer I get the safer I feel. I fly along the M8 knowing just when to change lane and just what speed to go at and it fits. I suppose you can get used to anything and I have gotten used to this. A quasi-city life style.

I always thought I would get back into the horse thing, and I would be there again. I no longer think that is true. It couldn't feel more like the end of a chapter in a book. The saddest thing is the way Mary-anne called to me last Sunday. Oh, long missed friend, still recognised after all these years. Yet we are no longer the same.

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