Sunday, 2 February 2014

And all the horses were blessed

This Sunday 2nd of February 2014, Sandra and myself walked into our local Spanish town, sat in a favourite café for a welcome cup of coffee (these costing just over a euro each and of a sensible size - not those soup-bowl sized insipid drinks they serve in England). Afterwards, we went out to watch a parade of horses passing the local priest, who threw holy water over them and blessed them. This annual attraction is called the Romería (or Pilgrimage) of San Antón, which is devoted to the local equestrian community.
The sun was shining in an almost cloudless blue sky, the bands were playing, and a cold wind was blowing from inland.
     It reminded me of my early youth 54 years ago, when I last rode a horse in Wales. My motive for doing so was less than honest, as I related in my first book, The Rough & Tumbles Of Early Life, which was intended to be a family momento for the grandchildren.
     This story is shown below, for your amusement. I hope you enjoy it!

Riding as my New Love
After my previous, unrequited attempt at love, I decided to tackle the problem of finding a playmate head-on. “Where do these delectable young females congregate?” I asked myself, and realised the obvious place: riding schools.
The nearest one was not far from where we lived, situated on the fringe of a nearby and more upmarket village next to our ex-mining community and en route to town. The following day, I approached the owner, who was the only instructor as well, and found that he would take me as a pupil the coming Saturday for the princely sum of five bob (a quarter of one pound sterling, which was worth much more than it is today). I accepted and looked forward to my new sport, and to the close proximity that I would soon enjoy to my new companions.
To my humiliation, the trusty steed which was deemed appropriate to my level of untried skill was a pot-bellied Shetland pony; a donkey was not much smaller than this well-fed dumpling. In spite of my embarrassment, none of my all-female companions seemed to be least interested in my plight and retained a superficially placid composure that was similar to mine.
I suspected that some of the slightly older ones, as I looked suspiciously at their dead-pan expressions, were concealing their unbridled mirth and would be cackling with laughter after the lesson.
The basic skills were explained to me alone, like which side of the horse to mount, how to hold the reins and get the steed to start, maintain movement and stop, as we set off to the true countryside that was literally around the corner.
For three quarters of an hour we rode through woods and across moorland, with me playing the role of “tail-end Charlie” (or last man in an aerial-combat formation of aircraft), with the instructor coaxing us along as if we were a herd of cattle being driven along a well-trodden trail.
When we returned to the stables, I pitched in with the others and helped remove the saddle and rest of the tackle from my sweating partner, groomed it with a brush and fed it, aping the movements of the others as they tended lovingly to their own shapely steeds. I resented this to a small extent, feeling that I was being taken advantage of and acting as an unpaid skivvy, but logically accepting that this was part and parcel of the range of activities associated with owning one’s own horse, which I had no intention of doing.
Oh did I ache the next day as I got out of bed; it seemed to be affecting parts of my body that until then I thought only contained bones. How was it possible for me to be aching here, there and everywhere, I wondered, localising each source of pain, and realising that there was more to this new sport than I had reckoned beforehand. Regardless of this, I vowed to continue, and booked lessons for the following weeks.
After some time spent riding the same, mellow creature, the instructor brought out the biggest, snorting stallion that I had ever seen before, which was tugging with its muscular head at the reins being held tightly by him. He nodded to me and said, ‘You are going to ride this one today.’ I thought, ‘Ah, this is more like it,’ inwardly thanking my new friend, and mentally rubbing my hands with glee at what the girls might be feeling now.
The ride that day was marvellous, as my flying carpet unwrapped itself and flew across the moor, with the instructor looking on as our backsides disappeared in the distance; pot holes that might have tripped the airborne animal were a vague consideration, but that fear diminished as the pace of the horse did not slow down once during flight.
After exhausting the moor, Champion the Wonder Horse came to a halt, and we patiently waited for the rest of the herd to catch up. The instructor looked as if nothing untoward had happened and, after we returned to the stable, I was wary when removing the tackle from this volatile animal and grooming it, not to stand near its legs in case it lashed out.
The following week, it lost all patience as we were riding on a narrow bridle path through the wood, veered onto a turning to one side, and tried deliberately to throw me off by bucking, and racing under tree branches that brushed against its lowered head.
I ended up several times by riding the vicious thing with my body at right angles to the saddle, leaning one side or the other as circumstances dictated, and hanging on with grim determination, feeling that it would turn back and kick me if it succeeded in throwing me off.
After an eternity, it realised that its current attempt had failed and I fought hard but successfully by pulling the reins and pressing on its sides with my stirrups to return to the others, where the instructor looked totally unperturbed by events. By now, I had developed enough of an empathy with this rogue creature to be wary of it, and to understand its moods.
We graduated to leaping over low fences in an enclosed meadow, and I did not enjoy this at all, being fearful of landing hard on the body area in front of my buttocks with the attendant risk of damaging my pubescent manhood. The life I would have preferred with horse-racing, if it were going to happen, was clearly going to be confined to racing on the flat, and would certainly not extend to steeplechasing.
During the intervening period, I had bought riding jodhpurs, a quilted jacket, and black purpose-designed helmet, all from my accumulated pocket money.
When my Welsh grandfather was told what I was currently doing as a hobby, he donated two whips that my youngest aunt had left at home when she married and fled the nest.
One was a flexible whip, that I could imagine being used to urge a horse to go faster, but would never dare to apply to the enormous specimen that barely allowed me to sit on its back; the other was short, inflexible and thick, and braided its entire length with a strong cord. I could only assume that the latter device was intended to club an errant horse on the head, if it misbehaved, and might even have served as a weapon to deal forcibly with the lustful advances of my aunt’s previous boyfriends.
With my original intention in mind, I looked forward to developing a fledgling relationship with the other riders receiving tuition at the stables, but found it difficult to concentrate on the task at hand with the strong, horsey smells assailing my nostrils.
The fodder itself smelled uniquely rich and savoury, but not so that I would entertain the idea of sampling it myself; the odour of animal perspiration was more of a distraction, and the smell of horse dung was in a class of its own.
This melange of horse smells was not in the slightest degree conducive to my amorous ambitions, but I remained optimistic of my chances. However, none of the girls showed any symptoms of suffering from nymphomania; not one of them had a tendency to caress their aching thigh, or had a mischievous gleam in their eye as they stretched seductively, or wore lipstick, or offered any other encouragement that could give me a glimmer of hope.
Our conversations focused solely on the behaviour and wellbeing of our four-legged friends. The girls' high–pitched tinkling voices were beginning to irritate me like church bells, with a detectable twang to them that I thought to be unattractive.
No doubt they found my pronounced accent not to their taste either, but by this stage I had lost interest in horse-riding and abruptly packed it in, which must have disappointed the Old Man, who I found out later had been showing interest from afar in my new pastime.
However, he had not financed it, and as far as I was concerned, the choice was therefore mine as to what I did with my personal life.
Nor did I have any intention of revealing my continuing interest in the opposite sex, after his earlier aggressive reaction when I had done nothing more than look admiringly at the young lady outside our house.