Here’s Firefly, listening to the horses on the other side of that distant hedge. It’s a group of polo ponies cantering on a track. We can see just glimpses of them through the leaves. It’s 7:30 on a chilly Wellington morning, and Firefly is wide-eyed and fresh, prone to concern over every noise and movement. So we’re walking and getting used to things, taking some deep breaths before we start to work. I’ve got the wool cooler over his hindquarters.
This is the farm of Philip’s trainer, Norman. We trailered the horses over for Philip’s jumping lesson on the mare. I brought Firefly to exercise on the big, beautiful field. In the barn, he looked wild: stiff-necked, and showing the whites of his eyes. Not that there was anything truly alarming going on—just cold air, and a change of scene.
On his back, I felt those shivers of energy. But he and I know each other well. If we’re not in the thick of horse-show chaos, he settles down. It’s that special combination of taking your time, using your legs and a steady rein, and telling him with your voice and your body that this is a perfectly normal, non-scary situation.
The ride is a conversation: he says something, I respond; I say something, he responds. It’s a kind of communication that requires total presence. That meditative quality is one of the great pleasures of riding. Especially so when the things you say to the horse are just the subtlest shift of your leg or tension on the rein, and the horse responds so effortlessly it’s almost as if you didn’t have to ask at all.
Firefly gets that way now—feather-soft and relaxed and attuned to the aids (that is, the rider’s hand, leg, seat and voice). His canter has become rhythmic in the mesmerizing way that some horses have. He’s learned to lengthen his stride instead of launching into the stiff, high-headed scamper he used to do. Even at his advanced age, he’s not too old to discover new good things.