My book Dingle Peggy will be published next month, a sequel to Connemara Mollie. It’s taken 30 years of hindsight to make me appreciate just how much I owe these ponies. When I started the trek, with Mollie, I was still in the mindset that the most important part of horse management was control. Was the pony obedient? Could I make it do what I wanted? By the end of the trek I had learned that it was as important for me to understand what the pony was trying to tell me as it was to impose my will on the animal. Mollie was a calmer, more phlegmatic personality, so it was Peggy who was the catalyst in that transition. As I’d remarked when I first had her, I’d never known such an extrovert, sociable horse. Communication was her thing, so communicating with me came naturally. I am ashamed now at how slow I was to learn that any strange behaviour was her attempt to tell me something, rather than sheer naughtiness.
Horses are perhaps unique in our animal-doting world. We love them, we try to bond with them, and then we sell them on. A talented horse will have several owners during its 30-year lifetime, and goodness knows how many riders. Each time it changes hands it is expected to make the adjustment and respond with generosity. Most horses do. That is an extraordinary and deeply touching fact.
My thousand miles through Ireland changed me forever. I learned how to cope alone with triumph and disaster, how to enjoy my solitary state and to live in the present as time slipped by. I learned about generosity, and about the old, old human attribute of hospitality to strangers. I learned about the history of Ireland and the uncomfortable fact of my country’s oppression, and I learned that this is one of the most beautiful places in Europe. But above all I treasure that opportunity to get to know, and be friends with, Mollie and Peggy.
The finale of the Horse of the Year Show is a Salute to the Horse. It has always brought tears to my eyes:
Where in this wide world can man find nobility without pride, friendship without envy, or beauty without vanity? Here where grace is laced with muscle, and strength by gentleness confined.
He serves without servility; he has fought without enmity. There is nothing so powerful, nothing less violent, there is nothing so quick, nothing more patient.
England’s past has been borne on his back. All our history is his industry; we are his heirs, he our inheritance.
Ladies and gentlemen: the horse.