Hippoi Athanatoi

An Andalusian Adventure

Blogging about my riding experiences has most definitely fallen by the wayside these last years. Depression has played a role, but also a lack of inspiration and a feeling that I was repeating myself a lot and writing because I had to, not because I wanted to. Perhaps I will give it another try, keeping posts to when I feel I have something worthwhile to chronicle. Such as last Monday’s “riding lesson”, which took place somewhere very different than what I am used to. Elio and I were in Spain to present the Spanish edition of The World of Ice and Fire and we went to Barcelona for a few days and then to Osuna, where they were opening a small gallery of the gorgeous Spanish cover art for the series. Osuna is also where they shot part of last season and the town is really hoping to provide some interesting sights for Game of Thrones fans (not to mention that they have some amazing sights in general). They were thrilled to have the official presentation of Spanish edition of The World of Ice and Fire there and to play host to both us, the publisher and the cover artist. We received a very warm welcome, but even that couldn’t have prepared me for the surprise on our last day there.

On Sunday, I had happened to mention that I loved horses and would love to come back to Andalucia to ride a PRE (Pura Raza Espanola—also known as Andalusian, though technically that is a less specific term). On Monday, our host Jesús told me they could take me to a stable in town so I could get to try an Andalusian. I was of course thrilled by the offer, but I had no riding clothes with me. They insisted that we go there anyway. Once there, Luis Calderon and his sister Milagros made us most welcome and showed off their beautiful PRE stallions. After we had seen the horses demonstrate Spanish walk, passage and piaffe in hand, Luis started warming up one of the horses for me while Milagros headed out to find me clothes. She soon returned with boots, pants and a shirt (the latter being a gift from her, showing the logo of the Andalusian side-saddle association, of which she is the president). A riding hat was not included (it is not commonly used), but I realised that I could not pass up the opportunity. I did, however, decline the offer to take a trail ride to our next sight-seeing location; that seemed a little too adventurous without a riding hat. Just one more reason for me to come back and do it another time!

Once I was dressed and ready, I was introduced to a beautiful bay stallion called Latino. We started out in a small indoor arena, with Luis initially having him on a lead-rope as he talked me through the aids. The difference against a riding school horse was roughly the difference between a tractor and a Ferrari in terms of sensitivity to my aids, so I really had to get used to that. Language caused small confusions on a few occasions, but Luis was very patient and clearly used to teaching riders who aren’t used to the power and sensitivity of the PRE. Once I was more settled in, we went outside into the larger arena. There Luis let me experience the Spanish walk, passage and piaffe, all with him helping out with a lead-rope and a long whip to guide Latino when my aids weren’t precise enough. I have, I think, fairly decent hands, but they were clearly not soft and sensitive enough to keep from collecting a little too much at times; I really had to work on trying to hold the reins like fine threads of silk in order to be soft enough.

After a while, it was time for the lead-rope to come off and after riding along for a bit, Luis asked me to try the Spanish walk on my own. The aids are diagonal, with a press of the leg and a squeeze of the rein, but you can’t do it too fast or the horse will attempt a passage instead. We had a few false starts, but then something clicked and all of a sudden Latino was doing the Spanish walk again, with me giving the aids. It was an amazing moment and I have a photo that captures it, showing a giant smile appearing on my face. Of course, I would say the credit for that walk goes to 99% to Latino, who was very patient with a beginner at such things, but the feeling still can’t be beat. This was the most special thing I have ever experienced on horseback.

And I think that those who know a little bit about me as a rider will see another reason for why it was so special, beyond me getting the chance to ride a Grand Prix trained PRE stallion. Ever since my accident when I was ten, I’ve been a nervous rider. For the first few years after the accident, every unexpected thing a horse did would leave me crying. Then it got better for a while, at least when riding indoors and on horses that I trusted well. Now ... well, additional caution always seems to set in with age, and I have gotten very used to riding primarily small horses or large ponies. Then I feel I can stay in control, even if something unexpected happens. In a sense, it is a compromise; I’ve learned to ride better and feel more confident about myself as a rider over the years, but only by keeping myself to a certain type of horse.

Latino, however, was a fair bit from the 14, maybe 15 hands I usually prefer, if not as large as your typical dressage horse tends to be these days. But I got up on him without a second thought (well, pretty much, anyway) and once up there I felt safe. Yes, I was on a lead-rope to start with, and I probably would not have been up for cantering, but what I did (and did without being nervous) was miles beyond anything I have done for years. This was a highly trained, sensitive and at the same times very powerful stallion, and I was actually breathing normally and thinking about my seat instead of hunching over and feeling stiff and nervous. I am not sure where that confidence came from, but clearly Luis, Milagros and of course Latino were very good at making me feel secure.

I should be adding some photos to the site, but until then I have an album up on Facebook.

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