Archive for the 'horses are pretty' Category

the invention of horses

Last night I read and enjoyed Wynne Davies’ The Welsh Cob, described in Amazon reviews as “for cob enthusiasts only”. (I feel seen.) While there have been horses in Wales since pre-Roman times, the purebred cob, an absolute unit, is a surprisingly late invention. The first Welsh stud book was published in 1902, following a busy late 19th century of outcrossing native Welsh ponies with Thoroughbreds, Arabs, Hackneys, Norfolk Roadsters, and Yorkshire Coach Horses.


King Flyer, b1894

At almost exactly the same time, my old friend Lady Anne Blunt was importing Arabian horses to England. The modern Arabian and the Welsh Cob were modeled on the English Thoroughbred, itself a literary fiction. Horses, obviously, exist, but purebred horses exist only in books, beginning with the General Stud Book of 1793. The GSB represents a cartel of Thoroughbred breeders and owners. Only horses registered in the GSB can race on the flat in Britain. A closed stud book raises prices by creating artificial scarcity. (Because of the risk of fraud, Thoroughbreds can only be registered if they are conceived by “live cover”, rather than artificial insemination, a quirk of history that keeps a lot of Thoroughbred stallions very busy.)

The GSB is almost exactly contemporaneous with the United States of America, and both of them pre-date Burke’s Peerage, the stud book for British humans. Nations are also literary fictions. Different rules apply to those whose names are written down in the right books. The white colonists needed a reason to argue that while they deserved liberty from oppression, their slaves did not. They found it in the invention of race. White people, like Thoroughbred horses, counted. They were counted. Black people, like half-bred horses, counted for less. Purebred horses were invented in part as a way to make this appear to be a law of nature: but it isn’t.

messing about in boats

We enjoyed the Rivercat so much that we’ve taken two more ferries, one around Scotland Island from Church Point and one to the Basin from Palm Beach. Pittwater smells of salt and diesel, the smell of my childhood. There are cormorants and kookaburras, gulls and jellies.

I read this remarkable essay about Australian childrens’ books as well as a thoughtful article about the high country brumbies that I can’t share because it’s paywalled to hell. Like the mustangs in California, Australia’s feral horses wreck delicate ecosystems. Scientists and the traditional owners of country want them gone. But local cattlemen lost grazing land to the Snowy hydro scheme and to the National Parks well within living memory. To them, the brumby cull is the last straw. In the paywalled article, National Party MP Peter Cochran whines: “You don’t have to be black to feel a connection to this land.”

I grew up on stories about brumbies, by Mary Elwyn Patchett and Elyne Mitchell. In them, the wild horse is as much a part of the bush as the possum and the kangaroo. It took me decades to recognize this as a way for white people to lay claim to what wasn’t theirs. When I revisited Patchett hoping to read her books to the kids, I was appalled by her racism. Mitchell’s father was Harry Chauvel of the charge on Beersheba. Both writers are immersed and complicit in the white supremacist, militarized, settler-colonialist narrative that Evelyn Araluen describes in her essay.

Even my beloved Swallows and Amazons, with its naval officer father and its mother who grew up sailing on Sydney Harbour, instructs children in exploration, mapping and conquest. Maybe Westerners can’t have innocent pleasures. There is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth questioning as simply messing about in boats. Do you want empires? Because that’s how you get empires.

back in the saddle

A big week round these parts: Claire got her braces off. I got out of the moon boot, retrieved my car from the barn, got a job, and rode Bentley for the first time in two and a half months. We saw a heron and an eagle mantled over its prey. Bentley, as whorled in his winter coat as a bear, arched his neck and stepped prettily through the mud. If I never jump again, if I never even trot, I will be so happy just to be able to sit on a horse, walking around the park like Queen Elizabeth, looking at the world more charitably through a pair of pricked ears.

long overdue catchup

Goodness, it has been a while, hasn’t it? We had a pretty good summer. We went to Los Angeles and saw the Bladerunner building and a spaceship.

We went to Portland and saw some waterfalls.

Oz, obvs.

Then Alain and Ross came to visit, and I dragged them over half of Northern California. Santa Cruz, Monterey, Muir Woods, Yosemite, Calistoga. They were thoroughly good sports about it.


