I made a decision this week which may cost me my life. A melodramatic observation if ever there was one. But not without a smudge of truth. My decision? To fill the horse-shaped hole that has been left in my life since the death of my wife almost two years ago.
It’s a big decision for me. Horses sometimes graze hay, but they mainly eat money. They’re also quite good at keeping our local air ambulance off the ground. But they’re a magnificent antidote to the cares of the world. As a TV news presenter, I spend my working life trying to thread the needle of editorial impartiality. It’s a job which – thanks to social media trolls – is not getting easier.
Horses sometimes graze hay, but they mainly eat money. – Colin Brazier
At home, I do a different kind of labour. As a widower with six children, my work is unpaid and never-ending. In any one day I may have to be an arbitrator of arcane disputes about ‘borrowed’ jumpers, a two-trolley supermarket shopper, an enthusiastic homeschooler or reluctant child psychiatrist. And those are just the glamorous tasks.
So why not take up fly-fishing or bird-watching – if it’s absorption in something other than work or childcare that I need? Why not join the swarms of lycra-clad cyclists who are challenging the hegemony of the internal combustion engine in the countryside where I live? Perhaps I could get an allotment? Start smoking my grandfather’s old pipe? Pray the rosary more?
But, as Her Majesty the Queen reminds us – aged 94 and still on horseback – horses are the thing. No respecters of status, they are happy to kick anyone. They introduce a whiff of the heroic into the quotidian. A mountain bike goes where you tell it to go. A horse offers a different kind of journey. Jesus may have ridden a donkey effortlessly into Jerusalem, but the rest of us have to kick. The idea of subjugating another living creature in order of achieve a fruitful partnership, so essential with working animals, yet so counter-cultural today.
And the partnership can be fruitful beyond imagining. I never rode as a child, only taking it up in my forties so I could “hack out” with pony-mad daughters. Everyone advised me to get a plodder, a dobbin. But then I went to see a former racehorse and, in spite of the Greek chorus of scepticism, went ahead and bought him. I was a total novice, but completely spellbound.
As Her Majesty the Queen reminds us – aged 94 and still on horseback – horses are the thing. – Colin Brazier
There’s a memorable line in the late Sir Roger Scruton’s book, On Hunting, where he describes running his hand through a horses’ mane while quoting from Ecclesiastes. Well, I don’t know about that. But after the arrival of my retired steeplechaser, and to the amusement of my family, there were several evenings when I sought to bond with my horse by reading Scruton to him in his stable.
Quite potty, I know. But having a horse felt more vocation than hobby. I rode every day. Fell off a lot (no air ambulance, but more than one visit to an Accident and Emergency ward). After a couple of wonderful years, my beloved thoroughbred had to be put down, but I went straight out and bought another, slower, mount.
When my my wife grew sick with cancer, I found that the strange primeval connection a human can find with a horse brought me profound calm. – Colin Brazier
When my my wife grew sick with cancer, I found that the strange primeval connection a human can find with a horse brought me profound calm. I wasn’t one to anthropomorphise. Horses are simple beasts who usually do as we want them to in order to avoid hunger or discomfort. And yet, and yet. Imagined empathy? Perhaps. A horse probably doesn’t even realise his rider is weeping while cantering. And yet, and yet.
For all that consolation, the aftermath of widowhood seemed to leave me with little choice. Having lost their mother, my children did not need a father who was too busy mucking out to rustle up supper. Or, who couldn’t drive to work on crutches. The horse had to go.
I gave him to the Tedworth Saddle Club, a local riding school where I live near Salisbury.
A year later one of my children drew my attention to the school’s Facebook page. My horse, a gentle giant called George, had become a favourite of one woman at the riding school in particular. Like my late wife, she was also called Jo. And, like my Jo, she had died of cancer. She had apparently asked that George should lead her funeral procession.
Colin Brazier is the author of Sticking Up For Siblings: Who’s Deciding the Size of Britain’s Families? (Civitas)
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