Under a blood moon, that was how Tara went down in the end. The old chestnut mare sure knew how to make an exit. She knew how to do most things, having lived 35 years entirely on her own terms.
The builder boyfriend and I stood speechless in the field afterwards, marooned in that strange moonlight. Then the other two horses, standing by the round bale a few feet away, did something I shall never forget. Seconds after she passed, Darcy and Grace put their noses together and breathed.
Perhaps they felt her spirit leaving, perhaps they wanted to comfort each other. Either way, they were perfectly silent, touching faces with a wonderful sort of grace.
If you believe animals still have the instincts that have been blunted in us, then you will believe me when I say they processed Tara’s death in a way that rescued me.
I knelt down in the dark and said a prayer. I don’t think the builder boyfriend was up for touching noses, though he did put his arms around me. I saw the headlights at the field entrance and that was alright too.
‘Was it a nice horse?’ the man with the lorry asked. Nice? The word hung in the air. A smile spread across our faces.
In fact, her show name was Twice As Nice. What an irony. When she came off the lorry, I asked a friend to test ride her and her verdict was ‘Hmm, a bit on the forehand’. That was an extremely polite way of describing her total and utter refusal to take any form of direction from a rider, even steering.
I look back on her life and wonder how on earth I survived it. She was a tank of a horse, fierce and relentless. Few stayed on apart from me, because somehow she let me on her.
She didn’t buck so much as handstand. Aside from the fearless who could sit it out, there are still people out there having physiotherapy from trying to ride her.
I learned how to land on my feet, like pole vaulting. She could make you weep with terror. But every now and then, usually while on a big ride, she came together and the ride was awesome.
The last day out I had on her was one of our best, thundering over a deserted cross-country course that was empty because it was raining. I will always remember her like that, the feeling of power beneath you was incredible.
She was emotional in a way that was as baffling as it was comical. I once had to be rescued from a hack when she went mad on Effingham Common. Hissing like a cat, tail in the air, she became so hysterical I had to get off and call for help. It took two friends walking with me and another driving a car in front with the hazard lights on to slow traffic to get us back to the stable yard.
She bit heads, stamped on feet, and from her stable at the end of the block guarded the tack room better than a dog. She could come at you with both ends if you annoyed her.
She once rather rashly bit a chunk out of the top of the keeper’s head. I have a scar where her teeth went through my hand by accident after she lunged at a passer-by while I was feeding her a Polo Mint. But she was affectionate sometimes too.
That was the head spin. You never quite knew which Tara was going to turn up.
Among the many curve balls she dealt was her strange liking for my boyfriends. She always let random squeezes have a go on her for unknown reasons. I think it amused her.
She had a great sense of humour. She would jump the field fences back and forwards for fun or, when tired of organising the mares in her own paddock, would leap into the next-door paddock and boss the ones about there before jumping back.
Being contrary in all things, she loved being behind. The pleasure of sitting on the tail of a lead horse chasing them down was her favourite thing.
She was tough, one might have almost said indestructible. I’m so privileged to be able to say that she didn’t know a day of pain, even though, God knows, she caused enough torment.
She was ferocious, she was violent, she was cunning, she was bad-tempered, but she was above all things loyal. She would chase anyone who went near me away.
She and I rubbed along just fine for longer than I have known most people. I know she loved me, and she knew I loved her. The rest was just Tara being Tara.