All this and we saw Ray of Light’s Jesus Christ Superstar, the Berkeley Rep’s Angels in America, Panic! at the Disco and Fall Out Boy in concert. I’m so lucky I did all those trips and went to all those shows, because the Monday after the boys went home, I had to do an emergency dismount from this gorgeous and wholly blameless fellow:

Suffice to say that for once I did not stick the landing. Now I have an ankle full of titanium and I’m on crutches till Thanksgiving. Still, though. Worth it.

the horse park in spring

Laura and I have taken a liking to the gallop track. The horses love it. We ride out behind the barn, where this week we interrupted two very young jackrabbits eating their lunch. The meadow in the oak forest is waist-high in wildflowers: camomile, sky lupin, red maids, Indian paintbrush, dandelions, thistles, miner’s lettuce, California buttercup. There are cicadas in the oak trees, ground squirrels galore, stately blue herons and a hummingbird fiercely defending his sage scrub. It is impossible, how much I love this place.

farewell to the horse: a cultural history, by ulrich raulff

Against its nature, the terrified prey animal is turned into an incarnation of terror which drives the predator, man, to flee

The horse was born not in Troy, but in Alexandria: it is a phantom of the library

The connections forged between humans and horses nowadays are relationships based on love, communities of interest and sporting camaraderie.

the native language of equine history is Arabic.

Nobody would have noticed the waif-like boy who hung around the Paris horse market for days on end, in 1851 and the following year. Confident that he was unobserved, he scribbled away on the notepad he took everywhere with him, like a painter on his travels. Nobody recognized him as a young woman dressed as a man, pursuing her ambitious plan.

girls and horses are islands in the flowing river of time.

Somewhat like a precursor to cybernetics, only more direct: a neuro-navigation between interrelated natures. Two moving, loosely coupled systems, circumnavigating the lengthy route of thought, exchanging information directly via the short cut of touching nerves and tendons, thermal and metabolic systems. The act of riding means that command data is transferred in the form of physical data, in a direct exchange of sensory messages. Riding is the connection of two warm, breathing, pulsating bodies, mediated only by a saddle, a blanket or mere bare skin. Humans enter into similar informational connections when they dance together, wrestle or embrace.

funemployment funtensifies

It turns out that if you let me mooch off Mister Jeremy and spend my time however the hell I like for most of a year, it’ll be one quarter community organizing to resist the Trump agenda (weekly visits to local members of Congress plus get out the vote canvassing in our nearest GOP-held district), one quarter supporting under-represented minorities in the tech industry, one quarter writing gay science fiction, and one quarter snoogling horses. I don’t know why I’m surprised. I doubt anyone else is.

It’s possible my surprise Sabbatical is coming to an end, and I don’t know how to feel about that.

Can I even express my gratitude to my mister of eighteen years and one day for his fabulous awesometude and generosity, signs point to no. My advice for a happy marriage is to marry the kindest, smartest, most curious and emotionally intelligent person you have ever met, and then try to deserve them.

what a weird day

Our mayor Ed Lee died very early this morning. He was shopping at the Safeway on Monterey last night when he had a heart attack. The doctors at SF General were unable to save him. He was a complicated, good man.

We rode out at the Horse Park, bright green after the winter rains. “Where’d all the geese come from?” asked Kristen. “Canada,” I said. A coyote swaggered across our path. The sun shone pinkly through its ears. It had a wise and pointed face.

I’d steeled myself for a loss in the Alabama special election. More fool me. The NAACP robo-called Black voters, and Black pastors set up voter registration booths at church events. America is so deeply in their debt, I even can’t speak of it.

chione at twin rivers

I love her a perhaps-unreasonable amount. (We came fourth in our division.)

war mare

I ride Chione, the bright golden Haflinger dressage pony of my heart. I’m holding my arms in a round O now, like first position in ballet, an innovation from the great New Zealand coach Greg Best, apparently. It stops me bracing with my hands and gives me a whole other dimension of range of motion in my arms.

Chione flows forward into my softer contact. I sit to her trot, with my lower leg relaxed and my inner thigh engaged. I shift my inside hipbone forward. She steps forward with her outside hind leg into a perfect canter depart.

Everything is warm and light and nothing hurts.

and then a month passed

Alain went home. I was sad. Cait and her family visited! It was fun! We didn’t travel for the eclipse because the kids started school that day. So far school seems to be going okay. It turns out that being a full-time working-out-of-the-home mother of school age children? Is very difficult. Working a few hours a week is much more compatible with actually, you know. Showing up for your own kids.

