Cowboys in Tuscany

The Culprits
The Culprits

All Americans are not cowboys, but sometimes we think we are.  This story comes from the summer when a group of us rented a villa outside Panzano, Italy for a week.   The villa was on a working farm.

The owners lived in the other wing of the house and grew grapes and olives.  They had two little girls and an extremely friendly dog who loved to visit at mealtimes.  They also kept a couple of horses, Oskar and Luna, for riding. Our group enjoyed looking at the rolling hills  and watching the horses graze while we sat on the terrace sipping wine.

One day half the group went to San Gimignano.  The rest of us decided to have a lazy day at the villa’s pool.  Sally had broken a bone in her foot six weeks before we left for Italy.  She had walked through Rome, Florence and Siena in an orthotic boot, so she thought a day at the pool would be a nice break.

Sally, Scott, Nancy and I were sitting on the terrace reading and relaxing when  we heard a clopping sound.  Oskar and Luna were standing in the yard looking at us, and the fence was down.  Sally jumped up and caught both horses by their halters, while I tried to find some rope so we could tie them up.  There was no rope to be found, so Scott closed the farm’s electric gate to keep them from straying onto the road.  The owners were away in Florence for the day, so Nancy called them on their mobile phone and reported the problem.

Oskar and Luna were patient with us, but they didn’t stand still, and they had big, heavy hooves.  One of them shifted his weight and stepped on Sally’s broken foot!  She yelled and let him go.  The horses drifted to the front yard, and Sally put an ice pack on her foot.

Then a real Italian cowboy arrived, on a motorbike.  The owners had called him to come fix the fence and get the horses in.  He had a ponytail and a tan, and wore cargo shorts, sunglasses, and hiking boots.  He was quite handsome.  He said something like, “Los cavallos escapa,” and we said, “Si, si.”

The horses had broken their water pipe and were thirsty.  So our cowboy fixed the pipe, repaired the fence, put the horses back in their field, and buzzed off on his motorbike.

Fortunately Sally’s foot was only bruised, not broken again.  She elevated it and daydreamed about the cowboy.

Girls and Horses

When I was a child, I wanted a pony or a horse so bad I could taste it.  I was obnoxious.  I read “The Black Stallion,” “Misty of Chincoteague,” and that dreadful sentimental tearjearker whose name I forget, about the carriage horse that gradually sank to pulling a coal cart (this was in England) and was rescued by an early member of the Humane Society.  Was that “Black Beauty”?

I collected glass figurines of horses and then some kind of high-class plastic ones which cost way too much money for what they were.  When I fractured a vertebra in my back (a story for another day) at 10 years old and was in the hospital for a week, my cousin Marvel baked a chocolate cake the day I came home, and topped it with a glass Palomino with a saddle and bridle.  That’s how far gone I was, and how public it was in my family.

What is it about girls and horses?  Putting aside the obvious sexual imagery (and please, I beg you to do that), I think it’s all about control of emotion and empathy for a larger, more dangerous other.  And it’s also that horses have big eyes, lots of emotion and not much in the brains department.  Kinda like men 🙂

I went to see “War Horse” last week.  It was both a beautiful, sweeping story of a boy and his horse, and a powerful antiwar message.  I highly recommend it.  You need to see this movie on a big screen–you cannot get the sweep and majesty of it on a DVD.

Why do horses move us so?  They have been noble creatures from their earliest days, painted in caves in France.  There’s a whole nomenclature in heroic statuary in which the horse’s pose indicates the rider’s accomplishments or nobility.  Yes, in an equestrian statue, there is a message if all four feet are on the ground, or one front foot is raised, or the horse is rearing on its hind feet.

This from Wikipedia (accuracy to be confirmed):  Hoof-position symbolism

A popular belief in the United States is that if the horse is rampant (both front legs in the air), the rider died in battle; one front leg up means the rider was wounded in battle or died of battle wounds; and if all four hooves are on the ground, the rider died outside battle. However, there is little evidence to support this belief.

But how strange and rich that we impose those beliefs!  Horses carry a lot of freight, and a lot of weight.