Guest Post: Equine Inspiration by Alex Mullarky

maneEquine Inspiration

When I was growing up I was aware of two distinct sides of my personality developing at the same time. On one side, there was an avid reader and aspiring writer who dreamed of bestselling novels and signing paperbacks. My parents are book lovers and I went to good schools, so no one was really surprised that I should want to be a writer. On the other side, there was a stranger creature – the horse girl. This girl had no precedent in my family, except a great grandfather who allegedly ran away from school and rode the train until he saw horses from the window and disembarked to get himself a job. This girl dreamed of boots and wheelbarrows, rosettes and Fjord horses.

I always assumed that eventually I would have to choose. How many novelists muck out fields in the morning? How many horse trainers head home to work on their novel? It seemed impossible, or at the very least, confusing. Was I supposed to print business cards that said “Writer/Horse Trainer”? No one on either side would take me seriously. I’d neglect my novel to exercise my horses, or worse – neglect my horses to meet my deadlines.

A few weeks into secondary school, we sold my pony because I was worried I wouldn’t have enough time to ride. It wasn’t long before I realised my mistake, and within a couple of years we found ourselves caring for a friend’s granddad’s mare and foal. But exams dawned and I panicked again. It was a daily struggle to meet the costs of keeping a horse anyway, so we put my Thoroughbred up for sale and I concentrated on getting good marks, getting into university and studying books to learn to write. And I became a famous author with bestselling titles and films were based on my books–

Wait, no. That didn’t happen. Because doing one thing and one thing only still wasn’t working for me. I’d sit at my desk in my university accommodation and zone out as I stared at the fields beyond the town through my window. I missed hearing a whicker as I stepped out on a frosty morning, the simple purpose of filling feed buckets in the evening. I’d open a blank document and draw from the well of my past experiences because nothing new was forthcoming; what had my day been filled with, but writing?

It didn’t work–so I made time. I volunteered. I mucked out and tacked up and worked full time as a groom for the last few months of my degree. I was like a pendulum swinging back and forth, giving 100% of myself to writing, then 100% to horses the following week.

But the pendulum is beginning to slow. I enrolled in a creative writing Masters and took on an ex-racehorse named Rouk in the same year, and sometimes there are even days when I can work with Rouk in the morning and write in the afternoon without feeling like I should be focusing on one thing only. I imagine it’s partially about growing up, and partially about the people I have met in the past few years. What I have learned from the artists and writers and filmmakers I have been fortunate to meet is that creativity and horses go hand in hand.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I was a little late to the party–because this has always been the case. Look at George Stubbs, whose every canvas was populated by horses; Xenophon, who was writing about horsemanship before it was cool (circa 300 BC); Degas, who captured the energy of the moving horse in bronze. Horses have been inspiring people to create since the dawn of time. And these are only the people who chose to use their muse as their model. Being a writer and being passionate about horses doesn’t mean I have to devote myself to writing about horses. So what is it?

I think it’s this: crunching down the path and seeing a head raise at the sound of my voice. Wrapping up warm and feeling chill air sting my face. Saddling up, harnessing up, or just clipping on a lead rope. Concentrating on the living, breathing creature that I alone am responsible for–how he moves, how he feels, how he responds to my body language. Spending time with the sun on my face or the rain hammering on my waterproof; being surrounded by the elements, out of the writing office bubble. Recognizing that I am part of a wider world where there are things more vital than words on a page. When I shut the car door behind me, I’m energized. I’m awake.

I don’t have to be one or the other, writer or horse person. The horse person might never feel creatively fulfilled; the writer would probably run out of things to write about. The fact is, one cannot exist without the other. Both girls are me.

The pendulum is still swinging, but slowly. One day I hope it will find total stillness.


Alex MullarkyAlex Mullarky is a writer from the UK who has called Melbourne home since 2014. She is a Masters student and a graduate of English Literature who spends her spare time retraining an ex-racehorse called Rouk. She is a regular contributor to Horses and People and Wild Melbourne. @saesteorra /

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