Editor's Note: This is the third 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. 15, 2005 -- True confession No. 3: Today I woke up with a hangover and it had nothing to do with drinking. Muscles that are not even known by science are currently being discovered in my back and shoulders. Even my trusty seat saver could not shield me from the unavoidable result of too much riding. That's what I get for developing bad riding habits at home--Maria is making me do things right, and boy, can I feel it today.
The day dawned bright and blue, but the wind still whipped us about as we tried to take our lesson in the morning. Once again, we separated the group into jumpers and non-jumpers, and off we went.
Irish Willy was ready to browbeat us one last time, but our whining won out, and Maria took my group. "The jumps are too big," we complained, so she adjusted them, proving once again that size does matter.
I was less nervous today, though still scared, and every canter bump and every jump landing sent shock waves through my recalcitrant muscles. Still, I ended the lesson having jumped a small course of three obstacles without problems (other than of my own making), and, on that successful note, we concluded the riding ring portion of the day's events. Lunch was a welcome source of warmth and energy, and it was another delicious and memorable meal, served with flair by our clever waiter Alfredo.
Less than an hour later we were back aboard our horses for a longer hack over to Lake Martignano. On the way there, Maria allowed Jessica and me to try our new skills over some small jumps in the cross-country field. I was on a gigantic chestnut named John George who had hunted successfully a few days earlier so I thought I was in good hands. He plopped on over the fences without giving them another thought--just what I needed. Ironically, out in the field, with all sorts of potential crises ready to emerge everywhere, I had no fear of jumping. It was lovely, exciting and fun.
Despite the bitter cold, which got more intense the longer we rode, the scenery on the hilltops was spectacular. We watched horses playing in the fields, flocks of sheep moving across the hills and whitecaps on the surface of Lake Martignano. The day was so clear that we could see Rome far off in the valley. This was the essence of vacation: to stop, with no agenda, and marvel at every sound, every scent, to listen to the sound of the horse chewing the bit. To hear and see your own breath against the cold. Marvelous.
Getting close to nature in this way is exhilarating, but so is a hot shower, which I indulged in as soon as I returned to the hotel. A little while later I joined our group downstairs for some wine, conversation, another great meal and self-generated entertainment.
One of our riders had fallen in the morning lesson. She was rewarded for her bravery by Irish Willy who celebrated this rite of passage with a bottle of champagne. Another rider told us of her grandfather's saying: "If you're not falling down, you're not learning."
With the departure of Carol from yesterday and a visitor, Stacey, from Cross Country International who will leave tomorrow, we are down to our core group of four riders. We all have trepidation about jumping, although Jessica is by far the best and most confident. She did a great job on the little cross-country obstacles and even took a jump on the trail today. Me? I'm not sure. I really want to do this, but at this moment, history is still prevailing.
One last note. Over the last three days of riding, I've noticed that we are always followed by a pack of four to six dogs--hounds, mutts, a white fluffy something and a brindle mix. To watch these dogs run and play--up the hills, over the ditches, through the bushes, after the cattle--is like watching children play with complete abandon. The dogs and their antics are a constant reminder to live life to the max--just run and run with your tongue hanging out and a big smile on your face, until it's time to keel over and take a nap in the sun.