Tag Archives: horses

Centro Ippico Lombardo: Gara Sociale 1999

My daughter began riding at age eight at the Centro Ippico Lombardo, a stable and riding school near Milan’s San Siro stadium. This was around the same time I was starting to learn to shoot and edit my own video, so I was able to document some of her earliest events. Some of this old Read More…

My daughter began riding at age eight at the Centro Ippico Lombardo, a stable and riding school near Milan’s San Siro stadium. This was around the same time I was starting to learn to shoot and edit my own video, so I was able to document some of her earliest events. Some of this old video – in this case an informal “social” competition in 1999 – recently came to light, on some old CD-R discs – which are holding up just fine!

For those who wish to practice conversational Italian, the last clip in this playlist is the dinner we all took part in after the event.

A Home for a Horse

I mentioned long ago that my daughter and I both love horses, and that we’ve had one (for her) since 2001. Now, very sadly, we are having to say goodbye. Ross had already been riding for about four years when I finally decided (and had the opportunity) to buy her a pony of her own. Read More…

I mentioned long ago that my daughter and I both love horses, and that we’ve had one (for her) since 2001. Now, very sadly, we are having to say goodbye.

Ross had already been riding for about four years when I finally decided (and had the opportunity) to buy her a pony of her own. We went to England to look for one, because ponies are a lot cheaper there – even counting the cost of our trip and then transporting him to Italy, we paid about half what we would have in Milan. But the buying is only a small fraction of the cost of a horse…

In retrospect, it’s a sad irony that we found Hamish and agreed to buy him on September 8th, 2001. We returned to Milan on the 10th and, as everybody knows, the world changed on September 11th. Had I known then what I know now about the world economy and my personal finances, I probably would not have started down the path to horse ownership.

Back then, it didn’t seem so crazy. I had plenty of money in the bank from my Silicon Valley heyday, and the prospect of making more freelancing for my former employer, Roxio, writing manuals for their European software WinOnCD. (In fact I did write manuals for versions 5 and 6, and was set to do that and more for version 7, when Roxio closed its German office. WinOnCD – and many people’s jobs – vanished.)

We kept Hamish expensively at a snobby stable in Milan for two years. Ross rode a lot, but never won any show jumping competitions, in part because Hamish is… difficult. There are ponies that, if you more or less aim them at a jump, will do everything they can to get you over it and win for you, no matter how badly you ride them. Those sorts of ponies cost a lot, and Hamish isn’t one of them. He requires to be ridden very well, which Ross did, but not quite well enough.

We also had some friction with Ross’ riding instructor, I suspect partly motivated by the fact that we had not bought Hamish through her, so she didn’t get the customary cut on the purchase. Whatever the reason, this instructor had no patience with Hamish’s foibles, and kept nagging us to sell him and buy a better. Even had I had that kind of money (oh, say, $15,000), that was not the lesson I wanted my daughter to learn about horses and sportsmanship. To me the point was never “spend as much as it takes to win,” but to develop a loving, trusting relationship with an individual animal, and win whatever you can, together, in harmony and friendship.

God help me now, that loving, trusting relationship is exactly what Ross and Hamish had. She sometimes grew frustrated with his stubbornness, tired of feeling foolish in front of her peers at competitions, but she stuck by him and defended him, and was praised by some other parents tired of their kids’ endless (expensive) litany of “If I only had a better pony.”

By the time we moved to Lecco last summer, financing a horse was becoming a problem, and we all heaved a sigh of relief to be paying far less to keep him, at a place where he could even be out in a field every day. But we couldn’t find near Lecco a reasonably-priced stable which included professional instruction. And, now in high school, Ross has less and less time; as I’ve mentioned, her curriculum at liceo artistico requires a school week of 35 hours, which, along with homework, leaves little time for anything else.

Ross continued to ride as much as she could, until she broke her arm a year ago, falling off Hamish onto frozen ground. That put her out of action for several months. She rode a bit in the spring, then the remainder of the school year was a mess – between extra tutoring and lots of studying, there was simply no time. In the summer she was happily away at theater camp for six weeks, rode a bit when she came back, and then we were in the throes of moving again.

In sum, Hamish has been left largely to his own devices this year, and is now out to pasture, not being ridden, and increasingly unrideable. With the new house, family finances are squeezed to the point that we can’t afford to just keep him (at 12 years, he’s not quite in his prime, but nowhere near retirement, either), nor do we have the time or money to put into riding him the way he should be ridden. So we have come to a parting of the ways.

It’s far easier to acquire a horse than it is to get rid of one, if you care at all about where it ends up. It would be easy enough to sell him to a horse dealer, but he’d probably end up at a slaughterhouse – this is Europe: people eat horses, and wear them.

