This is one of those stories which sounds like it’s all about horses, but isn’t, really.
It is about horses, of course it is, but it’s also about love and gratitude and stopping so that you don’t miss a single marvellous moment of this, your one wild and precious life.
The racing was glorious today, and I won a packet of cash, which means extra carrots for the red mare, so I danced down to the field with a smile on my face, to settle the horses for the night.
It was very still and a three-quarter moon was glimmering high in an opalescent blue sky. I had a chat with my posse, and spent some time with Clova and Florence, and then went to say goodnight to the red mare. She had been out for a big walk with some old friends this morning, and she’s got the new hay to keep her happy, so she didn’t need anything from me. I was just going to thank her for her magnificence today and give her a stroke and a rub and let her dream her way into the evening.
But when I reached her, she moved away from her hay and gave me her head to scratch. She had a little itchy place that needed dealing with. One of the parts of our relationship that gives me the most pleasure is that she trusts I shall pay attention when she asks me questions like this. She knows that I know all her favourite spots, and she knows that I will attend to them, and she knows that if she tells me I’ve missed the special place by an inch she only has to redirect me.
I did my job, because I know my place.
But she did not move away when I’d finished. She stayed by my side, sinking slowly into her Place of Peace. (This is what I call it when she is in her most elemental, swoony, Zennish state of being.)
I stood with her, chatting a little bit, laughing a little bit, just at the sheer joy of having her there. I felt the extraordinary privilege I catch when a half-ton flight animal, who can go anywhere she wants, chooses me.
She didn’t want to go, so I hooked her head over my shoulder and let her rest there. I gently rubbed her cheek and I put some music on and sang along, very low. We chose Dylan, because she adores Bob. It was a cover of one of his greatest songs - Adele singing Make You Feel My Love.
‘When the evening shadows and the stars appear,’ I sang, looking up at the evening shadows. There were no stars, not yet, but it felt as if that song, and that line, could have been made for this moment.
She started to go to sleep. I felt her head grow heavy and I straightened my shoulder so I could support her.
‘Nothing that I wouldn’t do,’ I sang. ‘To make you feel my love.’
Does she know love?
I wondered about that, as I stood, singing into the falling light. I wondered about what human love means to a horse.
Does she feel my love?
Does she know how much love she gives?
In that moment, I was filled with it. It was as if someone was pouring love into my body, so that I was like a great, adoring jug, filled up with water. There was so much love that it spilled over the top, streaming out of me into the quiet air.
Her head grew heavier and the song ended and I could hear her breathing.
Crazy, endless, intense amounts of love. We were surrounded with it. It was everywhere.
And it was so pure. It was not to do with her doing anything, or saying anything (because she really cannot speak English), or even giving me anything. It was just her, being her own, absolute self.
She can make me feel more love than the human body can hold, simply by standing in a field.
How does she do that?
I thought of how complicated love can be. Especially human love; especially romantic love. There are so many disappointments and betrayals and bathetic let-downs. I sometimes think that romantic love is oversold, and cannot bear the weight of the expectations that are loaded onto it.
But this love, this mare love, is so straightforward and easy and authentic. I don’t have to stretch for it. It is there, in the last, fading moment of an ordinary day, waiting to embrace me. I only have to step into it, and I can stay in it for as long as I want.
Imagine that. That is gift like no other.
I sang a few more songs. I felt the love. I looked at the gentle sky and the indigo trees and the shadowed turf.
She woke up and removed her head and asked me for one more scratch, just inside her right ear. She adores that one.
I thanked her. Sometimes I feel inadequate when I thank her, because I don’t know how I can ever repay her for what she gives me. But I was so deep in the love, so bathed in the love, so lifted by the love that inadequacy could get no purchase. She knows, I thought. She can feel it, moving in me, as the atoms of my body align with hers. We are stardust, as Joni Mitchell sang, and we are golden.
And then I went home and I wrote these words, because I want to look back when I am an old lady, and be back in that field, with that great, generous thoroughbred, and feel the love, all over again. That is what words can do, and that is why I cherish them. This love, now, will never be lost.