Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

H is for Horse

I called her. I had lost hope in her coming but I called her all the same. And she flew to me. She flew like a promise finally kept. She raced towards me, wings flickering across fifty yards of flint-strewn earth, hit the glove and stayed. I gave her back to Stuart and called her again. Three times she flew to my fist the whole length of the creance with total conviction. There was no hesitation, no faltering. The hawk flew to me as if I were home. – from Helen Macdonald, H is for Hawk. Hilary’s review is here.


In the paddock at the bottom of the hill, within sight of the outdoor school, a kerfuffle begins. Horses charge along the fence, ears pinned, indignant. I see them a split second before Maggie does.

Don’t panic.

Maggie sees them. She tosses her head and surges on; I close my hands, and she jinks sideways. She wants to run. She’s bred to run. But she hasn’t forgotten me. The pressure of my fingers on the reins couldn’t physically stop her from running, not even if I grabbed the reins and pulled; not even if I put my whole weight into it. Horses have been known to bolt across motorways and into walls and off cliffs. The bit is not a means of control in that sense, although it can be a means of torture. I have closed my hands – no more than that – and she has tried to stop mid-flight because I have asked her to stop. She is listening to me. She trusts me.

I will realise this later. I can’t see it now. I have lost my nerve, though years ago, and I’m never far off losing it again. I am afraid she will bolt. I am afraid I will fall. And I’m angry at myself because something bone-deep and irrational is telling me that this is my failure. That Maggie wants to run because of me.

My back hurts with tension. I want to get off. I want to get off and go home and give up this riding thing for good; I want to give in to the conviction that I am hopeless and that Maggie knows it. I don’t get off, though. I have been working at this, with Maggie and, before her, with my old share pony Moritz, who died in the spring and left me grieving. I stay in the saddle. I take a deep breath and open my hands, and I urge Maggie forward. We will walk, and halt, and walk, and halt, until her gait is smooth and her ears are on me and we are in sync again.

It works. After a few laps of the school, I bring her into the centre and halt her one last time. She stands with her head down and her ears happily sideways, and chews the bit. I decide to trust her. I spool out my reins and kick my feet from the stirrups, half-expecting an explosion. She could run now, if she wanted to. I have no purchase on her.

Maggie stretches out her neck and cranes her head round, looking for a treat. In the paddock, the horses run.

Kirsty Jane McCluskey is a freelance writer and returning rider. Maggie is her share horse, and a very fine thoroughbred.


6 comments on “H is for Horse

  1. Kate
    January 9, 2015

    look, will you PLEASE write the sequel to The Last Prince?

  2. kirstyjane
    January 9, 2015

    I’m working on it!😉

  3. kirstyjane
    January 9, 2015

    Reblogged this on Kirsty Jane McCluskey and commented:

    A little (true) story in response to Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk.

  4. Jackie
    January 9, 2015

    I liked this a lot and was sorry when this piece ended, I was so there with you. And I am glad that you are fighting your fear & that Maggie is helping. This was a terrific vignette.

  5. kirstyjane
    January 9, 2015

    She’s a good girl is Maggie! Thank you comrade J.

  6. Moira
    January 11, 2015

    Lovely piece, Comrade K. Really lovely.

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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