Roz Morris with her horse, Val
When I asked her to write about her horse for a feature on my Facebook page, she could have simply written a few paragraphs to satisfy the many such requests a writer is asked to fulfill, both to spread wisdom to other writing communities and keep in touch with the reading public. Instead, Roz reacted like the top-notch writer she is: she ran with her passion about a subject close to her heart.
Specifically, she wrote the piece with the same level of enthusiasm as she seems to apply to her books, which are listed at the end of the essay. She also used the same tools of great writing: description, humor and an epiphany that leaves readers satisfied. Lastly, she very thoughtfully checked if the length was appropriate. I said yes, and am glad she did, though I’m sure she would have amended the length if necessary.
I hope you enjoy her essay as I much as I did!
An Irish horse
by Roz Morris
Val was a handsome hunter with dark squirrel eyes and an adorably dainty way of standing with his toes slightly turned out, like a ballerina, which made me want to hug him. He steered like a supermarket trolley, but was unfazed by traffic, quad bikes and lashing winter rain. He’s a good horse, said my instructor.
So I brought Val home.
If moving home is stressful for humans, for a horse it’s like being abducted. Suddenly they are removed from every place and creature they know. They don’t even have their own rugs and tack. The seller keeps those. Imagine being kidnapped, and stripped of every familiar thing, even your clothes. Val lost it completely. He walked as if he feared the ground would crack beneath his feet. He spooked at every sound, with a violent unseating dodge like a judo throw.
With my instructor, I began a settling process. We would school him, to build trust. Also to make him comfortable, as he had the horse equivalent of terrible posture. He was obliging, but rigid with worry when asked to do something unfamiliar. He even worried about procedures he was supposed to be used to, such as when the farrier shod him. If somebody didn’t soothe him throughout the process, he’d panic and escape.
Over several months, he relaxed. I learned about his personality. Most horses I knew could be jollied past a worrying obstacle, such as a child’s tricycle. With Val, you had to pretend you couldn’t see a tricycle at all. You certainly must not laugh. If he was a person he’d never joke. He’d be absolutely earnest. But he was amazingly rewarding to ride. He looked for your wishes and took them seriously. We had hacks in blissful harmony, like a centaur. Stop, go, jump that log. It was easy.
Then I fell off.
I needed an ambulance, though I only pulled a muscle. After that, my husband Dave was terrified about the next fall and his fear rode with me. Sensitive Val received my emotions in full confusing glory. My determination to master my fear, and my fear itself.
On one ride, he seemed to be quivering with nerves. I couldn’t figure out why, but he felt, every second, like he’d throw me. Perhaps the next day would be better. It wasn’t. Within minutes he was a trembling time bomb. This couldn’t be fixed. Our chemistry had gone bad. I decided I’d stop, get off, lead him home and sell him.
He halted instantly, his mind in mine as always. So immediate and trusting. I wasn’t expecting that.
If I get off you now, I thought, I’m selling you.
He stood patiently. As if to say, I know we’ve got problems, but you’ll get us safely through.
I stayed in the saddle. I did not dismount. We rode on, quaking, but in a strange understanding. We needed a new start. I made a change. Those last couple of rides he’d worn a waterproof rug. I blamed it for the bad rides. Perhaps the fabric made a disturbing noise. Whatever, it contained an unknowable evil and I sold it. Exorcism via eBay. I tried a warmer rug, though his previous owner never rode him in rugs, not even waterproofs. When I put the warmer rug on, he melted with relief. He was cold.
That helped considerably, though I still found him alarming. He locked up solid when we taught him a new move, which felt like a warning of emotional meltdown. ‘I trust him,’ my instructor said to me one day after a difficult, grappling lesson. I realised I didn’t trust him. And maybe, with all the faith he’d given me, I should.
Then lockdown came. Riding was allowed, because horses need exercise, but instructors were banned from working. I’ll be back when I can, said my instructor. How would I manage?
I found classical dressage videos on YouTube. I watched them every night before sleep. I learned how to ride him to reshape his muscles, like Pilates. While the world went into limbo, we worked on our own. Val relaxed at last, enjoying the focus on simple moves that made him feel good. He lost his fear of learning new things. He found a new, arched poise, and showed it off to me as if to say ‘this is how we now move, this is us’.
It turns out I was right about the evil rug. I got the same reaction with a summer fly sheet made of similar material – he trembled when he walked in it. I took it off him and it crackled like hair rubbed on a balloon. He had tolerated that for two entire rides, getting electric shocks with every stride. Many horses would have a strop or lose their minds. Not Val. I began to understand he must actually be a saint.
People now comment on how well he’s going. We all remember the days of violent spooks and panicky escapes. My farrier recently said: ‘He’s happy now. He knows where he is at last.’
Roz Morris writes fiction and essays about people who are haunted in unusual ways. Her first novel, My Memories of a Future Life is about a musician who is channeling her next incarnation. She’s also a devoted horse-rider, which she put into her second novel, Lifeform Three about the last green space in an overbuilt world. Lifeform Three was long-listed for the World Fantasy Award. Her latest book is a memoir, Not Quite Lost. She’s sold 4 million books as a ghostwriter, teaches masterclasses for The Guardian is the author of the Nail Your Novel (https://www.amazon.com/Nail-Your-Novel-Writers-Confidence/dp/146108136X) series for writers and is an associate publisher for Vine Leaves Press. You can read the continuing adventures of Roz and Val in her newsletter.