By Shen Lee Han
I smiled and nodded, as all manner of condescending thoughts floated across my mind. I mean, come on, if those dinky little fellows at the racetracks can do it, I’m sure it can’t be all that difficult.
I slid my foot into the stirrup and got on the saddle easily enough. Wearing my cowboy hat, I felt like a regular Gaucho. It was time to go galloping around the countryside, introductory lesson be damned.
The only problem was, my horse wasn’t budging. I tried loosening the reins but Isabel remained firmly rooted to the ground. Barking Giddy Up didn’t seem to work either, despite its seeming ease in getting horses to move in old John Wayne movies.
Adrian swung over on his majestic Arabian horse.
“You’ve got to kick start the horse. She’s like a car. You’ve got to get her to go Vroom Vroom” he said in his heavily accented English.
“Like this!” he demonstrated, digging his heels into what I imagine to be the very sore ribcage of his horse in emphatic fashion.
I winced. Poor Isabel and I weren’t going to be ‘kick starting’ off on very friendly terms. Following his lead, I repeated the action.
When Isabel continued to just stand there, I realized that it would take some time to get used to being on a horse.
* * * *
Although every traveler secretly has it bookmarked on their browser, nobody admits to using Tripadvisor anymore. Any travel credibility you may have is instantly crushed once you mention the dreaded T-word. Independent travelers are supposed to forge their own paths, and get off the beaten track. They certainly don’t go around following the leads of others, researching the 195 reviews of the 1st of 204 Things To Do in Buenos Aires.
Naturally, I don’t use Tripadvisor.
I was looking for a place to go for a horseback riding lesson and came across Caballos A La Par entirely by chance. I set up an appointment for the following day and psyched myself for my lesson. I was finally going to get to ride a horse.
The next day, I was raring to go. Adrian and his lovely partner Marian inducted my wife and I into their pre-riding ritual of having a round of maté (a traditional South American infused herbal beverage).The Argentineans love their sugar, and increased risk of diabetes aside, the reasoning Adrian gives me for the extremely sweet (yet strangely refreshing) maté hits home with me – Argentineans are sweet people and everything in their culture reflects this. The drinks are sweet. The pastries are sweet. Even the dogs are sweet as evidenced by the ranch dog that rolls over so I can scratch his belly when I walk close by.
As I get ready for my lesson, I’m certain that the nature of the horses here won’t deviate too much from the Argentinean ideal.
* * * *
I was getting a little frustrated. Isabel would be following my directions perfectly for the whole of 5 minutes before she’d stop and refuse to move. I had paid close attention during the brief lesson before we set off and I was doing everything as instructed. I was holding the reins properly, maintaining posture and keeping my feet in the correct position. So why wasn’t I galloping across the reserve like I was supposed to?
Once again, Adrian comes to my rescue.
“Shorten the reins but don’t hold her back. You’ve got to give her freedom to move. You have to control the horse but give her space at the same time. ¿Entiende” he imparts sagely, his delivery of knowledge nearly Yodaesque in its simplicity.
“Sì.” I respond gravely, playing the part of the prodigious disciple.
It takes me a while but I eventually find that sweet spot where I’m controlling Isabel without holding her back. Adrian comes by every so often to give tips and pointers. Before I know it, I’m cantering across the endless grassy field, my heart pounding as the wind gushes against my face.
I learn to maintain a quick trot. Adrian pushes me to go slightly faster on the canter. With a few additional tweaks, he gets me to canter without holding the reins! It seems borderline amazing what this man manages to teach a city slicker in one lesson.
He manages to thread that fine line between being exacting without being pushy. Obviously passionate about teaching, he makes it a point to squeeze as much as he can from the few short hours we have together. It’s no wonder that he maintains a well deserved reputation as the ‘Horse Whisperer’ of Buenos Aires.
The day passes by too quickly. It’s not usually like me to be so effusive but this has been one of the most exhilarating things I have done in years.
‘What A Rush’ probably isn’t the best way to describe the moment but it’s the first thing that comes to mind. The second thing that comes to mind is that I have to come back for my next lesson one day.
About the Author
Lee Shen Han is currently spending most of his time traveling around South America. He writes mainly as part of a coordinated vanity project to preserve his travel memories. He’s pretentious that way. You can read more about his exploits in www.knackpacker.com.