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Another world

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley has not set their biography yet
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on Monday, 20 May 2013
I am a day late with this post, ostensibly because I have taken on more projects that I can chew, and my time management is shockingly inadequate. I gallop around like a distracted pony, with To Do Lists tumbling in my head. But it is not just to do with lost time. It’s also that the thing I want to write about is a hard thing, and I’m not quite sure I have the good words for it. It’s a difficult subject, and I’m not even sure it is quite an appropriate one for these gentle pages. Yet it is the thing that fills my head at the moment, and I can’t really fall back on sheep and blossom and the return of the swallows.
Tania-02-590

Since I started volunteering for HorseBack UK, I have encountered people whose stories would only have ever been a distant newspaper headline to me. A new world has been revealed. In some ways it is a dark one, but it is also filled with inspiration and rays of light.

I hear conversations I never thought I would hear. Just this morning, a gentleman said, as matter of fact as if he were talking about going to the shop to get the paper: ‘Bob was blown up in Afghanistan, and Pete was blown up in Ireland, and I was blown up in Iraq.’ A few months ago, I would have had absolutely nothing to say to statement like that. My brain would have yelled: Does Not Compute. Now, I make a joke. That’s what they all do, the serving men and women, and the vets; military humour is dark as pitch. I don’t shuffle my feet and get crushed with a very British sense of embarrassment and try to change the subject. I say, with heavy irony: ‘Well, that’s nice.’
Tania-01-382
I have learnt to put away my pity face. Pity is a distancing device; it is a good and true human emotion, but it makes people other. No one here wants pity. They have no use for it. They want, I think, ordinary humanity. They want to be able to look you in the eye and tell their stories and be heard. I’m learning to do this, and it’s a damn good lesson.

This week, the HorseBack course is for veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. This is a complex condition which can strike at any time. I met a paratrooper yesterday who told me that his came out of the blue, thirteen years after his service in the Falklands and Northern Ireland. It can have many symptoms: agoraphobia, depression, insomnia, intense rage, nightmares, flashbacks. One veteran said, as he looked up at the blue Scottish sky: ‘There is blackness, inside and outside.’

In some miraculous, almost inexplicable way, the work they do with the horses seems to open and calm these troubled minds. No one can really categorise how it works, but it does. I see men arrive with tight, uncertain faces, and by the second day they are standing tall and laughing and smiling. What HorseBack does is not a cure, but it gives a sense of hope and possibility. The veterans bond amazingly with the animals, who really don’t care where it was that you were blown up, but how you are in that moment. (I sometimes think horses are like little Zen professors, like that.)

It is difficult, to see close-up what war can do to human beings. At the same time, it is an odd privilege, to hear these stories, and to see the changes which can be wrought. There is a lot of damage, physical and mental, but there is great resolve, a determination not to dwell on past scars but to look for future possibilities. ‘Be kind,’ said the Reverend John Watson, in the 19th century, ‘for everyone is fighting a hard battle.’ I think: some battles are harder than others, but there is a lovely optimism which infects everything at HorseBack, the idea that those battles can be won.

Behind the scenes at Ascot

Posted by Young Ladies About Town
Young Ladies About Town
Fiona Hicks has not set their biography yet
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on Monday, 13 May 2013
One of the great sounds of an English Summer is pounding hooves on turf whilst heady punters cheer their money over the line and champagne corks pop in celebration. But for me, like so many others, it’s all about the horses and names like Frankel and Black Caviar are as revered as equine gods and legends with almost mythical status.

