“Ride into the fence,” the Italian cowboy shouted at me. Thinking this instruction must be lost in translation, I looked at him doubtfully before half-heartedly sliding to a stop at a 45 degree angle, turning the horse and lolloping off the other way. I thought I’d done quite well – my kids’ pony would never have been so nifty.
“NO!!” he roared again. “Ride into the fence!” After another unsuccessful attempt, and a demo, I understood that I really did have to gallop directly at the fence. At the last millisecond I had to lift my legs off and shout whoa, bringing the horse to an immediate sliding stop, then swing around 180 degrees and put my legs back on to gallop off. I have done similar before, but never intentionally: only when my horse was running away from a jump.
Channelling a bit of cowboy attitude, I finally cracked the rollback. A legitimate cowboy move. The Italian cowboy nodded his approval and pointed out my skidmarks. Admittedly I was little more than a passenger on a briliantly programmed horse, but I was still euphoric.
Tuscany hadn’t summoned up images of cowboys. When I booked the horse riding at the Castelfalfi estate, I envisioned myself cantering across the lush, undulating countryside, enjoying the big skies and views of vines. So it came as something of a surprise to turn up at Il Gelsomino and be greeted by an Italian dressed in jeans, cowboy hat, boots and spurs, presiding over a stable full of Quarter Horses and Western saddles. Hacking was an option, but learning to ride like a cowboy was just too tempting.
The Italian cowboy, like many horsey people, tells it like it is. I particularly liked the sign outside the toilet: “Scrape the shit off your shoes first.” Lessons are only part of what he does, he’s big on the cowboy circuit, taking part in demonstrations and competitions and is both the world reining and world cutting champion.
For someone used to riding English style, it was a great challenge to try the Western way. All levels can be catered for: even if you just want to walk you can learn to turn the horse in tiny circles.
The hour lesson was exhilarating and quite long enough: I ached for several days after. Such fun and highly recommended!