Tuesday, 5 February 2008

This is the way the Lady rides.....

I have been amusing myself by thinking of the process of training and riding a horse as a metaphor for the process of writing. The unbroken horse is the equivalent of the store of words and grammatical structures that we must learn as a preface to writing; the act of ordering and choosing the words to express our ideas is similar to the taming and schooling of the horse; putting our thoughts and ideas into writing equates with riding and directing the beast.

In this context, Jane Austen's steed is a sleek little thoroughbred mare, highly trained and with smooth gaits but a nervous, sensitive beast that is uncomfortable in busy surroundings. Charles Dickens rides a big, rawboned stallion with immense stamina, capable of travelling long and weary distances, but sensitive to the reins. Byron exercised himself on a Lippizaner stallion; Robert Louis Stevenson alternated a pony with a serviceable gelding. (This is a fun exercise; try it yourself. What would Chaucer ride, for instance?)

Some of us have better trained steeds than others. Some of them are better bred. My horse is poorly trained since it has spent its working life being forced to alternately pull a cart and compete in dressage, without having had enough time to learn either thoroughly. It has a lot of excess fat that does not get worked off. My horse also has a mind and will of its own and will from time to time get the bit between its teeth and gallop madly off in a direction I did not choose. I am saying 'it' and 'horse' although she is, of course, a Canadian mare. I am now trying to school her properly and persuade her to go where I want her to go without stopping to snatch bites of grass along the way.

I am quietly chuckling as I write this because in real life I am terrified of horses, an irrational fear learned in childhood, and have never so much as patted the nose of one.

PS It is sometimes possible to advantageously split an infinitive.


  1. This is clever, and quirky, and whimsical, and oh! I liked it so much!

  2. I think I am a Clydesdale .. point me in the right direction and I will eventually get there. But I might break a few things along the way ...

  3. Clever is exactly it. I love the way you can step back and take a look at yourself, "alternately pull a cart and compete in dressage". Beautiful.

  4. Very clever post, Mary! I love your description of your own use of words.

    I was bitten by a horse when I was 8. Can't stand the darn things. I think my words would be a goat. Amusing and unpredictable.