Editor's Note: This is the second postcard in a series of six as Janice Booth takes part in Cross Country International's Valentine's ride through the countryside outside of Rome, Italy.
Feb. 14, 2005 -- True confession No. 2: The last time I jumped was 15 years ago on a treacherous and smelly Appaloosa named Sherman Tank. He had a habit of stumbling after his jumps. Over time, the stumbling progressed to falling. Once down, he would lay there for awhile on top of me, groaning and thrashing, until he decided it was time to get up and find the nearest grain bin. Needless to say, my enthusiasm for jumping has waned, and my nerve for it all but disappeared. In other words, it scares me to death.
So this has been my big challenge on this trip. There is a drag hunt on Friday, and I desperately want to participate, but the old fear looms large.
Yesterday, Maria started me out over trot poles, cross rails and a small oxer--all taken successfully, and all at the trot. The operative words there are "small" and "trot."
Today, with our full complement of travelers, we had to split the riding lesson. Another rider and I were assigned to Irish Willy, whose attitude was basically, "Git 'er done." Willy was not as susceptible as Maria was to our sob stories. "Quit 'yer whinin' and come on now," Willy said, more times than I can count.
I cannot tell you how terrified I was as that jump grew from a cross rail to a 2 foot to a 3 foot vertical. And no trotting today. All canter, across the center of the arena no less--not even down the long side! My trustworthy horse Enigma took care of me, so all I had to do was throw my heart over the fence and follow it, which I did. Now, I'm not saying it was pretty. I'm just saying I did it. And I didn't die.
As with every riding trip of this kind where riders of different levels come together, we are in the process of sorting things out--which horse for whom, jumping or no jumping, hacking or not. There is a lot of mutual support amongst the group that has certainly helped boost my confidence with the jumping issue.
After another delicious and substantial lunch, we met at the barn for a group hack out into the countryside. I had come prepared for the wicked wind that had suddenly developed. Having lived in Buffalo, N.Y., for 13 years, I own winter riding gear that would make an Eskimo envious. Once dressed, I was well insulated and comfortable, though quite puffy.
I had also whipped another piece of equipment out of my secret arsenal--the beloved and necessary seat saver. So as the temperatures dropped and the wind rose, I took no notice, appreciating instead the beautiful rolling hills dotted with horses and sheep, Lake Bracciano turning dark blue under gathering clouds, the first signs of grass coming to life, herons gliding silently through the treetops.
What was awaiting me upon my return to the hotel? A note to appear in the lobby at 6:30 for a massage. Oh, the rigors of vacation. Following the rather unorthodox massage--a combination of shiatsu and Swedish in an incense filled room with an oscillating heater--I felt somewhat noodlelike as I began to prepare for tonight's Valentine's dinner and ball. Cross Country International organized a great party with new and imported men, all young(ish), dressed to the nines and gorgeous. Even Irish Willy gained a whole new level of respect, resplendent as he was in his black tie attire.
Dinner was one of the best yet: a first course of cream of cauliflower zuppa with beet juice drizzled in the shape of a heart; salad; a pasta mélange that was divine; sea bass in a tomato and fennel cream sauce; and a beautiful dessert that did not disappoint the chocoholics amongst us. My dining partner was none other than Prince Mir Wais of Afghanistan, a charming and compelling man who shared with me a deep love for and commitment to rebuilding his country and restoring its 5,000 years of culture lost to struggle, trials and violence.
After dinner, the dancing and merriment went on into the wee hours. We are losing one of our group members in the morning. Susan from Florida had arranged with Cross Country International for a personalized itinerary, and has already been here for a week of riding, dining and hunting. She's been a delightful part of our group, and we will miss her.
Tomorrow? More riding, more (gulp) jumping and more of the beautiful Italian countryside atop a new cadre of fine and fit horses. And I'm only on Day 3!