Johnnersintheraw's Blog

May 4, 2010

My Mother Had a Little Mare…

A short verse and a little story about a wee foul beastie disguised as a sweet little chestnut mare:

My mother had a little mare

Her blaze was white as snow,

And everywhere my mother went,

The mare would surely go.

My mother was not a particularly willing horsewoman.  Riding was something she had always done, but that was more because she had grown up in the country and it was either that or helping to pull up bindweed in the garden or practising her viola.  And since she already had to slog away at the latter for twelve hours a day, the bindweed was going to be left to its own devices.  Besides, her mother was a devoted gardener, and a daughter never wants to follow in her mother’s footsteps, any more than a son wants to do his father’s bidding.  And so, horses it was.

To be fair to her, when it came to large animals, my mother was a little on the timorous side, especially when it came to doing things which involved a proximity to a horse’s hindquarters. After all, horses’ hooves are very hard, their legs are very strong, and they are not always shy about making their feelings known.  On the other hand, my mother was very small and didn’t weight very much.  In other words, one well-place kick from a horse, and she would have sailed over the wall and into the next county.

Nikki was a little mare,

She smelled just like a bear.

Whenever someone passed her by,

They’d check their underwear.

My mother was what I might call a careful rider.  In other words, she didn’t take a lot of unnecessary risks, and she would never ask a horse to do anything that frightened it.  Furthermore, although she might have been a rampaging tiger when it came to other humans, my mother never raised her voice around a horse.  She was very firm, but always fair.  And as a consequence, she was always obeyed.  And if they happened to shy at something, she was very good at calming their fears.  They adored her.

Now, my mother wasn’t one of those county girls who spent all their time riding to the hounds and point-to-pointing and mucking out and hanging round youthful OE polo-players and buying the latest hats for Ascot.  First of all, she spent most of her days at a very strict boarding school, where she learned how to slam doors in people’s faces, smoke cigarettes, swear like a navvy and call a spade a spade.  Secondly, when not perfecting the aforementioned activities, she was – as ever – practising her viola.  And anyone who has ever seriously studied music knows, your instrument has got to be your total focus.  In other words, it’s four fuck-buddy.  Thirdly, my mother had a couple of serious brain-cells; she was determined to go to university, which was something of a tradition with women in her family.  And keep in mind that those were the days when it was a minefield for women bent on earning a degree, and if they wanted a place at university at all, they had to be bloody good.  And then, lastly, my mother wasn’t one who suffered fools gladly, and even had she been attracted to an OE polo player, he – in spite of his dazzlingly glorious and predatory ways – would have found her a bit of a handful.

So anyway, my mother’s horseback riding was pretty much confined to holidays and half-terms, but even then her chosen modes of transportation were her father’s dog cart or coach and four, in which the two of them competed in agricultural shows.  She was also drawn to her mother’s tiny bi-plane and a little two-seater Panhard roadster.  As far as I know, however, her only real ‘country pursuit’ was sheepdog trials, and they became a lifelong love.

To cut a long story short, she went to university, continued on to music school – where she learned that she simply couldn’t cut the mustard.  Besides which, at that time there were no openings for women in orchestras or professional ensembles, and she was damned if she was going to teach a bunch of unwilling and whiny, snot-nosed brats.  And as far as she was concerned, she hadn’t been beavering away on the viola for sixteen years, merely to twiddle her bow in tea salons with other, similarly disgruntled and displaced young ladies, or to perform at some dreadful tableaux vivant at garden fêtes.  So she went back to university and studied subjects in which she might one day be able to earn a living. In other words, something in the ‘hard’ sciences.

I know this sounds like gibberings out of an Edwardian sit-com, or what you might see in a magic lantern, but it wasn’t.  In fact, it was at a time when the world was dragging itself out of a deep depression, and most other girls her age couldn’t get a job for love or money, so she was lucky she had a choice.

Needless to say, my mother fell in mutual ‘like’ with a not-too-objectionable young man and they eventually decided they might think about spending the rest of their lives together.  And so, after weighing the pros and cons for a couple of years and tossing a coin, they did.  And, five or six years after that, they had a son, and then a few years later, by some miracle or other, I popped out –  after which they decided they wouldn’t push their luck any more.

Nikki was a little shit,

Her brains were clotted cream.

And every time you said, “Wa-HAY,”

She’d kick you in the spleen.

When I was about ten, my mother happened to be visiting a neighbour who had a large number of hunters, as well as some Welch Cobs and six or seven Irish Draughts in training. As I remember it, the whole point of our visit was to find a nice, safe, scopy jumper for me.

But of course, you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men, and all that.  The neighbours’ trainer, who knew my strengths and weaknesses as a rider, was talking to me about a certain cob mare.  This was, of course, back when they still had docked tails; she was well-muscled, moved like she was on springs, was fearless, and absolutely loved to jump.  Just about the time the trainer was about to ask me how I felt about her – for although kid-friendly, she was also somewhat temperamental – we heard some rather bizarre whinnies, snortings and lugubrious sighs coming from behind us.

