In a quiet Scottish field this morning, I said, out loud to my dear red mare: ‘I will always love you the best.’
There are several faintly odd things about this.
First of all, it’s not a competition. Love is not a zero sum game. The heart expands to fit all of the Best Beloveds into it.
Second of all, I was talking to a horse. She really does not speak English and I know that. Also, two days ago I was talking to a sheep. There may be an actual name for this condition.
Third of all, I’m not sure that animals entirely understand human love; there really is a species divide. Horses understand consistency, safety, reliability, fairness and kindness. I don’t know how much they do love.
I was saying this because I have a new mare. She arrived yesterday, and I spent all morning settling her in and working with her and paying attention to her. The old mare went out for a nice graze in the set-aside and looked after herself. I can trust her to do this, and she seemed not at all disconcerted that I was spending my time with an interloper.
Yet, for all that, I wanted to reassure her.
I like to think I don’t play favourites, and I really don’t. I already adore the new mare, and that love will grow as we get to know each other. She is a very dear person, and I’m enchanted to have her.
But in a profound way, I shall always love the red mare the best, not because she is better or sweeter or kinder or more clever, but because she was the one who made me a finer human. She was the one who taught me what was required. I’d been away from horses for thirty years when I got her, and so I had to sharpen up and raise my game and go back to school, to remember all the things I had forgotten.
In the middle of that dark wood, I had to choose the road less travelled, because of her. She taught me lessons that I shall never forget, that I did not even know I needed.
With the new mare, I hit the ground running. I know what to do. It’s a completely different kind of relationship, because of all those lessons I learned. It’s fun; it’s a fascinating exploration; there are no doubts or fears.
The red mare, the original and finest, the best professor I ever had, will always have that special place in my heart, because she took me when I did have doubts and fears, and she made something of me. Because of that, I owe her a debt of love and gratitude.
I know her so well; I love her so much. And, this morning, I needed to tell her that.