Before I go any further, I would like to make clear that no animals were harmed in the making of this column. You might think that goes without saying, but I don’t take anything for granted when a woman I know has just been censured by the RSPCA for not providing her horses with a ‘comfortable’ place to lie down in their field.
‘What is she meant to do, give them four-poster beds?’ the builder boyfriend asks me when I tell him. Possibly. Or mattresses inside bespoke tents, like a Glastonbury VIP area. Never mind that horses don’t like enclosed spaces and prefer to sleep in the open. Even if you give them a shelter they often won’t go in it.
Never mind that it is normal horse behaviour to lock their knees and sleep standing up. As prey animals, they like to remain vigilant. Never mind all that. The tofu-munchers who think they speak for the animals are now making Jo-Lo style dressing-room demands on behalf of horses on the basis that because they would not like to lie on grass then neither will a horse. You’re in danger of having your nags taken off you nowadays unless you provide them with white lilies and Kabbalah water. So please, if you are reading this, members of the animal welfare brigade, do not jump to conclusions. What I am about to tell you is intended to be humorous.
Right. Here we go. It was time for Tara, the retired chestnut mare, to have her teeth and vaccinations done. Once an aggressive bucking bronco, Tara is now in her late twenties (about 85 in human years) and lives peacefully in a field with a skewbald cob called Dandy, her horsey husband. But my vet thought it would be easier if we brought her to a nearby stable yard to give her teeth the once over.
To look at her now, you wouldn’t think she was the same horse that used to catapult me through the air. She mooches about placidly, only showing Dandy a hoof every now and then to make sure he doesn’t get ideas above his station. When the builder boyfriend and I visit her he’s not allowed to approach the fence. ‘These are my people,’ she tells him, pushing him away with her nose, ‘and they are here to see me, so get lost. If there are any carrots left over, I’ll let you know.’
She has become quite tactile. She likes a massage. She stands still while the builder rubs her back and shoulders. She is almost affectionate. So when the vet told me to bring her to a stable yard I thought it would be no problem.
The headcollar went on fine and out of the field she came. But the minute she was in the road she caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of her eye and a split second later she was the old Tara Lee again. From nowhere, the fiendish energy exploded out of her and she was a raging beast. She must have gone five feet into the air on the end of the rope. When she came back down she slipped and collapsed on to the ground in a heap pulling me with her.
I tried to scramble away from her huge bulk but she kicked me in the back as she struggled to get up. Screaming expletives, I staggered around. The builder grabbed the lead rope. Tara pulled him back down the track to the field at speed, tail in the air, hissing like a cat.
‘I think she saw a white car. She doesn’t like white,’ I called.
‘I don’t care what it is,’ the builder shouted. ‘She’s going back in this field and she’s never coming out. Not until...’
He didn’t finish the sentence. When the vet came, I took him into the field, limping and holding my bruised back. ‘Just jab her with the vaccine, quick,’ I said. ‘If her teeth are bad they’ll have to fall out and she can have a set of false ones.’ The vet felt inside her mouth. ‘Oh, please God,’ I thought, ‘don’t let her clamp down with her jaws and put a hole through his hand like she once did to me.’ I still have the puncture mark. But he declared her teeth were fine.
‘Good, now step away. Don’t wake the beast,’ I said. Tara sighed languidly, head low, eyes half closed.
‘She’s obviously a very old horse,’ he said. ‘Let us know when the time comes and...’
‘Listen,’ I said, ‘there’s only one thing I worry about with this horse.’
‘What’s that?’ he said. Tara raised an eyelid as if wondering whether it was worth murdering the vet. I pushed him towards the gate. ‘That she’ll outlive us all.’