the equestrian chronicles part I

What are horse dreams made of? When I was a little girl on family drives in the countryside, I would imagine myself astride a magnificent horse galloping alongside the car. The horse’s mane, tail and my own long hair flew behind us.

I come from a family of horse people. On school holidays my father was sent from his provincial town to stay at his aunt’s boarding house in Havana so that he could study horsemanship at the Spanish Equestrian School. My father was an expert horseman and he loved Palominos most of all. He had at least two that I know of. His favorite was a giant stallion named Napoleon.

Top from left: Camelia's grandfather; great grandfather and grandfather; great grand mother. Bottom from left: Camelia's grandmother; grandfather; grandfather with great uncles. Cuba

Top from left: Camelia’s grandfather; great grandfather carrying grandfather; great grandmother (on left). Bottom from left: Camelia’s grandmother (on left); grandfather; grandfather (on left_ with great-great uncles. Cienfuegos, Cuba

Growing up, my father told me horse stories and I wove all of them into dreams of Palominos and the dappled greys that I loved the best. But they remained fantasies because I was a city child. Sometimes on birthdays I would be driven to a stables in the outskirts of the city and treated to a trail ride.

When my father told his horse stories to his grandchildren, only one of them heard. It was my oldest Camelia who clung to his every word and wove her own horse fantasies. She was the one who got her friends to play “Black Beauty” in kindergarten and read every book in the series by the fourth grade. Camelia wore out the videotapes of the “Horse in the Grey Flannel Suit” and “National Velvet”.  As a city child growing up in Loisaida, Camelia’s horse dreams were just like mine, only fantasies – not attainable, really.

Things changed one very boring weekend in late winter when we were feeling the cooped-upness of February. It was dull and snowless and everything was brown. Over my morning coffee I decided an outing ought to be taken. Maybe I could take them to a real stable for a proper riding lesson. Camelia had never been on a horse outside of the occasional school street fair pony and in her own horse dreams. We found Frog Hollow Farm and at the age of seven, Camelia sat for her first lesson in her blue jeans on the stalwart school pony Ludwig.

That was when Camelia’s horse dreams changed from being images on a TV screen and in her mind’s eye into the real smells of leather and horse sweat, and the mastering of skills.

Camelia at HITS on the Hudson and Wellington, FL

Camelia at HITS on the Hudson and Wellington, FL

In the summers my parents sat on a grassy knoll in old wrought iron armchairs overlooking the outdoor rink to watch Camelia in her dark green riding breeches.
Her grandfather would watch the only child of his line to have realized her horse dreams. I could see the pride and satisfaction in his green eyes. His gaze intent on horse and rider, he would smile softly and nod approvingly as we sat under the shade tree. In her training he saw his training and it continued, this ancient connection to the horse.

At the age of fourteen, Camelia became a working student where the trade was work in exchange for riding lessons. All through high school, Camelia would rise every Saturday morning before dawn to catch a bus to the farm, and returned home on Sunday evening. She did her homework on the bus ride. I used to joke that she had the discipline of a Marine. She would surf the internet for horses that were for sale. Often, while cooking dinner, I would hear her yell “Mom, come look at this one, what a beauty!”

I missed her when she went to the farm on the weekends and then as she grew older for longer periods of time during summer vacations. But I let her go, because I understood this horse dream. My daughter has a gift. Maybe this gift is in the blood. She is after all, only one generation removed from people who were physically connected to the horse for centuries. People who sat astride horses from toddlerhood until they died or could not get out of bed.

Camelia Montalvo is a dressage instructor and trainer in New York. At the time of this writing, she was a working student for Jennifer Baumert of Cloverlea Dressage in Wellington, FL for the winter season.