Julia and I did a wheel class at Pinckney Clay. We’d already done hand building, which I liked fine, but the wheel is magical. It was like riding, or doing yoga. When the clay centered itself, I could feel the rightness of it. You lean into the vortex of the numinous.

I suppose for the sake of completeness I should add that a newish horse at McIntosh launched me into orbit and I landed on my head and neck hard enough to see stars. I went straight from the barn to the doctor: no concussion, no spinal injury. It did a number on my confidence, though. I’m doing lots of yoga and eating healthy and going for lots of calm, positive rides, all of which I should’ve been doing all along. I also had a glorious massage with a dude whose hands were so big he could hold my entire head in his palm. (The offending horse, by the way, turns out to be an utter sweetheart. I can only assume I jabbed him awkwardly with a spur. Just one of those things.)

I’ve been doing another 50 Books by POC challenge. Best discoveries: Deborah A. Miranda, Hilton Als, Sherman Alexie (I know, I know), Frederick Douglass, and Alice Walker (I KNOW.) Right now, I am listening to Walker read her own The Color Purple on audiobook and it’s so good, so funny and wise and wrenching, I look forward to traffic jams. Best rediscoveries: Samantha Irby, Aziz Ansari, Nnedi Okorafor.

The big world continues to burn. I donate, I yell at my representatives, I march in the streets. It’s been filthy hot and today got more and more humid until the sky went black and the light went strange and a thunderstorm broke over the city like the atmosphere bursting into tears.

hashtag funemployed hashtag summer of love

In May, the tech industry and I parted ways under circumstances I am contractually obligated to describe as mutual. Ever since, I’ve been having the greatest summer of my life. The bestie and I drove out to the eastern Sierras to see the wild mustang herds that live up around the Montgomery Pass. The high desert was hock-deep in wildflowers, and we spent three hours one sunny afternoon sitting on a hillside watching the wild horses fight and fuck. Mono Lake looks like the surface of another, possibly better planet, and asks to be further explored.

Then I won a residency at a writer’s center down in Santa Cruz and spent a week alone in a cabin on the edge of the redwoods. There were hummingbirds and mule deer and quail. I’d wake at 6 or 7 as usual, then read for a couple of hours, then have coffee and maybe go for a hike. Then, with only short breaks for meals, I’d draft scenes or type them up until late in the evening. When I got stuck, I’d copy out poems by hand.

I realized that, for longer than I can remember, I have been in an antagonistic relationship with time: late for work, behind on deadlines, scrambling to make as many memories with my kids and parents as I possibly could. Suddenly the days roll out before me, not as ordeals to be endured, but as hours for creative work, hours to hang around with the girls and Jeremy (without whom none of this would be possible), hours to spend at the barn, hours to binge on books.

I always regretted not taking real bereavement leave after Mum and then Dad died. I guess I’m doing it now, just a couple of years late. A friend said: “Your voice sounds lighter.” Idleness becomes me.

five images from the first fortnight of 2017

Catching the night bus to Thoughtworks with Liz so that Danny and Jeremy would meet us at BATS, so that even though I bugged out early because overtired, the people who really needed to be there would be there. Seeing Maciej talk about resisting authoritarianism through solidarity and feeling the hairs rise on the back of my neck, because this is the moment he was born for.

Walking through bucketing rain to visit our neighborhood masjid with Jewish Voices for Peace, and drinking scaldingly hot, sweet chai while our hosts prayed to Allah.

Having a lesson on Sam in the covered arena right at Golden Hour of Barnhenge. The sunlight flooded in over the indigo mountains and spring-green pasture and red-gold autumn trees, and the cantering horses’ hooves reached down to kiss the hooves of their elongated shadows. In other lessons, I am pointing him at higher and higher fences and feeling no fear, just joy in his glad grace, the effortless delight of him. The new footing in both arenas, springy and inviting.

Getting rick-rolled by Nancy Pelosi at the rally to support the Affordable Care Act at City Hall. Never gonna give you up! The glare of bright sunshine, the edged bite of the winter wind.

