This year, they're back. And as someone freshly reminded by the Olympic equestrian events of how much I love these beautiful animals and what a solemnly horse-mad little kid I was, I am going to make time to trundle down to Wayville next week and watch some of the gorgeous beasts in action.
What's made me think of this is the Saturday arvo task I've just been doing, a fifteen-minute module (the only way I can bear it) of cleaning up the great mass of paper and other junk in the study, which included coming across one of the more maverick choices of book for review that I've been sent over the last few years: Wild Horse Diaries by Lizzie Spender.
Ripping out all the yellow Post-Its as a prelude to putting it in the Red Cross shop box, I came across a passage I'd marked that made me think again of the recent Olympics events. Both the precision and delicacy of the dressage and the combination of control and recklessness required by the showjumping and (especially) the cross-country showed up how crucial the relationship between horse and rider really is. It's like watching couples ice-dancing: one small wrong move, one tiny moment of miscommunication, and you are stuffed, if not savagely maimed. 'A horse is no household pet,' says Spender,
their size alone can imbue an edge of danger, and so there is the challenge of reaching an understanding with an animal that is powerful enough to trample you to death. Dogs are privy to every facet of home life and give unconditional love, while horses are infinitely less available. They don't sit in your lap, lie on your bed, or jump up and down when you suggest a walk; nor are they as independent or capable of disdain as a cat, and they never sharpen their claws on your furniture.
Horses are wonderfully attentive, even when putting on a show of bad behaviour they always remain somehow connected. [This bit in particular spoke to me; remember the several horses in Beijing that got spooked and carried on like pork chops when planes went over? You could just see them communicating protest and displeasure to their riders and the crowd.] It's as if they enjoy hanging out with people -- sometimes I get the distinct impression that we amuse them. It's a sincere, strong connection of the senses, centred around touch and constant interpretation of each other's body language. ... Horses have a sense of fun which I will not even attempt to describe, but anyone who has spent time with them will know what I mean. There are horses that seem to be always smiling.
Naturally, writing this post has made me wonder what I actually said about the book in the review, and since it's no longer online I went looking for it in my records. For those of you who may be wondering who Lizzie Spender is, here's the first paragraph:
Privilege is a weird commodity, stemming sometimes from things other than wealth. There are one or two moments in this book that make you want to ask Lizzie Spender who she thinks she is, but you already know what the answer would be: she is the daughter of Sir Stephen Spender, god-daughter of Sir Laurens van der Post, childhood friend of Anjelica Huston and wife of Barry Humphries, and furthermore she is a gorgeous half-Russian five-foot-ten blonde, so yah boo sucks to you.