25 DECEMBER, 2007 Another glorious day, another frugal breakfast— I didn’t fancy making a run for the very low lying bushes in the middle of a trek— and one last round of coffee before someone realised it was Christmas Day. We all laughed, and exchanged the greetings of the season, and it was a wonderful thing to be in a foreign country with people I’d just met two days before, preparing to spend a morning on horseback.

I was much happier on Bari. Since I’d be the only one riding him for the week, there was no fussing with the lengths of the leathers, and I practiced communicating ‘halt’ with him in the forecourt while the rest of the ride mounted.

Back down the road, past those gloriously mosaic-ed houses, colour and pattern I could appreciate today as I gave Bari his long reins and I swung with him in the walk. He seemed calmer, too, a byproduct of my relaxation and perhaps of having had a good outing yesterday, after two days off.

We wove our way again through olive groves, past other spacious haciendas that grew as naturally out of the earth as did the incipient sunflowers and wheat. I began to predict when we’d be about to trot, as Bari pricked up his ears and picked up his feet, and sure enough, Fernando would call for it from the front of the ride, and off we’d go.

And then it was time to canter.

I breathed, and knew I wouldn’t have to do much to encourage Bari, and sure enough, the rest of the ride had barely begun to pick up the pace when he decided it was time for us to go. There was nothing for it, really, if the guy is smart enough to recognise the place in which he always canters, and being in the back of the ride ensures that one’s mount will generally follow suit without too much input. The first one was a bit… spirited, and it was all I could do to keep Bari from passing out the ride. I sat back as well as I could— he had a big, energetic stride— and I was happy enough once it was done.

We let our horses take their brunch break in a grove of eucalyptus near an old roman bridge. Bari had been fairly excited once we’d gone into the trees, and Karin said it was his favourite McDonald’s franchise [as it were.] Fernando passed around a wineskin full of sherry and I casually sat Bari as he roamed and visited his favourite bits of underbrush.

Several more trots and canters and it was as if I’d been working with Bari for weeks rather than days. It felt amazing to have a horse so keen to go, and I felt the benefit of hours in the saddle. I looked out over the fields and marvelled at this wonderful thing I’d done for myself, this great gift I’d given myself for the holidays. Two years ago I was in the midst of great personal upheaval, much less not even been riding! And last year would have been too soon. Everything works out the way it ought, I decided, and it’s something, as much as the benefit to my equestrianship, that I’d take away with me at the end of the week.

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