He stood sixteen hands high, and then some. Thoroughbred,
Good-natured, but never stirred the stands. Bay, begotten
Of a storied sire, too far from the fountainhead
For higher things. His star fell; broken, failed, forgotten.
I came across him in rough-and-ready retirement.
Little lame, but tough, his heady past and programming
Still chasing through him – an electric enchantment –
And, blood racing, I grew into him, hammering
Cross-country; a shy boy belatedly believing
In himself, the joy of speed; and through the thundering
Of hooves and heart, I heard my soul sing plain, perceiving
The start of feeling whole, ending my wild wondering
About my place and purpose. Perilous, predicting
Life so lightly: no trace of it, or him, evident
Now; fear, finance, tyrant Time’s tireless roll, restricting
Duties – all hold me here. But the pull’s persistent.
Here’s how stressful my week has been: writing another droighneach counts as fun and relaxation…
Anyway, my third go-round at this horribly intricate form is a tribute to Tiercel, a craggy, big-hearted ex-racehorse I rode throughout the glorious summer of 1984, when I was a gauche, insecure and insular lad of 15, and had started riding just the previous winter. Swaggering around on a giant bay steeplechaser when all your friends (and your sister, who’s been riding for years) are still on ponies does wonders for a fragile sense of self. He was well past his best (which hadn’t been that great anyway, by all accounts) but once he got going, boy could he motor: his half-brother was the brilliant Night Nurse, who won the blue-riband Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham two years running.
It was 30 years ago this summer, and Tiercel was well into his teens then, so he’ll be long gone now. But I’ve never forgotten him, and although I haven’t ridden in years, even now few things swell my heart like the grace and courage of the English Thoroughbred. Happy trails, big fella. N.