The solution we have found is a stable on Lago Maggiore, where some friends keep their horses and ride, and we know the owners fairly well. Most importantly, we like their attitude towards and handling of horses. They may eventually sell him (and we might even get a cut), but they won’t sell him off to just anybody. They’ll do their best to find a good home for him and, at worst, they’ll just keep him. Ross can even go and visit from time to time.

Hamish leaves tomorrow morning. It’s a horribly painful loss for Ross and me both. I wish I could spare my child this. I almost wish we’d never started. But, on the other hand, horses have given her so much, and can still give her so much more, and she them. I can’t regret it. I can only hang on, and help her to. This time tomorrow, it will be over, hopefully without any last-minute getting-Hamish-into-the-van traumas. It will be over, and Ross and I will have survived it. Somehow.

Rossella and Hamish: A Love Story

^ above: “Jump? What jump? I don’t see any jump.” video shot August 14, 2004 music copright Patrick Doyle; buy it here May 25, 2004 “Okay, I see it. But I ain’t jumping it!” “Whoa, did I jump that?” “Well, might as well do this one, too.” “And this one…” “…and this one and this Read More…

^ above: “Jump? What jump? I don’t see any jump.”

video shot August 14, 2004

music copright Patrick Doyle; buy it here

May 25, 2004

“Okay, I see it. But I ain’t jumping it!”

“Whoa, did I jump that?”

“Well, might as well do this one, too.”

“And this one…”

“…and this one and this one and this one…”

girls who love horses | home for a horse

Dancing Horses: The Lipizzaner Stallions

For Easter vacation we went to Vienna. There’s so much to do there that we barely got started; we’ll definitely have to go again. The highlight of the trip, fulfilling a 30-year dream for me, was seeing the Lipizzaner stallions perform at the Spanische Hofreitschule. The event fully lived up to my hopes and expectations. Read More…

For Easter vacation we went to Vienna. There’s so much to do there that we barely got started; we’ll definitely have to go again.

The highlight of the trip, fulfilling a 30-year dream for me, was seeing the Lipizzaner stallions perform at the Spanische Hofreitschule. The event fully lived up to my hopes and expectations.

For my non-horsey readers: the Lipizzaners are the famous “dancing” white stallions who perform highly skilled and specialized dressage, in a tradition dating back 400 years.

They generally perform only twice a week, and there aren’t very many places for spectators, so you need to book well in advance – I wandered onto their website in mid-February and snapped up the last three tickets for the Saturday before Easter. The site is confusing; had I realized at the time how much those seats were going to cost, I might not have booked. But then the email confirmation arrived saying that the reservation could not be canceled, so we decided, what the hell – once in a lifetime, it’s bound to be worth it. And it was.

It’s a beautiful show of acrobatics and athletics, but it’s also about the relationship between man and horse. At the Lipizzaner museum and in the show program notes, we learned that riders begin at age 16, first learning to ride on an experienced stallion. After four years or so, when and if he’s judged ready, a rider is given his own young horse to train, which will take another four years. Later still, he will be expected to train other riders and help them train their horses; part of the selection process includes an assessment of the rider’s ability to pass on what he knows. Throughout his career, a rider will be responsible for the same small group of horses ­ ideally, a horse is always ridden by the same rider, for up to 20 years.

So what you see is the result of a long-term partnership in which man and horse know each other very well. So well that the horses appear to perform their magic entirely of their own will ­ the rider’s signals are so subtle that you don’t see him move from his ramrod-straight position in the saddle. The most we observed was a twitch of the heel here and there.

The riders also keep very straight faces, almost never displaying any emotion or even a well-deserved sense of accomplishment. At the end of each exercise, the only sign that anyone’s been working hard (and they have been!) is that the horses are foaming at the mouth and the riders are red in the face.

There was one exception to the poker-face rule, one of the senior riders, who didn’t quite smile, but nonetheless looked kind. And Ross swears that, when his young horse was acting up (slightly) during the show, she saw him giggle. We agreed that he looks like someone you’d want to take riding lessons with.

Unfortunately, that’s a dream that Ross could never live, without a revolution: the Hofreitschule is totally a guy thing. The horses are all stallions, and the riders all men. As far as we could discover, there has never been a female rider. I’ll have to dig a little deeper and see whether the notion has ever crossed anyone’s mind.*

* Aug, 2006 – A reader wrote to point me to an article showing that women do indeed ride Lipizzaners – but in South Africa, not Vienna.

photo above: the performance hall, rightly called the world’s most beautiful manege

Photo Gallery: Austria, 2004

From a family trip, the highlight of which (for me) was seeing the Lipizzaner stallions at the Spanish Riding School. You might also like: Centro Ippico Lombardo: Gara Sociale 1999 A Home for a Horse Dancing Horses: The Lipizzaner Stallions Girls Who Love Horses

From a family trip, the highlight of which (for me) was seeing the Lipizzaner stallions at the Spanish Riding School.