Friends with children all seem to agree that there is a general rule on numbers: if you’ve got one child, you may as well have two.
But you must never, ever be tempted to think that if you’ve got two children you may as well have three. Apparently, the apophthegm breaks down at that point.
Three children pushes you over the edge. It is no longer manageable using the techniques or financing you have previously been employing. It will turn your entire life upside down, drain you of all available resources, fiscal, mental and emotional.
I can now confirm that the same thing goes for horses. (It may not be much use to anyone that I have discovered this. I realise that whilst advice on child-rearing is relevant to a lot of readers, advice on horse-rearing is barely any use to anyone. But I’m including my findings here in case there are a few stray idiots out there who have attempted to keep more than two horses. If I only help one idiot by recounting this story, then I will feel that my pain has some meaning.)
When people ask why someone like me has three horses, I try to explain it thus: horses are like cars. They all do different things. Most families keep more than one car — for example, a large, robust, all-weather 4×4 and a small runaround for popping into town.
My 4×4 is a chestnut hunter called Tara. She can be taken off-road, driven through ditches and over hedges and is generally up for anything in any conditions. However, you wouldn’t want to pop out on her for half an hour. It would be too much hassle.
My little runaround for what horsey people call ‘happy hacking’ is a skewbald pony called Grace who is light on fuel and easy to handle.
This car/horse explanation was going great guns until I added a third horse, a yearling called Darcy. Then it all fell apart.
I tried to excuse it: horses get old. When Tara hit 22, I decided I would bring on a youngster so that when she had to be put out to grass I would have a new second horse coming on stream. But with Darcy the thoroughbred eating her own weight in foal mix every day, the only true explanation is that I am insane. The whole thing is thoroughly unmanageable in every way.
This month all three horses had something wrong with them and the vet bill came to £1,100.
I have to get back to two horses, and quick. This is tricky. I cannot sell Darcy because she is only a baby. I fret that she has bonded with me and that sending her away would be cruel. The most painless way for all concerned would be to retire Tara.
The problem is, the old mare defies logic and refuses to be pensioned off. Far from slowing down and becoming docile enough to put out to grass, she is livelier than ever and when turned out in a field overnight jumps the fence and puts herself back in her old stable.
Keeping her going is no mean feat. Because her hooves are ravaged with age, she needs special wedged shoes which cost £100 a go.
Could she be sold? At her age, she is hardly what could be called an exciting prospect, although she is exciting. She bucks and rears and chucks off anyone who isn’t me within a few minutes of them getting on.
The yard owner says I should advertise her because ‘well, you know, some people are funny, aren’t they? They like that sort of thing. I mean, look at eBay. There are people on there selling their used underpants. And weirdos bid on them.’
I think what she’s saying is that Tara could be a fetish horse for some sadomasochistic freak who likes being thrown around.
I don’t doubt such people exist. And I don’t doubt Tara would enjoy furnishing one of them with a rodeo show until her dying day.
I’m just not sure I want to let her go.
She’s a part of me, that crazy horse. The day I answered the ad and went to buy her, she turned her back on me in her stable and looked imperiously over her shoulder.
She flashes the whites of her eyes and tosses her head defiantly at anyone who dares to ask her to do something.
At one memorable gymkhana, she entertained the crowds by jumping a five-foot fence, bucking midair and then landing with her head on the ground so that she could snatch a mouthful of grass as she cantered away.
She is growing old disgracefully, with the express intention of pleasing absolutely nobody but herself. And I can’t say I blame her.