I love getting close to horses and when Ascot held its third annual Free Raceday on 1 May it offered a great opportunity to see behind the scenes and into parts of the world famous racecourse normally restricted to the inner circle of owners, jockeys and stewards.
Kitty-01-590

With the beautiful May sunshine greeting the 20,000 people who had dressed up for the occasion we headed into the parade ring to stand on the winner’s podium and for a brief moment feel what it was like to own a racehorse. Then into the jockey’s weight room to speak to the Clerk of the Scales. Who knew that jockeys could gain so much as 2lb if they ride in rainy and muddy conditions, or conversely can lose a pound or two on sunny days and that any dramatic weight changes could cause instant disqualification.
Kitty-02-590

Next we were taken to the Stewards box directly overlooking the winning post and heard how a series of cameras and mirrors defined who won by a nose, a head or a length; a serious job for a steward considering how many millions are involved in the sport.
Kitty-03-590

Perhaps my favourite titbit though was the story of how the Queen arrives at Royal Ascot from her back garden at Great Windsor Park, up the race course and almost straight into the Royal Box. No-one is allowed in or out at any point during the year and she brings her own food up in Tupperware whilst Prince Phillip watches the cricket in another room. It reminded me of my own Scottish Grandmother, always ready with a tartan flask and packet of cheese sandwiches for any outing. I like to picture Her Majesty, eyes glued to binoculars shouting for her horse to romp home whilst her husband is shouting at England who inevitably are about to lose another wicket.
Kitty-04-590

I like it that for others racing is all about the hats, the champagne and the showing off, but for some of us we are happy with a cheese sandwiches and luke-warm tea as our races are truly all about the horses.

Words and photography by Kitty Buchanan-Gregory

In which weather takes on vanity, and weather wins

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley has not set their biography yet
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on Thursday, 14 February 2013
The snow comes barrelling in again, this time, rather oddly, on gales blowing up from the south. There is no warmth in them, whatever their origin, and wind-chill now becomes a subject of intense importance. I try not to moan about the weather, and fail. An amber warning is out for the region, and many conversations now revolve around the correct application of layers. Layering is the only way to keep warm, at this stage, and must be taken very seriously.

Working with horses in these elements means that all vanity is fled. It really is what the business types call a Zero Sum Game. Either I can keep my equines warm and fed and comfortable, or I can look respectable. There is absolutely no way to do both. Clothes, boots and often face are spattered with mud; every woollen article I own has little bits of hay clinging to it. Due to the crucial application of a hat to fend off the blizzards, my hair has become unspeakable.

My current sartorial look, seen when giving the mares their morning haynets. The hat, of which I am rather fond, came from the tremendous N. Armison and Sons of Penrith, established in 1742. I'm not sure the hat was designed for feeding horses in the snow, but it does the job very well.My current sartorial look, seen when giving the mares their morning haynets. The hat, of which I am rather fond, came from the tremendous N. Armison and Sons of Penrith, established in 1742. I'm not sure the hat was designed for feeding horses in the snow, but it does the job very well.

In the equine brochures which now thump through my letter-box, people who have clearly never been through a Scottish winter show off all kind of horse-wear, in varying states of pristine immaculateness. I gaze at them with a hollow laugh. My default mode now involves low-level dirt at all times.

Funnily enough, I think this is rather a good thing. It’s nice to brush up well, every so often; to put on one’s lipstick and get out a velvet coat or a shiny pair of shoes. Occasionally, I do manage to graduate from mildly damp socks. But so much of the media seems devoted to telling women that they should aspire to impossible levels of loveliness. We must be willowy and elegant and perfectly dressed, like this film star, or that model. It’s rather lovely when that simply is not an option. I do not have to feel like a failure in the glamour stakes, because there is no question of even making an entry.

I do dream of spring, when I no longer shall have to tog myself up like the Michelin man. It shall be rather charming to cast off the exclusive scent of wet horse. (Not exactly Chanel No 5.) But in the meantime, I quite like that fact that there is no room for vanity. I am a creature of the earth, just at the moment, stomping through the mud, head bowed against the wind, getting the important things done.

All the Olympic horses

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley has not set their biography yet
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on Tuesday, 07 August 2012

Now it seems I have turned into the most monomaniac of one-trick ponies. But the British and their equines really have done something remarkable. On Monday, a fifty-something gentleman with a replacement shoulder, an artificial hip, a broken neck, and goodness knows what else, jumped clear round after clear round over enormous oxers and terrifying uprights. It was not just Nick Skelton who excelled, although I do love seeing the old fellas have their day in the sun; it was not just his three bold team-mates. It was the horses as well.

