While the vet was checking Gracie, I asked him to take a look at Tara, the old chestnut hunter. Just a look, mind you, from a safe distance. I wouldn’t recommend anyone, however qualified, approach the red devil.
Aged 32, she is slower than she used to be but still finds ways to express her love of violence. Imagine the dragon from Lord of the Rings coming at you with its neck stretched out, baring teeth, and somehow bending itself round to aim its back end at you at the same time.
She has always been like that — coming at you with both ends, they call it — so no suggestions on a postcard, please, as to what made her this way. She’s had a wonderful life, and she has never stopped celebrating it by being unconscionably aggressive and hideous. If you anthropomorphise animals enough to give them lovely attributes, then you have to make the leap to allow them to have awful traits, too.
Anyone who has ever met Tara won’t argue with this. She is the horse equivalent of a sociopath, or possibly a full-on psychopath. Anyone else would have traded her on years ago. But I found a way to harness her psychopathic tendencies by riding her at full pelt and we reached an accommodation.
She has this weirdly seductive power. I would like to call it the life force, but it’s more like the death force, as Sybil Fawlty once said of her mother. She is indestructible, infallible, dare I say immortal? She is the only horse, or indeed person I know, who has never had a single day sick.
She is a force for evil certainly, but a force nevertheless. When people ask why on earth I love her, I say it’s not love exactly. It’s way more complicated than that. My relationship with her is a lot like the relationship between Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter.
She wouldn’t come after me. She would think that rude. I’m fairly sure she considers the world a more interesting place with me in it, and I certainly feel that way about her.
During our many years together, there has grown, against all odds, a deep respect between us. She would defend me to the end. If a rambler comes along the footpath next to her field and I am standing near her, she lunges at them with her ears flat as if to say ‘get away from my person’.
She once galloped across the field at full pelt when a passer-by ran towards us carrying a runaway Cydney in her arms. The dog was fine, but evidently Tara thought the pup was injured. Like the Krays, family is important to her.
She jealously guards Gracie, the hunter pony who now lives with her. And because Gracie knows that Tara is the boss, they get along just fine. But any other horse or person better not come near.
I have had to put up notices warning passers-by not to pet Tara or, God forbid, let their children feed her treats.
I once caught a nice family offering her a carrot over the fence and as I ran towards them screaming ‘No!’ Tara decided to take the carrot and the child on the end of it. As she lunged almost through the fence, ears back, jaws gaping, the family only just snatched their offspring to safety in time.
I would say that she has never bitten me but she did once put her teeth through my hand, en passant, as I was feeding her a Polo mint because someone walked by her stable at that moment. She lunged at the door open-mouthed and half swallowed my arm as she warned them off. That was an amusing evening in A&E.
Then there was the time I got kicked in the eye by a horse she was turned out with because the pair of them had formed an evil bond and didn’t want to be separated. Again, try explaining these things to the NHS, it’s not easy.
But she is incredibly old, and I do worry. During the summer, she took to her shelter and I feared the worst. I took her hay and water twice a day. But after two weeks, she sauntered out and started grazing again.
I’m fairly sure she was just bored and decided to amuse herself by watching me schlepp buckets and haynets.
But surely, I keep thinking, this can’t go on. I must be missing something. So I asked the vet. This horse can’t live for ever, can she? There must be something wrong? The vet looked her up and down, bravely approached, tried to lift her feet. Then he backed away as she flashed him the whites of her eyes before galloping off. ‘She’ll outlive us all,’ was the verdict.