And there, having appeared from nowhere like some daemon in a pantomime, was this rather ugly little pepper pot of a chestnut mare.  Her head was curling round my mother’s neck.  Her eyes were closed, and she was moaning.

The trainer look one look, promptly forgot all about me and the cob, and said firmly, “You are never going to leave here without her.”  And we didn’t.

Nikki hated viral men,

She had a muscled loin

And when a man would pass her stall,

She’d bite him in the groin.

And now we come to the bit where we talk about who actually owns who. And for anyone who has ever kept an animal, this might ring a bell. You see, my mother didn’t actually want a horse of her own.  After all, we had a barn full of them, and most of them had quite agreeable natures. She also had a very busy life and a lot of interests, including her border collies, her partnership in a breeding program of standard poodles and Afghan hounds, her music, her love of books, her two sons – one of whom (the other one, ‘ol Whatsisname) was actually doing well in school and even studied without being yelled at.  Plus, there were the inevitable dog obedience classes and trials and the sundry other canine-related activities for which my father was forever raising funds.  And then, there was the constant shepherding of yours truly to a never-ending round of pony races, show jumping competitions, point-to-points, fox hunts, and, of course, the sort of cross-country events that always seemed to land me in hospital. Now, to give her credit where credit is due, my mother liked to watch me go over hurdles, but somehow always managed to hide out in the tea tent when it came to a chase.  After all, we weren’t exactly a racing family, which meant she hadn’t been born with a stomach of iron, plus, she didn’t have a spare string of sons to take my place. In other words, living with me brought her into close contact with terror.

So the last thing my mother really wanted was the responsibility of looking after her own personal horse, especially one who was clearly besotted with her, and who would throw tantrums if my mother didn’t constantly soothe her fevered brow.  But since Nikki wanted her, and Nikki nearly always got her own way, my mother was stuck with this emotionally needy, clinging, possessive, psychopathic and totally demanding brat of a daughter she’d never asked for.  Plus the fact that Nikki was as ugly as sin.  Even in summer and even when groomed to perfection, she had the appearance of a woolly pig who’s been rolling in the mud; her head was shaped more like a dented urn than a head; each leg was pointed in a different direction – sort of like a compass rose – and as for her eyes, let us just say they were the stuff of nightmares. I mean, I have never in my life – even in a Disney movie – seen such innocence.  In other words, you knew that danger lurked behind those suspiciously long auburn lashes.  And it wasn’t that she was wall-eyed; it was the way she transfixed you with her stare, as if to say, “You’re all mine!” 

But anyway,  being the good sport that she was, my mother always gave her newly-adopted daughter a daily counselling session, after which she would ride her out and groom her and let her know that sooner or later she would have to start being nice to a small number of other humans, even though they happened to be men.  You know the humans I’m talking about: my father, me (a suggestion to which Nikki never really agreed), and the sundry others who were actually paid to make the likes of Nikki clean and comfortable. And if you are worried about my mother’s other son (you know, ol’ Whathsisname), don’t.  He was one of those whose only interest was an arcane branch of mathematics, and I don’t think he’d ever even seen the outdoors, much less a horse.

Her eyes they were like gimlets

Upon the briny sea,

And she was like a banshee,

She’d eat your nose for tea.   

Naturally, when it came to the other horses – a sort of ever-changing assortment of shapes and sizes and temperaments and abilities – Nikki was fine.  But firm.  Although she was just over fourteen and a half hands high in stilettos, she was the big cheese.  And heaven help any other horse who didn’t remember it.  Because, you see, Nikki was relentless.  And very much like a dervish.  Just let one horse make a disparaging remark about her appearance (and she really did look like a furry, ginger toad), and she would materialise from nowhere (her one real talent) and let them know in no uncertain terms who had the sharpest hooves and, as a consequence, was mistress of her domain.  And so the other members of our equine family kept their distance (and it was another reason why our show horses and racing no-hopers chose to board elsewhere with trainers). Now, picture this: it is a nice summer’s day, the grass is green, the sky is blue, and a small herd of mares and foals and a gelding or two are lounging in one of our large paddocks.  Now, down at one end, near where a tiny brook babbled and a couple of ancient oaks provided a respite from heat of the day, the mares and foals and geldings are enjoying a tea party and singing a joyful ‘Mares Eat Oats’. But down at the other end, in a muddy sinkhole overgrown with gorse and brambles, one would find Nikki, alone in her miserable isolation and having a jolly good sulk. Now my mother, who had a good heart, and who was also anti-social, decided to try something out: she started keeping Nikki segregated from the others, and even presented her with two special friends of her own: a small kitten and a miniature goat. From then on, the little mare was transformed.  She had her own friends, and she didn’t have to compete.  Needless to say, it wasn’t long before one of our cockerels joined in, but Nikki seemed not to mind.  After all, the cockerel’s tantrums weren’t any worse than her own, and it wasn’t as though he shat in her morning oats very often.