It’s easy to forget the pressure on the horses, who are, after all, flight animals. They come into a strange arena, filled with ecstatic cheering crowds, waving flags, taking pictures. All the while, announcers are calling through microphones and helicopters suddenly circle overhead. It’s almost a perfect storm of everything the horse is bred not to like. It does not necessarily think: all those lovely Britons are cheering for me. (Although some horses are born performers and rise to a crowd.) It is more likely to think: damn, mountain lions at three o’clock.

My mare doing her own little dressage test, in honour of her compadresMy mare doing her own little dressage test, in honour of her compadres

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The rain it raineth every day

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley has not set their biography yet
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on Wednesday, 27 June 2012
For every action there must be an equal and opposite reaction. This time last week I was roaring home perhaps the greatest racehorse I ever saw, giddy with euphoria, only slightly cross that mere words on a page could not express what I saw. (There is a visceral, elemental nature to horses which means that often they defy prose.) Now I gaze out onto a drowned landscape, everything brown and sodden under a low, grumpy sky.

There are particles of sadness floating in the air. I’m really sad about Nora Ephron dying. Seventy-one is no age; she was so clever and funny and witty and true. She gave an awful lot of pleasure to an awful lot of people, and that’s not a bad thing to be able to say about your life. Someone else who gave pleasure was the young jockey, Campbell Gillies, who won me money and brought me great joy at Cheltenham this year, when Scotland triumphed in the Albert Bartlett, with the lovely Brindisi Breeze. Gillies also died yesterday, in one of those freak accidents that make no sense. (I suppose no dying makes an awful lot of sense, but some makes less than others.)

Crash, crash, back to earth I come.  The sensible great-aunt in me says: spit, spot, this is life. It’s not a carnival ride. The rain rains, and work must be done, and people depart, and that’s how it goes. The not sensible part says: bugger this for a game of soldiers.

I stomp up crossly to the mare. It’s so nasty out that I was not going to do any work with her, but I have some bizarre puritan streak that pushes me on. As if sensing that I need some good news, she is immaculate, at her sweetest and funniest and dearest. She actually rather loves this weather. Too much sunshine is far too vulgar for her grand sensibilities. A low, soft day is her absolute favourite. She is willing and responsive and I get the sudden thrill of achievement.

tania june27

Just as the horse is doing something particularly impressive, my step-niece comes out to feed the chickens. The hens are nearly as grand as the mare, and get the remains of the great-nieces’ porridge for their breakfast. ‘Oh,’ says the step-niece in delight, ‘look what she is doing.’ I feel idiotically proud. I have a witness. See what I can do, with my horse whispery skills. See how clever and brilliant my lovely girl is.

The lovely girl, obviously overcome by her own cleverness, sticks her nose into the silver saucepan and eats all the hens’ porridge. For some reason I find this inexpressibly funny. I never heard of a horse eating porridge before. ‘So Scottish and good for her,’ I say, laughing. The mare nods her head, very pleased with herself. I scratch the velvety spot behind her ears and think this really is much, much cheaper than therapy.

Determined to counter the dreich, I come home and make yellow split pea soup with saffron and drink a pot of coffee so strong that I can feel it jump-starting my brain. On I bash. At least the rain means I don’t have to water the garden. It keeps the flies away from the horses. It means we live in a green and pleasant land, instead of an arid desert. It’s just a little bit of precipitation. Out in the east, beyond the beeches and the Wellingtonias and the venerable oaks, a faint gleam of light appears in the sky.
The rain it raineth every day.

For every reaction there must be an equal and opposite reaction. This time last week I was roaring home perhaps the greatest racehorse I ever saw, giddy with euphoria, only slightly cross that mere words on a page could not express what I saw. (There is a visceral, elemental nature to horses which means that often they defy prose.) Now I gaze out onto a drowned landscape, everything brown and sodden under a low, grumpy sky.

