The observation of horses
Car journey boredom is not something from which I suffer, for there are always horses to see! As a young child, even before I swapped a shilling for I-Spy Horses & Ponies, my head would swivel from right to left on any car journey. I was, and still am, an equine-seeking missile.
On the route from the family home to my grandparents’ holiday caravan on the Essex coast every field containing horses was imprinted on my memory like a brand. The cobs on the right, the lone grey on the left, the palomino and bay on the weed-ridden paddock by the mobile home – even the tree-lined lane leading to the riding school advertised in the horsey press, too far away and expensive to attend, caused my pulse to quicken. It was a matter of honour never to miss a pony field. The excitement of any family holiday started the moment the car hit unfamiliar roads. What ponies would I see today?
And nothing has changed. The familiar shapes still distract my gaze from travelling companions and the road ahead. What are their stories? Are they loved, cared for, neglected? Secure, or confused by their owner’s demands? Their shapes, their colours, their markings, prick the dark recesses of my memory, reminding me of horses I have known and ridden, too soon passed to name them, to remember the yard at which we met.
Even on unfamiliar routes I’ve a sixth sense of where to look. There’s something about a field that promises not to disappoint: the way it is grazed, a water trough, the fencing. Even suburban opportunities present themselves: a rare stable yard still used for its original purpose, a paddock squeezed between houses or patchwork gypsy horses mowing tethered circles on a roundabout. The hairy, coloured ponies shadowed by the motorway bridges criss-crossing the M25 at Dartford, scared and stranded on the highest and last dry part of their field, the river swollen after the rains, prompting a call to the horse charities to ensure that someone cared about them. There is no snobbery in this hobby, this addiction I can’t ignore. All horses command equal interest.
And there are riders, indulging their passion while I drive or am driven, cantering by the side of golden and rippling crops or chocolate-coloured plough. Is the pace their choice, or that of their mounts? With such fleeting glimpses it’s impossible to tell. Horses and riders on motorway bridges, centaur silhouettes against the sky, their riders unaware of my thoughts as I hurtle beneath them, my eyes flicking to the mirror for a second glance. Are they heading out for a ride, or returning? Will the jogging horse calm once he is away from the road? Will the dismounted rider be able to mount once again?
There are glimpses and promises of routes I’ll never ride. Where does that avenue of trees, disappearing over the hill with such mystery, lead, that beautiful stretch of perfect grassland, just begging to be galloped on? The rolling fields and moorland – perfect from the car, any poor going disguised by distance and speed. I have ridden in some beautiful places all over the world, on wonderful horses, but like an explorer unable to resist the lure of an unmarked map there are always horses yet to ride, places I shall never observe from the saddle. I am greedy, and every journey offers rich temptation.
And so it continues on my travels. Behind my husband on our motorbike there are horses and donkeys to behold as we speed through France. And when horses are in short supply I switch, from necessity, to beautiful wide-eyed French cows, grazing with the sire of their calves, both present and future. Cows more fortunate than our own, not forced into a celibate existence with their sisters, denied the company of their own offspring, their suitor replaced by a dispassionate, white-coated inseminator.
Such thoughts are an indulgence when one does not have the responsibility of the vehicle and they ramble on unchecked as we traverse the miles, as thoughts do, reaching a point at their conclusion far from their beginning and impossible to retrace. But always it comes back to the horses. Horses – the very sight of them after so many years of observation still quickens my pulse and commands my interest. There’s no getting away from them. There is no boredom when there are horses to see, and I’m thankful for that.
The pictures are used under Creative Commons Licence, and come from Freefoto.com. They were taken by Ian Britton.