As soon as we arrived in Santander, at the end of January, I started looking for a horse to ride. After a couple of wild goose chases looking for riding stables that didn't exist, one day in March I met a man in the elevator with a huge basket of bread. I asked him who it was for, expecting to hear 'the ducks', but instead he said 'the horses.' I responded the way I've always done when anyone mentions horses. What horses? Where are they? And, Can I ride them? It turned out to be my lucky day: The horses belonged to his friend, Astrid, they were close, and yes, I could.
|with Sombra, May 23, 2013|
The riding stable is in Mortera, a 10 minute train ride from Santander, out in the beautiful Cantabrian countryside. Astrid is a lovely lady from Holland of about my age. She speaks four languages fluently, breeds Welsh mountain ponies, and owns a stable of show jumpers that compete all around Cantabria. One of them is 'my' horse; Sombra. She's a beautiful dappled grey mare, 15.2, and perfect for me. (At the official Cantabria showjumping website you can see pictures from the latest show jumping competitions. You might even spot Sombra!)
|With Robin, summer 1971|
A few months later, it became clear that the two pounds a week wasn't accumulating quickly enough, and access to larger amounts of money remained stubbornly out of reach. However, I had confidence that 'where there's a will, there's a way.' I formed a club, the sole purpose of which was to raise money to buy Robin, and enlisted my 7-year-old sister Caroline to join. The name of the club was, predictably enough, The Robin Club. Despite my best efforts with the rest of the family, the club membership remained at two. In our meetings, we designed a top secret code in which every letter of the alphabet was represented by a horse related symbol (for example, a sideways horseshoe was C, and a riding hat was S). We made a banner, and using colored pieces of felt, glue, and scissors, we 'wrote' The Robin Club on it using the symbols. Unfortunately, impressive as this banner was as a work of art, it didn't do much to advance the goals of the club.
The first fundraising scheme of the R.C. was selling all our books. Caroline was reluctant, so I had to explain that membership in the club, while a great privilege, came with certain responsibilities. Sacrifices would sometimes be needed. We wouldn't have time to read anyway once we got Robin, I reasoned. It would all be worth it in the end, I assured her. So one Saturday morning we took all our books -- representing years of Christmas and birthday presents from our many relatives -- put them in a wheelbarrow, and wheeled them down to the second-hand bookseller in the Wells market. He gave us 3 pounds for the lot of them. Disappointing, because we had a lot of good ones, but there it was. I would have to come up with another idea. (The books mysteriously re-appeared in our house later that weekend. My mother never said a word about it, but I suspect she had given the bookseller a piece of her mind).
|40 years later, Dad and me, 2011|
First, he noted that I had added in all of his additional costs, and approved my estimated totals in the expenses column. Then we looked at revenue. I had three columns. The first was my paper round earnings. The second was projected income from giving pony rides. The third revenue column I had titled 'DSD.' What's this? he asked. Ah, I said. Well, I said, 'DSD' means 'Dear Sweet Dad.' He smiled, but I knew It was no good; I knew I was doomed. I realized that I had always known it. Yet, somehow I was smiling too because suddenly I had started to feel like a grown up. My Dad may not have known much about horses, but it turns out he knew a thing or two about being a Dad.
|With Nipper, Sonky, and Domino, 1973|
|Christine, summer 1994, Camp Dovewood, Florida|
Since then, (i.e. over the last 40 years or so) I've done hardly any riding, although I've tried to introduce my children to the love of horses when I could. Left is a picture of Christine, age 11, at a Florida summer camp which I chose for her specifically because it had riding. She looks pretty happy with her horse!
So, back to 2013 . . . I've been riding Sombra twice a week for two months now, and this week when Christine was visiting us in Santander, we went riding together. She rode Sombra's friend, Vega. Here we all are ...
|Me and Sombra, Astrid, Christine and Vega|
|Mortera, near Santander; May 23, 2013|