There are particles of sadness floating in the air. I’m really sad about Nora Ephron dying. Seventy-one is no age; she was so clever and funny and witty and true. She gave an awful lot of pleasure to an awful lot of people, and that’s not a bad thing to be able to say about your life. Someone else who gave pleasure was the young jockey, Campbell Gillies, who won me money and brought me great joy at Cheltenham this year, when Scotland triumphed in the Albert Bartlett, with the lovely Brindisi Breeze. Gillies also died yesterday, in one of those freak accidents that make no sense. (I suppose no dying makes an awful lot of sense, but some makes less than others.)

Crash, crash, back to earth I come.  The sensible great-aunt in me says: spit, spot, this is life. It’s not a carnival ride. The rain rains, and work must be done, and people depart, and that’s how it goes. The not sensible part says: bugger this for a game of soldiers.

I stomp up crossly to the mare. It’s so nasty out that I was not going to do any work with her, but I have some bizarre puritan streak that pushes me on. As if sensing that I need some good news, she is immaculate, at her sweetest and funniest and dearest. She actually rather loves this weather. Too much sunshine is far too vulgar for her grand sensibilities. A low, soft day is her absolute favourite. She is willing and responsive and I get the sudden thrill of achievement.

Just as the horse is doing something particularly impressive, my step-niece comes out to feed the chickens. The hens are nearly as grand as the mare, and get the remains of the great-nieces’ porridge for their breakfast. ‘Oh,’ says the step-niece in delight, ‘look what she is doing.’ I feel idiotically proud. I have a witness. See what I can do, with my horse whispery skills. See how clever and brilliant my lovely girl is.

The lovely girl, obviously overcome by her own cleverness, sticks her nose into the silver saucepan and eats all the hens’ porridge. For some reason I find this inexpressibly funny. I never heard of a horse eating porridge before. ‘So Scottish and good for her,’ I say, laughing. The mare nods her head, very pleased with herself. I scratch the velvety spot behind her ears and think this really is much, much cheaper than therapy.

Determined to counter the dreich, I come home and make yellow split pea soup with saffron and drink a pot of coffee so strong that I can feel it jump-starting my brain. On I bash. At least the rain means I don’t have to water the garden. It keeps the flies away from the horses. It means we live in a green and pleasant land, instead of an arid desert. It’s just a little bit of precipitation. Out in the east, beyond the beeches and the Wellingtonias and the venerable oaks, a faint gleam of light appears in the sky.

In which the sun shines

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley has not set their biography yet
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on Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Even the glory that is Scotland can look a bit demoralised after days of gloom and cold and dreich. With no spring to speak of, I felt my spirits lowering and my shoulders hunching against the daily chill. Today, there was sudden, blinding, serious sun. I went up to the horse with a rising heart.

In celebration of the warmth, I decided to try a new technique. Coming back to horses after thirty years, I am operating on old, childhood instincts, ancient things known from growing up in a stable. But I am also wide open to new things, to learning anything that will make my mare happy, and will make my life with her easier and sweeter. Just because I grew up with racehorses does not mean I know it all. So I have been reading a lot about natural horsemanship (or, in my case, horsewomanship). Some old hands scoff at this, and don’t like the idea of it at all; it’s seen as a namby-pamby, new age lot of nonsense.

Tania Kindersley's horse

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A new field

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley has not set their biography yet
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on Wednesday, 04 April 2012

It has taken two weeks for me to fall out with the livery people. Actually, it was not so much a falling out, as them developing a deep antipathy towards me. I thought I was being blithe and charming; in fact, I was clearly having the effect of nails down a blackboard.

It was on account of the rules being unwritten. I suspect that they are unwritten because, to the livery people, they are so blindingly obvious that they do not need stating. In a perfect storm of unwitting misfortune, I broke every single one within the first week.

Walking through the sawmill, for instance. Apparently this is so verboten they need new words for no. I saw the mill, and thought that for conditioning a new horse to a strange place, nothing could be a better test. The more weird things she can see, the more she realises they are not lairs for mountain lions, and the quicker she will settle. I was so proud of her as she bravely went past piles of logs, nameless contraptions, huge sheds, heavy machinery, saws and tractors. I was smiling and laughing. I waved at the sawmill gentlemen, wished them good morning, introduced the mare, made obligatory remarks about the weather.

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