THE FIRST TIME WE MET MIRIAM,
MY SWEET DUTCH FRIEND
I remember the first time Miriam picked us up in her four-wheel drive.
The tall, smiley girl with wavy brown hair started talking to me in a strong Dutch-accented English, telling us about how she had uprooted herself from the Netherlands and ended up in Buenos Aires, working as a horse-riding trainer after quitting her prior job at the Dutch embassy.
With a sheepish grin and a twinkle in her eyes, Miriam looked at me when we stopped at a traffic junction.
“I like horses and I was getting sick of my previous job – so now I do what I love.”
It’s hard not to find yourself warming up to someone who opens up so fast to you, someone who told me in a single sentence that she was willing to give up job stability to take a risk, one which eventually led to her living her dream, teaching others how to ride horses and working with horses every day of her life.
Between snippets of conversation, and a half hour later, we’d reached the stables, which were tucked just outside the capital city, on the way to La Plata. Despite the short car journey, Miriam’s cheerful, jovial personality already made me feel like we were friends.
CABALLOS A LA PAR
At the stables, we were greeted by Adrian, the other horse-riding trainer.
Wearing a checkered shirt tucked neatly into his faded blue jeans, the tall Argentine was an imposing figure with his booming voice and impressive height, but his large smile and huge round eyes soon helped us to break the ice.
I’d stumbled upon Caballos A La Par through TripAdvisor (the travel guide website that I’ve come trust), when I was planning my sister Valerie’s itinerary for her trip to Buenos Aires in 2011. It was rated among the top activities to do in Buenos Aires, and while the price seemed a little steep, I thought it would be worth a shot.
“Caballos A La Par” basically refers to horse riding side by side, and is a common horse riding terminology in Spanish. According to Adrian, the reason why he had chosen this name was because it represented the fact that the trainers are always near by the people riding horses, showing their dedication and careful guidance.
I’ll be honest – I’m not a big fan of animals, so when Val told me she wanted to go horse riding, I decided to go with her to accompany her. I didn’t expect myself to actually fall in love with riding horses, and be so welcomed by Miriam’s and Adrian’s hospitality. More than that, I was completely taken by surprise that in just a couple of lessons I’d started to enjoy the rhythm of trotting, and then even delighting in the thrill of cantering. Even so, I still had a fear of going too fast on horses – perhaps it’s to do with my fear of speed, although my love for roller coasters is somewhat of an outlier.
That was in September 2011, and in a blink of an eye, here we are now, two years later.
With Valerie and my mum visiting me in Buenos Aires again, we headed back to Caballos a La Par, this time with Juan, to a new property Miriam and Adrian had bought – an upgrade from the previously rented stables.
The stables were situated off the beaten track, in the small town of Villa Elisa, and Miriam had warned me that the address might not be detected by all GPS systems.
Just to be sure, she had given me detailed instructions for us to drive there even without any GPS. The lengthy paragraph of directions ended with the following phrase –“Follow that road for about a kilometer and you will see us on the left side. It’s the only place with a house with two floors and a green roof. And you will see the horses of course.”
Twenty minutes on the expressway and a few kilometers later, Juan turned his Volkswagen Golf right into a tiny dirt path and we eventually reached the entrance of the new stables.
Val and I were both very excited to see Miriam again. You see, I hadn’t seen her since we met up for a quick coffee in 2012, and even still, it felt like I was re-uniting with an old friend, and well, Val hadn’t seen her since 2011.
This is Miriam with my sis and my mum. Don’t they look so happy?
As was the custom with them, we caught up over biscuits and hot mate, a traditional South American infused drink made from the dried yerba mate leaves and which is typically drunk from a calabash gourd using a metal straw.
It was my mum’s first serious horse riding lesson, and I could tell from her apprehensive look that she wasn’t exactly keen on mounting a horse and cantering. But after some prodding and persuasion on our part, she eventually gave in, although still unconvinced.
The new stables were impressive, and could easily house around 16 horses. Julio, the appointed caretaker at the stables, had made sure to keep them clean and neat.
There, I was reunited with Indio, the brown-and-white patched horse that I’d ridden two years ago.
“The important thing to is be in control. Horses know when you are not in control, and they will take over if they sense fear,” Adrian warned us in his loud voice once we got on our horses.
While I knew he was advising my mum in particular, I knew it was good advice even for the rest of us. In particularly, for me, because I’d remembered the fear with which I’d gripped onto the reins the last time Indio started moving a little too fast for my comfort.
This time it was different though.
When I mounted Indio, stroking him gently and speaking to him as if he understood me (and in English!) it seemed I’d lost all traces of fear that I remembered from the previous sessions two years ago.
I easily fell into rhythm when Indio started trotting along the dirt path towards the nature reserve where we’d have our lessons; and when it was time for us to loosen the reins and canter, it was not fear that gripped my heart – rather, it was adrenaline that coursed through my veins and thrill that I felt.
During the whole while, I kept looking back at my mum, who was a few meters behind us.
At first, her face was frozen in some sort of anxious fear; you could tell she was afraid of not being able to control Isabel, the black and white horse that looked like a cow in disguise.
Yet as the minutes rolled by, and with every new trot and step, my mum’s face eventually relaxed and she even broke into a smile, waving her hands at the camera Adrian was holding as she cantered.
Valerie was having a ball of a time on Bandida, a beautiful dark brown horse whose fur shone brilliantly in the sun.
And Juan, whose childhood love for horses never diminished, had developed a soft spot for his white horse, Lindo.
Doesn’t he look all manly and “gaucho” (Argentine cowboy) here?
We’re heading back again this Saturday, and a few more times.
If you’ve never ridden a horse, take the leap and do it. It’s an incredibly amazing experience.
Here’s a lovely video of my sister cantering! I hope you enjoy it! I did![youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w5R8fR72kGg&w=560&h=315]