Nikki loved her little goat,

Its name was Thora Groat,

And when it finally died its death,

She went and found a stoat.

And yes, my friends, there really was a ferret later on, and they all got on famously.  The only remaining issues were that Nikki loathed men with a passion (possibly she had been abused, and possibly she just found them incredibly boring) and that she persisted in treating the other members of her own species as though they were beneath her, sort of like kitchen maids.  Left with her own coterie, however, where she would behave very much like a mother hen, she eventually started to let my mother off the leash – at least for meals.  You know, so that my mother could actually eat lunch in the house without Nikki staring balefully at her through the window and grinding her teeth.

Now, my mother had a number of friends who had taken a fancy to the little mare, and were always asking if they could ride her.  Now, Nikki was very well-trained, and with my mother, at least, her manners were impeccable.  So after a while, providing these ladies knew their way round horses, and providing Nikki approved of them, my mother would concur.

Now, I mentioned before that Nikki was nothing if not devious. And also my mother had a great sense of humour (which is why they got on so well).  And together, they started a partnership of sorts, a partnership that continued for a good year and a half.  Nikki very quickly decided upon a plan of action, and it was very much like a bottom-of-the-bill act in a very low class carnival sideshow.

What it amounted to was this.  Nikki would be brought out into the ménage, nicely groomed and saddled (and with her coat plastered down with glue).  My mother’s friend would get to know her – and here I should emphasize that only one friend was allowed per visit and only as a very special treat. For it was certainly not like a five shillings-a-ride petting-zoo attraction that you see at County Shows.  You know the ones: for raising money for the restoration of the church’s stained glass windows and new cassocks for the mixed boy’s and girl’s choir?

But back to Nikki’s and my mother’s routine and the very first time it was performed.  For whatever reason – pure devilment or perhaps the lady in question had inadvertently spooked her – the minute the friend (whose name was Lois, by the way) mounted, Nikki took off like a bat out of hell.  Fortunately, she didn’t jump the fence (she didn’t like jumping at all), but rather swerved round through an open gate and headed straight for her barn.  Now, Nikki (who always had the best of everything) had her own stable, with its own tack room and grooming stall (she really was a spoiled little brat).  There were two entrances into her box: one from the grooming area and one leading out to a small paddock.  There was also a window at the back of the loose box, which opened out into the countryside (Nikki always did like her own private view).  Now when her box was cleaned, everything was simply shovelled out the back window, and from there it would be transported to a compost area near our greenhouse (my parents being inveterate gardeners).  Now, as you all know, horses have extremely active bowels, and during the course of a day they can and do provide a great deal of manure.  Consequently, after a few days, a manure pile can grow into a fair sized mountain.

Anyway, one this particular day, Nikki took off like a shot (and thank God the woman didn’t fall off), and charged full-tilt around the back of her barn, and tossed the lady like a sack of potatoes into her personal manure pile.  Which, of course, made my mother laugh (thus proving to Nikki that it was a good idea).  And slowly but surely, this got to be a routine, and also a popular way for county ladies to break up the monotony of their lives).  And some of these ladies, who must have led desperately boring existences, even came back at a later for a second go around.  Now, the little beast knew better than to try this with my mother, or with the stable lass.  But whenever someone outside of our immediate circle got on her back, there was only one possible outcome.  And it became a game.  And, although I might be accused of anthropomorphic sentimentality and wishful thinking, I really think it did a lot towards curing the little mare of her inner daemons, as well as giving her a soupçon of self-respect.  She even started to tolerate my presence in her field of vision (providing I was wearing a lady’s wig).  And while it was sort of a back-handed compliment, it did make me feel less like an unwanted child.

Nikki was a little beast,

She wasn’t very nice.

For Nikki chose to live alone,

And give you all her lice.

And that’s about all I can say about Nikki.  She lived with us quite happily for several years.  And then one day, she fell in love with the young daughter of a friend – who, by the way, was an excellent equestrian – and followed her home, exactly in the same way she’d attached herself to me mother.  And the thing is, after she had transferred her affections, she completely ignored my mother. And my mother, who was very much of a pragmatist, said, yes, that Nikki ought to go to her new home, and it was all right with her.  And then, of course, she went out and got pissed and celebrated her new-found freedom.

Nikki was a fickle shit,

Her heart was on her sleeve,

And every time she’d lose her heart,

She’d simply up and leave.

And I seem to remember, Nikki did this a couple more times before she died.  She simply was one of those strange little people who was rotten at long-term relationships. And I know there are those of you that will say, “She was only a fucking spoiled brat of horse.  Stop giving her human attributes.”

And to this I’m not going reply.  Because I do know that – somewhere out there – Nikki is lurking in a shady bog end of the celestial paddock, together with her ferret and her cockerel and her goat and perhaps her little kitten.  And if you don’t start saying something nice about her, she will be waiting for you.  And remember this: the heavenly manure pile must be very large and noisome by now – and very much like one of those industrial slurry pits.  And do you want to know something else?   This time around, I might even be up there and laughing along with her.

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