Sunday, December 05, 2010

Argentina - November 11th - Buenos Aires

Warning: This is a very long post. I know. It's because I had such a fantastic time that I didn't want to miss out on a single detail. 

By far the best experience I had during my Argentina trip was the horse riding lesson I had at Caballos A La Par. I'd come across them while a Google search which led me to all the glowing reviews on TripAdvisor, and contacted them prior to leaving. At the time, I was leaning towards going horse riding on my last day in Salta as I had nothing planned that day, and I thought the scenery would be prettier, but decided on Caballos A La Par because of all the reviews. As luck would have it, I fell ill with a terrible cold while in Salta so I was in no shape to do anything strenuous.

The night - or should I say the early morning - before I was due to go horse riding, I'd ended up sleeping incredibly late because I'd been up chatting with my room-mates. Stuff like that happens when you're on vacation. I'd had just about four hours of sleep, was still suffering from the cold, hadn't yet recovered my voice, and just had enough time to grab breakfast, go to the ATM, and set off to meet Adriàn from Caballos A La Par in San Telmo where he was going to pick me up and drive the 30 minute drive to La Plata where we would be having our lesson.

I was a little late to meet Adriàn. Upon spotting him, I dashed across the road. The first thing he said to me was, "From the way you run, I can tell you will be a good rider." I hadn't a clue what he meant, and just went, "Ooookay." Then he said, "You need to trust me. If I ask you to do something, it is because I know you can do it. I will not ask you to do something if you cannot."

As it turned out, Caballos A La Par was located at the Parque Provincial Pereyra Iraola, a UNESCO biosphere reserve. Very nice. I was also the only customer for the afternoon, so I would be getting Adriàn all to myself. In any case, Adriàn usually doesn't teach groups of larger than three people, as he wants to make sure people receive the amount of attention they deserve. I was introduced to my horse, 7-year-old Indio. Adriàn would be riding Caramelo, a much bigger specimen of a horse.

And off we went. First, he taught me how to control the horse using the reins and how to stand in the stirrups (by using my thighs to propel me up and forward to lean against the saddle). He also instructed me on what to remember throughout the ride - to always keep my eyes forward, even when ducking under branches, to sit up straight, and to prevent the horse from eating or turning the way it wants to go. The horse needs to know who's in control: you. He also told me not to be afraid of kicking the horse or using the whip to get it to go faster. After all, at 500 kgs, it's going to take a lot of force from a person of my size in order to seriously hurt it.

After some riding - all side-by-side, never being led by Adriàn, as that's what "A La Par" means - it was time for the thrilling part: learning how to canter. I love the thrill of speed even as I'm frightened by it, so I wasn't too certain how I'd react. That, and going faster on horseback tends to hurt as you bounce up and down in the saddle more. I may have an incredible amount of padding, but it still hurts.

And boy was it fun. After a couple of good canters - ones in which I managed to get in sync with the bouncing by moving my hips forward as Indio galloped - Adriàn then said it was time for me to do it without the reins.

Yes, that's right. Without the reins. I don't drive, but I'd imagine it's like being asked to drive a car without using the steering wheel.

Apparently, it's all in the body weight, balance and knees. And I did it, having a whale of a time as I followed his instructions. In the video Adriàn took of me, you can hear my gleeful laughter as I'm riding, as well as Adriàn's words of praise (and a very faint "thank you!" yelled back as I'm galloping off).

Once I'd completed a few successful rein-less canters, we stopped to rest. Adriàn dismounted from Caramelo, and then turned around and said, "Okay, now, stand up." I got up to dismount, and heard him say, "No. Stand UP."

"What? On the saddle?!"

"Yes. You have to trust me."

So, I slowly stood on Indio's saddle, each foot planted on either side of the saddle. I was terrified.

He took photos from different angles, and, just as I thought I could get down, he walked over to ask for my camera.

I swore in fear. He laughed, taught me what to do in case Indio moved (apparently, just open my legs a little wider and fall straight down into the saddle, just like in the westerns), and walked off to take some more photos.

Those photos are my favourite of the 1,500+ photos I took. I look so freakin' badass that it never fails to put a smile on my face.

After that, he asked if I'd like to continue riding Indio or if I wanted to switch horses. I'm always up for a challenge, so I decided to switch to much larger Caramelo, who turned out to be a lot more difficult to control. Still, I managed to do a relatively decent job of it but had to switch back to Indio a while later. I learnt later that Caramelo was a new horse, one that Adriàn had bought a week ago, so I really had been doing quite well. Woo! I was well on my way to being a horse whisperer in addition to being a hoarse whisperer (get it? I'd lost my voice... oh never mind).

We did a couple more high-speed canters with loads of turns, and then it was time for one last gallop as we returned to the stables. Adriàn told me to gallop straight down the path, and I did, at high speed. Adriàn later told me that this was the best part for him because it showed him that I'd taken his tutelage well, and had well and truly learned how to control a horse.

It was now time for some treats. Adriàn had bought a massive load of Argentine pastries for me to eat, and I eagerly devoured quite a few of them. He made me a cup of hot chocolate (my request) and we had an amazing conversation for the next hour or so about life, the universe and everything. I said I wished I'd come earlier, so that I would have had the time to return before leaving for London. Adriàn said he wished I could come back too, as he could teach me so much more given how good I was. I pointed at the photo of him doing showjumping, and, said, "I could do that, yes?" "Err..." was his reply. Hee.

Then it was time for me to say goodbye to the horses, and for Adrian to drive me back to Buenos Aires.

In the car, Adriàn told me that what he'd found amazing was that I had a real positive energy about me, one which made others around me happy. From the time he'd picked me up till now, he'd noticed I hadn't stopped smiling at all. I was astounded as I was tired even before the lesson began, and said so. Adriàn then said, "I cannot imagine you when you are not tired. For me now, you are perfect, so if you are not tired, then... no!"


And then he called me a "monstruo" which means "monster" in English. Apparently, that's the term Argentines use when they're referring to someone who's awesome and outstanding. Not just because of the horse riding and how fast I'd picked it up, but because of everything else.

Someone else had told me I was such a joy to be around a few days before. Having someone tell me that again, and someone as worldly as Adriàn no less, made me feel pretty damn good.

And that concluded the best day of my vacation. Hell, it's probably one of the best days I've had this year. Who would have thought a three hour horse riding lesson would have given me so much more than just exercise?

And, no, my butt only stopped hurting three days later.

Caballos A La Par is owned and run by Adriàn Di Stefano. You can contact him at, and read about all the fun others have had here.

No comments: