Thursday, May 8, 2008

A Wilf of Steel

At work they always say that, as a manager, you are only as good as your team. In principle, I agree, even though I do believe that a good leader is one that raises high above a team that may not be so good after all. In the past few days I have been wondering whether this can be applied to horses as well, and in particular to Merv and I. On Tuesday and Wednesday we had our first clinic together and while I had a fantastic time, I could not take the whole course with Merv because he was lame. On the first day I thought we did quite well, but on the second I could not use him at all and was plonked on Wilfred instead. Wilf is exceptionally good looking and totally rugged. He has a rock n’ roll quality to himself, and is all shaggy feathers, bold walk, head high, and long and rough dark blonde mane. He is the opposite of Syd, a delicate-looking Black Beauty-like guy with long stick legs and, I am sure, a Pegasus-like gallop.

Wilf has been with us for a number of weeks and is here to get thin, get fit and get more schooling. But he is very green and hasn’t worked very much. For someone like me, so used to what could be described as a School Master, straddling Wilf wasn’t the easiest of tasks. For the first time in many, many months, I felt a sordid hum, not unlike an earthquake’s closing in from afar, rising deep inside. If Syd is the suave Frank Sinatra, concealing a touch of wilderness under the perfectly respectable exterior, Wilf is Bon Jovi circa 1988 in the Blaze of Glory days, all fringed leather pants, wild hair and liquid eyes veiling the promise of thrills that go way beyond home.

Wilf has sent me weak at the knees on more than one occasion, especially when he careers up the field to greet me, all wonderful feathers flapping in the wind, the sparkles of his hooves only just clouded by the dry soil. Once mounted, I felt like a dead leaf blu-tacked to his back, my heart racing to the tune of his enthusiastic and elevated pace (certainly elevated compared to Merv’s anyhow). I did not do too ghastly in my lesson, despite being hopelessly distracted by his new thrilling movements but, boy, can I feel my legs and shoulders this morning… If all else fails, my session on him must have provided entertainment value to the spectators and, quite frankly, I do not dislike it when I amuse people. Seriousness is highly over-rated and if one of my gifts is to embarrass myself in spades so that others feel better about their riding prowess, so be it. Deep down, I know that I am not as incapable, or indeed as stupid, as I look.

He zoomed off in a cloud of dust in the field and now all I can think about is him, my senses veiled by the affection for Merv, but also stirred by the lingering attraction to someone that promises excitement, surprises, even danger, if you will, while never quite knowing what to expect. I don’t think I have ever felt like this about a horse. In the beginning, I had no actual reasons to feel excited about riding school horses. Whatever I mistook for excitement was lingering panic flattened into submission by logic. By the time I met Sweet Merv I was worried I would hurt him with an explosive blend of foolishness and inexperience. Every session was spent preoccupied and paranoid about the basest of actions. To the observer, I must have looked like I was dusting a Lladro figurine perched on the edge of a crooked glass shelf in a stranger’s house, rather than brushing an actual cob that can withstand quite a bit more than the trembling prod of my puny little hand. As of late I started thinking about cantering; part of me wondering how on earth I managed to go on hacks as far back as a year ago on horses I did not know and follow (sort of) their canter, and another part of me feeling almost ready to give it a try with Merv. As I broke into a couple of trots on Wilf I wondered about his speed and his great power, undoubtedly magnified by the spur of his young age, the impatience of his playful spirit and my fumbling inexperience. For the moment, it is evident that I am only as good as Merv; if he is lame I too become lame, my spirit hobbling along and nodding to itself, while my heart insists on racing ahead with the same grace and purpose of an eel out of water. Maybe I should start some groundwork with Wilf and who knows where that may lead us. Meanwhile, I watch with reckless abandon from the sidelines, my eyes struggling to take in all this beauty while my mind cannot even comprehend it, equally thrilled and fearful of it.

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