That same evening, taking a yoga class with Julia and Annie Sprinkle.

adventure time: something to report

Our trainers organized a little jump club in our covered arena. It was a ridiculous amount of fun, with the cheery horse show atmosphere of special occasion but without the flop-sweat terror of serious competition. The light was spectacular for the early rounds:

I rode later, after the sun had set. Sam was in great form, keen and forward off my leg. We jumped a nice clear at 80cm and Toni asked me if I wanted to step up to the 1m class. I said that I did. The whole time I was waiting to ride my second round I second-guessed myself, but there hasn’t been a better horse than Sam or a friendlier setting in which to step up.

We jumped a nice clear in the 1m class. They start to look like proper fences at that height. I wasn’t scared. I was excited and happy.

horse show

We did good.

reentry

Sorry for the radio silence, but we landed and instantly started or restarted new jobs (me and J), new schools (smaller J) and/or searches for new schools (C). It’s been busy!

We sure did miss our various critters. (Taking this adorable goober to a horse show in a coupla weeks; stay tuned.)

Europe definitely gave me new eyes for the beauty and fun of our home.

Feeling a zillion times cheerier and more energized than when I left. Mark of a proper vacation.

proof

Horse, brown, smol:

In fact he only looks little because I am such a sturdy bruiser these days, marvel at my hypertrophied quadriceps. I can’t see over Sam’s wither when I am standing next to him, which I guess makes him at least sixteen hands? A very respectable size. (It’s funny that I can possibly think 16hh is little! I grew up among wee ponies and was grateful for even a galloway. I only think it now because Nick-the-horse, a Dutch Warmblood, and Jackson, a Thoroughbred, were both immensely tall. Hedonic treadmill!)

The pictures helped a lot. I’ve been focused on keeping my heels down and sitting square in the saddle, and as a result we’ve had a series of excellent rides. Salome is the bestest ever.

this is true love; you think this happens every day?

I had a pretty Gothically terrible week for various reasons beyond anyone’s particular control, mostly to do with generational inequity and centuries of systemic oppression. The least of it was that my trainer Facebooked a picture of me jumping Sam in which I’d lost my balance and caught him in the mouth. Salome insisted it was just a bad moment. I argued that I have learned nothing in all these years and am wasting my trainers’ time and ruining my good horse.

Salome got up an hour early this morning so she could bring her camera to my riding lesson and get better pictures of us. I love her so much right now I can hardly stand it. From such small kindnesses to one another we will build a less sucky world.

(Apparently my blog is just 24/7 schmaltz these days. I’m not sorry.)

little brown horse, a love letter

Despite my best efforts, I will probably never be much good at riding. The numbers are against me. For something like equitation, the ten thousand hours thing is legit, and though I’ve ridden as much as I possibly can for the last seven years, “as much as I possibly can” is at best three times a week. I’ve added maybe a thousand hours to my childhood total of maybe another thousand and a half. If I maintain the same course and speed I’ll clock up ten thousand in fifty years, when I am 95. If I retire at 65 and spend ten years riding ten hours a week, I’ll get there by 75. So, longshot.

Also working against me is my conformation, long-bodied and short-legged, which had the significant advantage of being effortlessly good at birthing a couple of ferociously healthy little girls, but is entirely the wrong way round for looking elegant on a horse. My trademark seat is my torso swaying like a poplar even as I struggle to get my meaty peasant calves around Sam’s ribs.

And still. And still. I’ve been riding Sam for a quarter of a year, and I’ve learned how he likes to be asked to come round, and how sensitive he can be to the pressure of my leg. Sit on him holding the buckle of the reins and flex one ankle down; he steps away. I’ve learned to love the softness in his poll, the sparkle and flow of his impulsion. I’ve learned to ask more of him and of myself, because he is far and away the best-trained and best-natured horse I’ve ever had. I’ve learned to see our distance and sit on the saddle and wait and count our strides into the fence and tuck in my elbows as we go over, just as he tucks his knees.

Today in the indoor, Laura raised the fences, and a man on a big bay went around, the bay horse snorting and blowing. And Laura said, “Now you, Rachel.” And I knew how the jumps would ride, and I knew Sam was engaged and in front of my leg and cheerful and willing and game. And around we went, pop, pop, pop, as if it were easy. These are the only compliments on my riding that really matter: the trainer putting up the fences, and my little brown horse being happy.

another good day, thanks