Woke up with a sore bum and sore throat. I know which one worries me most.

I used to take the common cold for granted, muscling through work days, skipping the doctor, dosing myself with over-the-counter remedies, letting it run its course. Now, I don’t mess around, and if it hadn’t been a Sunday on a bank holiday weekend, I would have hied me to a GP as soon as I rose.

I will not miss a lesson due to flu. Or bronchitis. Or anything.

I learned my lesson painlessly, considering. It was a Tuesday night, and I wasn’t at all well. The usual uplift to my spirit once I was in the barn didn’t do much for my fatigue-y body and my muzzy head. I thought a good dose of endorphins would set me right, and in the long run— maybe. In the short run, though, the result was a dozy lesson, and the sweat ran cold.

It is my tendency to push myself in general, and my generally stoic exterior gives nothing away. I didn’t even realise how off I was until Murdo and I started cantering. Ah, Murdo. I don’t think I’ve written about auld Murdo yet. Murdo, who inspires Freudian slippage as ‘Murder’. He’s a handful, this guy, a highland pony on whom I feel like my toes are brushing the ground. Murdo, whose neck is so short he can almost get my toe in his teeth when he’s feeling mouthy. Murdo, who despire his stockiness, can jump 1 metre 10— both high and wide. He’s been one of my best teachers.

He’s in the school after having been a livery pony all his life. Every time I ride him, about halfway through the lesson, I can see him thinking, ‘What, again? Again with the circle?’ His voice is, in fact, Mel Brooksian. After this realisation, he starts playing up; he’s generally mollified once the cantering starts, but he’s no patience for the other horses and riders when it comes to the jumping. He wants to go and go and go, and it’s necessary to turn him fully to the wall when waiting in the queue, else he’d just take it into his head and go when he felt like it.

I learned exactly what the leg is for, from schooling on him. Most of the lesson horses have the kinds of mouths you’d expect lesson horses to have. Not Murdo. One injudicious yank on the reins, and he lets you know how it felt. So I discovered that my legs weren’t just there to keep the stirrups from swinging around, and I learned it fast. And as a consequences, got lighter in the hand, too.

Being under the weather on Murdo was instructive, as I will never, ever, do it again. He wasn’t playing up, but it was clear that I was off. His canter, no more energetic than usual— and it’s energetic, he’s a wee rocket— threw me for a loop, and it finally hit me that I can’t go through a lesson without being at my absolute best, and it occured to me that maybe I should bite the bullet and get some antibiotics, next time.

And, of course: ah. Pushing myself when the tank is half full is maybe not such a great thing in ‘real’ life as well. All my realisations are getting a bit redundant, all boiling down to the one thing: the importance of self-care, self-awareness, self-you-name-it, is clarifying itself to be useful beyond the bounds of the ménage. It always seems so obvious, once it’s down in black and white— and 1s and 0s, as the case may be.

Oh, and my bum’s a bit ouchy and sore, but I’m loading on the tiger balm [a kind of European Ben Gay, for all you Americans out there] and taking it easy… which involves a lot of sitting down, which seems counterintuitive… oh well. Haven’t got it all sorted out it seems. Just as well, or I’d have nothing to write about!

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