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.
Eight white horses, manes long and lush, stood in various states of tack around the forecourt. As I had that morning, I hung back, very unlike myself, one who is always happy to go up and make the acquaintance of a horse. The late afternoon sun shone on their flanks, pure as snowdrifts, and as the rest of the ride joined me, we all muttered appreciatively amongst ourselves. These guys were the real thing, true Spanish horses, some with some sort of cross, true— look at the size of that one, there!— but still, what with their coal-black saddles and bridles, any one of them could have stepped of the pages of Dressage Monthly.
The horses were given out. My name was called, I strode up the block/wall, and Karin led up, yup, knew it, one of the big guys.
‘This is Guapo,’ she said.
‘¡Hola, Guapo!’ I cried, complete with inverted exclamation point. ‘¡Hola, presioso!’
Not near enough the block for a stirrup-less mount, I slid my left foot into the nearside iron, and slid on to his back. Ah. I sat, and there was none of the high-key reaction I got from Bari. We moved forward, stirrup lengths adjusted, and with a light tap to his sides, Guapo and I moved forward.
He was solid beneath me, calm, collected. I found my seat and lifted my posture. We moved around the yard a little, avoiding other riders, and waited whilst we were divided in two groups of four. The first group— the more experienced riders— got the covered arena. The rest of us followed Karin into the outdoor ring, set up for jumps [sadly, there was no jumping to be had on this trip], and got to work.
And the best I can say is: wow. Guapo’s trot was so collected that it seemed as if we were going nowhere. Used to a brisker pace, it felt at first that I was doing something wrong, but he was well-trained in the equestrian arts of the High School, and at the working trot, there was no need to overdo or overexert. The purity of his motion really came to shine once we started work in the sitting trot.
Now, sitting trot, with stirrups, can be at best a bouncy affair, at worst a feeling akin to being a kernel in a popcorn popper. On Guapo, you’d have thought that I’d sat the trot my entire life. It felt like cheating, almost. Smooth, sure, perfectly rhythmic, sitting the trot on Guapo allowed me to actually feel it properly, to feel my pelvis rock, to get that leg longer than long, keep my hands dropped, and again, again, again, to truly sit back securely.
His canter was a dream, but proved to be a great ground for my improvement, not only in the transition, but also in keeping the inside leg on so he didn’t cut the corners. It would be my work for the week, improving our coverage of the track, and one that I was sure would be something I’d take away with me.
We learned how to do a turn inwards so that the horses crossed their legs as they changed direction— just like real, live dressage riders! And the hour passed all too quickly.
‘Muy bien, Guapo,’ I murmured, giving him a pat. ‘Muy bien hecho, muchacho, muchacho lindo.’ Good thing I’d asked Vanina for some virtual Spanish tutoring over the email— for Guapo preferred to be spoken to en Espanol.