Yesterday, I went riding up towards the mountains through sweet-scented pines and admiring gloriously free-ranging black pigs destined to be jamon. The turf in March is green and lush, full of flowers and herbs.
It was unsurprising that my horse kept eating the grass. It bent its head down, I pulled on the reins. I didn’t want to cascade down its neck into the prickly pear bushes.
My lack of control tells you a lot about my experience as a rider, and also gave me to thinking about imposing my will on the animal.
Today, I managed rather better, pre-empting the horse’s move to grab a quick nosh. For a little while, I experienced a satisfying unity between what I wanted to do and what this large creature’s abilities. Lovely.
At a plateau we stood looking over the sea to Morocco. Miggy, the instructress explained about the scars on the noses of Andalucian horses. These come from the local method of breaking. (Breaking – what a telling word that is.) She spoke of some of the local men having to have stallions – often before they were ready to handle them – hence the cruelty.
I thought back to Martin Clunes’ ‘Horsepower’ series. I had watched fascinated by Monty Roberts’ and Jean Francois Pignon’s natural horsemanship. They both used the animals’ natural traits to manipulate their behaviour in a compassionate way. The animals were not stressed, no force was used (other than personality) and yet they did as they were asked.
On the plane over, I watched Kirsty Young presenting ‘ The British at Work’. It gave a salutary reminder of the dictatorial management in the postwar era – and how much it was resented. I thought also of how much we hated over-strict teachers, the sort who shouted and threw board-rubbers. They ruled through fear because they hadn’t the skills to persuade.
Nonetheless, I get fed up with the cliché of the leader as always an incompetent bully , as though being in charge inevitably leads to domineering behaviour. As a fictional counterpoint, I like to think of Terry Pratchett’s Baron in ‘I Shall Wear Midnight’. He was a man who gained respect because he asked his people to do what they would do anyway. A not-dissimilar technique is used by my MA tutor Greg Mosse.
As I hope Mubarak has learned, in positions of responsibility there are better methods than oppression.