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WITH ALL DUE APOLOGIES, ETC My lessonmates are still asking me about my holiday in Seville, and it occurs to me that, well, the writing’s okay, but it lacks that feeling of being there. Unlike many of my other posts, even the ‘historical’ ones. I’m pretty sure I know why that’s the case. Read the rest of this entry »

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THE REST OF THE HOLIDAY It’s not like it’s fading, but what with daily life, trying to drum up enough freelance so I don’t have to rechain myself to someone else’s desk [although that sounds like a porfession that has absolutely nothing to do with mine!], Seville is transmuting into a series of snapshots, a remembered sound, a flash of moving imagery, like a landscape seen out the window of a moving car… Read the rest of this entry »

26 DECEMBER, 2007 Right before I left for Spain, I’d felt a cold coming on. It followed me.

The morning was cold, colder than we’d had the last two days, cold enough to see my breath. I felt achy, and annoyed that I hadn’t brought the antihistamines that had fallen off a shelf in my bathroom whilst I was packing. I sat in the back of the van and closed my eyes.

We were heading for the seaside village of Matalascanas, where we would trek through the Donana Natural Park down to the beach for a canter or two.

What is it about cantering on the beach? When anybody asked me what I’d be doing on this trip, when I mentioned that, it was generally received with a chorus of sighs. There’s something cinematic about it, I suppose, something larger than life, and definitely something freer than going round and round an arena. I like going round and round an arena [I realise I’m working out my control issues through dressage, but that’s for another post], but I, too, had my imagination fully captured by the notion of pounding down the beach on horseback.

I wasn’t sure, once we got started, that I was going to have much joy. I got on a horse, whose name I wasn’t told, from the ground, basically heaved up by the guy by just one of his hands under my nearside, stirruped foot [it was pretty wild, one minute I was cursing myself for not having learned the Spanish for ‘mounting block’, the next I was up in the saddle] and from the start I could tell this horse wasn’t going to be the faster meteor in the galaxy.

At one stage, I forgot I was on a holiday and stated to get worried about being fast enough, being good enough, all that useless kind of crap that, even on bad days, days of struggle, horseriding manages to eradicate in my make up. I was thinking too much, and I hated directions to make him— whoever he was, I hated that, too, not knowing his name— go, and I hated banging away at him when he was clearly just a tourist trail horse, inured to the work and perhaps annoyed by it.

But the journey was beautiful, nevertheless. I think I’ll let the pictures do the talking. Read the rest of this entry »

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. Read the rest of this entry »

24 DECEMBER, 2007 After a gorgeous, authentic Spanish lunch cooked by Fernando’s wife Jane, we repaired to our rooms to relax before our afternoon lesson.

I had chosen the holiday primarily not only for its proximity to Seville, but also due to the offer of an hour’s equitation in the afternoon. After three hours on Bari, and the challenges surmounted thereon, I felt another flutter of nerves start to flicker. We were getting different horses for the dressage portion of the programme— two new guys in one day? Oh, man.

My room, with bathroom en suite, was in a small courtyard off the hacienda’s main enclosure. The big blue doors were open as they had been in the morning, making it easier for the transfer of tack through the hallway that connected the two parts of the yard. I wandered out again— and nearly lost my breath. Read the rest of this entry »

The Epona Equestrian Centre, Seville

STAY MAINLY IN… ER… LOS MANOS? NEVER MIND: 24 DECEMBER, 2007 Breakfast at nine, first trek at ten. I hate to eat first thing in the morning, and this morning, forget it: too nervous. We’re all chatting away at table— there are eight of us, the perfect number that I’d had in mind— and I nip off early, one more loo break, some deep breathing… I feel like I haven’t ridden a new horse in months, and it is kind of true, I had some lessons during a visit to the States in September, but the unfamiliarity linked with the fact that we’d be on the trail for three hours, and given my inherent dislike of being on the road… what had I gotten myself into?

I drifted out to the forecourt of the hacienda. A string of horses were being tacked, held in place by their head collars. One of them, a big bay, skittered around a little, yanked his head, snapped the rope, and had to have his head gear replaced.

Hope I don’t get him.

Fernando, proprietor of Epona and tour leader for the week, started dispensing horses. One by one, my fellow riders mounted the block— a wall, really, that allowed one desposit oneself in the saddle without so much as a stirrup— and then my name was called out. I leapt up onto the block.

One of the women lead on the big bay.

Shite.

‘He’s called Barry,’ she said, smiling up at me.

Irish? Okay. Well, he’s big enough.

‘It’s short for Barishnikov,’ she added.

Mierda. Read the rest of this entry »

DECEMBER 23, 2007 I arrive in Málaga after an uneventful flight. I sleep through most of it, although it’s difficult. The flight attendants are always trying to sell you something, food, water, fragrances. I get a bit of a kip, though, and flow into the feeling of travelling, disembarking, following signs, turning on my phone, presenting my passport [I almost left the American one at home! Can you imagine!], finding the right baggage belt, praying to the Luggage Gods that my own would appear…

And then I’m out, following more signs, taking the lift to the departures lounge, following more signs to the train to take me into town, to the train station, buying my ticket, getting on the train, finally— finally breathing, finally believing it to be real. Read the rest of this entry »

23 DECEMBER, 2007 Up at 4 a.m., into the taxi at ten to 5, and I arrived at Dublin Airport at 5.15. Plenty of time.

Except that we’ve driven straight into Bedlam. Read the rest of this entry »

FIGURES OF EIGHT

Ten years on from my first ever riding lesson, these posts are still wandering round and round, a figure of eight starting with today, probably, and yesterday, definitely. It's the antithesis of how I usually do things, but... that's horses for ya.

TACK ROOM

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