Jerez de la Frontera is famous for horses, wine and flamenco, and that day we missed only the flamenco.
My third day in Real Escuela started with three more lessons. As always with horses, everything is more difficult than it seems. So I’m in the process of a slow transition from being a passenger on a world-class, know-it-all, cruise-control horse to actually riding and improving my skills. Everything which was good (or “Super!” as Joaquín likes to says) yesterday is not good enough today.
Ok, the horse does Spanish walk, but it’s not enough as he doesn’t stretch his legs fully; ok, you are doing tempi changes (that’s cute), but the horse is not entirely collected; your horse should be straight and he is about 5 degrees to the left, and so on and so on. But this is how I like it – Try. Rethink. Repeat. This is how I’m learning the best.
Now piaffe is the only thing Joaquín is happy about. “Super! Super!” he says to every tact. “Tomorrow in the show!” While I perfectly understand that “tomorrow in the show” applies more to Tematico than to me, I cannot help but smile blissfully.
With Ricado we started to work on walk pirouettes, but so far it feels like we are talking different languages. I tend to overuse my hands and Ricado gets his revenge by doing tiny circles instead of actual pirouettes.
As a third horse today, I got Elegido. Despite not having that admirable long mane and his tail cut very short, he is still an amazing looking horse.
Now a few words about why he looks so different. Elegido specializes in doma Vaquera. This style of riding takes its roots from the battle fields and bullfighting. So in order to reduce the amount of time riders will dedicate to keeping their horses clean. they started to pull horses manes short and clip tails just slightly below the tail muscle. Horses’ forelocks are shaved, but in order to repel annoying insects they are substituted with a brow strap with a “leather fringe”. Nowadays, these artificial fringes are also made of silk or (ironically) horse hair. And you can find some finest examples of fringes on the second floor of the school’s famous tack room.
The horses’ appearance is not the only thing differentiating doma Vaquera from standard dressage. The saddles are also completely different.
A saddle for doma Vaquera is called a ‘packsaddle’, and it’s considered to be the grand-father of modern American cowboys’ saddles. To be honest I still cannot say which saddle is more comfortable. The doma Vaquera one is softer to sit on, but these huge metal stirrups (useful for leg protection, of course) are kind of slippery and don’t feel right (which is funny because while riding with standard irons, I have a tendency to ram my feet too far into stirrups, but as soon as I get an opportunity to “legally” do it, it feels terribly uncomfortable. Yeah, I’m such a fine example of human beings being contradictory creatures).
After the lessons we were invited to visit Tio Pepe bodega, the place where the best Spanish Sherry is produced. By the way the word “sherry” itself is a derivative from the name of the city Jerez. Traditions of this wine production go back to Ancient Greece. Surprisingly, vineyards managed to stay intact even during the period of Muslim dominance. The reason to keep growing grapes was that raisins are full of sugar and good for soldiers (a bit of a lame excuse from my point of view, but thanks to this, these few-thousand-year-old wine recipes still exist :-)
The bodega looks like a museum of wine and has been visited by many famous people. As part of their visits, they normally sign the barrel of wine, so the place looks like huge 3D autograph book.
I’m not a big expert in wines, so don’t expect me to write about bouquet, aftertaste and all that stuff here, but I strongly recommend you try Croft when you are in Jerez.
Another feature of this bodega is that they treat the mice living there with the sweet wine. Every day the bodega’s staff fills a glass with the wine the mice prefer (apparently, they’ve done some research on it) and even set a tiny wooden ladder for them. I don’t know if it’s about time to call the local SPCA, but the mice seem to enjoy the wine as when we came the glass was half empty. (Oops! Now you know that I’m a pessimist. :-))
Anyway, it’s about a time to leave the bodega as I have 3 horses to ride early tomorrow morning.
P.S. And to make this day even more (is it possible?) fantastic, I learned that the picture of one of the horses I ride in Bahrain (an Andalusian stallion, Romeo) was printed on the cover of K2 magazine.