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Abandoned trails

I was out walking the other day, thinking about my lack of expertise. Wondering what the thing I would talk about would be if I had to spontaneously give a talk. And thinking it might be horses, because I niched down enough there to be uncommon in my knowledge, even though it’s remained dusty on the shelf for some time now.

I thought I might talk about what I’d learned from being around horses, and maybe some insights into what kind of creatures horses truly are. And I felt some remorse that they hadn’t really been part of my life for the past seven years.

And then I walked through a gate and there were free-roaming Exmoor ponies in the field. So I laughed and sat down near them. Other walkers stood around them, nervously inching closer to get a good photo. The wind blew relentlessly. The clouds darkened. The ponies dozed. Dogs and photographers came and went. I waited for them all to leave.

My intention was to make friends with the ponies. They weren’t skittish, but they eyed anyone who began to encroach. I could be in for a rebuke. I would feel rather silly if I went over to say hi and they all just wandered off, no patience for my bullshit. Not today, thanks. And I figured that was fairly likely; I really had nothing to offer from their point of view (they didn’t know I give top-tier scratches).

When the field cleared, I headed over and, as I did so, one of them flopped onto the ground to relax. It was a good sign that I hadn’t put them on high alert, but he did look a little embarrassed when we made eye contact. I felt a bit embarrassed too, like I’d just burst into his living room as he was settling down for an afternoon nap.

I altered course in the hope I wouldn’t force him up again, and he remained in his reclined position, watching me politely, in the stiff way I might if someone walked into my living room unannounced but insisted I didn’t need to get up. Who am I kidding, I’d already be standing.

I approached a mare at the front of the herd, introduced myself, held out my hand, gave her a gentle scratch on the muzzle and a stroke on the cheek.

That was all I had time for before more dogs galloped over the brow of the hill, so I nodded to the surly-faced but tolerant lookout and was on my way.

It was a tentative act. I didn’t go as far as I could have with it. Didn’t push my luck. Didn’t do it publicly. It’s not much of a story, really.

I could tell a better story, about working with wild-caught Mustangs in New Mexico, or going for country walks with my Welsh Cob without any need for a leadrope. But that was another life now, and in some sense I don’t feel I deserve to regale you with such tales. I abandoned that thread, not entirely voluntarily, but unless I find a way to pick it up again, I don’t quite feel right trying to capitalise on it.

So I guess I need to come up with another imaginary talk to give at my hypothetical presentation.

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