Editor's Note: This is the fifth 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. 17, 2005 -- I did not come to Italy for Valentine's Day intending to meet a prince or fall in love, but True Confession No. 5 is that I've done both. Only not with the Prince Mir Wais of Afghanistan or Irish Willy.
When I walked in the barn this morning, Enigma poked his head out of his stall, pricked up his ears and nickered at me. When was the last time a male of any species seemed so happy to see me? Out on the trail today, with the wind rattling the bushes and blowing debris around, he was rock solid. He never pitches a fit, refuses, sulks, balks, complains or pins his ears. He will do anything and everything I ask, all with a happy twinkle in his eye. Of course the most important thing of all is that he takes care of me. I know that he will get me over those blasted fences without harm. I'm in love with Enigma!
What a day today. Jessica had a private lesson this morning and was excited about her progress in jumping and flatwork. Later on, she and I were fortunate enough to be invited by Maria and Stefano to accompany them out in the fields with the hounds. I thought this would be good practice for tomorrow. Once again I rode the enormous John George who got a little perkier once he heard Stefano blow the horn.
As we trotted out of the yard, Maria smiled at me and said, "There's no way to make this pretty, I'm afraid." Moments later I knew what she meant. Having never seen the spectacle of hounds on the run, it was quite a lot of sensory overload--the hounds barking, Maria and Stefano barking orders, John George hopping about, and Jessica explaining to me what I needed to do.
Initially, it felt a little like herding cats, but gradually I saw the order of things, and even figured out how to help. I mentioned earlier that John George is big. Actually, he resembles a Humvee, and he has all the grace of a Sumo wrestler. So try to imagine me galumphing along on this creature, yelling in English at hounds who only understand Italian and just generally being inefficient at the whole thing. It was such a blast!
After lunch, Maria took Jessica, Dianne and me on a lovely hack in the countryside. Our ultimate destination was the barn where the goats and sheep are kept. Reunited with Enigma, I savored every moment of the crystal clear air, the budding mimosa trees, the birds and even the sounds of the horses as they made their way along the paths.
There is one place in I due Laghi where riders crest a hill between the two lakes. I have seen it every day, yet every day it is different and every day it almost brings tears to my eyes. The undulations of the land and the variations in greens and browns are so compelling that you simply cannot breathe for a moment. It is an image I will never forget.
We rode new trails today on a circuitous route to the goat barn to see where the farm makes its cheese. We left the horses to graze while we visited the lambs, the full-grown goats and the kids. Maria showed us how the goats are milked (very efficient and sterile, and it only takes about 10 minutes per goat), and then showed us through the vats and the refrigerators to a room where the freshly made ricotta cheese was doing whatever it is supposed to do before we eat it tonight at dinner.
Back at the hotel, we realized--sadly--that this had been our last hack. Since tomorrow's hunt will be an entirely different experience, today's ride was our final amble through the hills. We talked of how relaxing our time here has been, that it feels as if we have been away from our cares for a month, that everything is so easy and unstructured, and yet anything you want is there for you if you just ask.
One of my compliments to I due Laghi is that everyone seems to be working harmoniously in a true team environment. Being a CEO in my real life, I know how elusive and difficult this is to achieve. The barn crew is phenomenal, the hotel staff is so accommodating, our waiters know us by name, and even our horses recognize us now.
I am looking forward with only a little trepidation to tomorrow's hunt. I know I'll do fine with Maria and Jessica by my side. I may not sleep tonight, but if I do, I'll dream of winged horses and the courage I'll need to carry me through.