Why do people find it so hard to believe that a horse can be a psychopath? Not an obvious, screaming mad psychopath either. A brooding, deceptively quiet sort of psychopath who turns on a sixpence.
I arrived at Tara’s field the other day to find one of the girls with a horse in the neighbouring field wandering about in her field shelter — while she was asleep in it — searching the ground for something.
I’ve told them repeatedly never to go under the wire into Tara’s field and run the gauntlet of her homicidal hooves and treacherous teeth.
But Tara stands there snoozing and smacking her lips sleepily like a harmless old lady in an old people’s home, and they look at me like I’m mean and say: ‘Aw bless her!’
I ran across the field with buckets of feed muttering prayers to all the saints. I could see the murderous ginger one silhouetted in the shelter snoozing as the girl searched, and I could see Gracie, the pony, standing half in half out, her head just underneath the roof, getting as much coverage from the elements as she is allowed to have by She Who Must Be Obeyed.
In fact, Grace doesn’t mind Tara and the strict boundaries she has to keep to in order to co-exist with her. A scaredy-cat by nature, Gracie likes the fact that nothing and nobody will ever harm her while the red peril stands watch. And as Tara is big on family, as psychopaths usually are, she would never hurt either me or the pony. But I wouldn’t want to risk anyone else in there.
The girl was rooting around the ground and as I got closer I could see that Tara’s face was a picture of lethal intent. I can read her expressions only too well after nearly 20 years together. She had the same look she wore one day, years ago, when a male friend of a friend, hearing that I had a horse that was proving unrideable, came and got on her back, took up the reins tightly and said: ‘I’ll sort this one out!’
On that occasion, Tara gave me a chilling sideways glance out of the corner of her eye that said: ‘We’ll see who sorts who.’
I begged him to desist, to get off and give up right then and there, but he would not. He had trained with the Chinese Olympic team, he said.
‘Yes, but you haven’t trained with the Tara survival team. She has the look on her. I’ve seen it before. She’s going to try and kill you. I can tell.’
‘Nonsense,’ he said. ‘What this horse needs is for someone to show her who’s boss.’ Oh dear God, you’re a dead man, I thought.
We rode out over a disused airfield and she behaved herself ominously well in walk and trot. But then we got to the part where we gallop and, with me riding behind on Gracie, he told Tara to giddy-up even as I begged him not to.
Tara surged forward, and the second she was at top speed she plunged her nose to the floor in a standing halt and flicked her backside into the air. She flipped this man over the top of her head and sent him flying through the air at 30mph as if he were a rag doll, and as he groaned and rolled from side to side on the ground she sauntered up to him and looked down at his crumpled form as if to say, ‘Sorted’.
He didn’t get up for a long time and when he did he said something about how he ought to get back on so she didn’t think she had won.
‘You don’t understand,’ I said. ‘She has won. And she will always win.’ I got off Grace and offered him the reins of the pony. ‘You are going to ride this one and I am going to get on Tara and that is that, because otherwise you are not going to make it back alive.’
Hat askew, smart riding clothes ripped and muddy, he hauled himself on to the pony still moaning in agony. I heard about him from our mutual friend on and off over the years, and always the news was mainly about his physio.
As I say, approaching the shelter I saw that same look in Tara’s eye. ‘I’ve dropped my phone somewhere,’ said the girl, ‘and the GPS says it’s in here.’
‘I’m letting her have a little rummage round my feet,’ said Tara’s eyes, ‘and then I’m going to pick her up by her lovely long hair and…’
‘I’ll look for it! Leave it to me! I’ll find it if it’s in here!’ And I escorted the girl back under the wire as Tara exhaled a disappointed sigh.