If it were not for Martina Boccia, my Instagram friend and equestrian fashion blogger, this would never have happened and I would never have learned about the awesome tradition of riding horses from all over Italy and some neighboring countries to experience an audience with the pope.
For such a unique event, it has surprisingly low international coverage. Just try to google “Equiraduno,” the official name of the event, and you will find close to nothing in English. As you can imagine, the event is a big deal in Italy.
The first thing you notice when in Rome is the above-average number of beautiful people, whose faces are so easy to imagine on the obverses of Ancient Rome coins or in historical movies.
Rome is packed with tourist attractions beyond any reasonable level. For thousands of years, emperors, senators, and rich citizens were convinced that the best way to be remembered is to build something monumental, preferably bigger, more expensive, and more flamboyant than was built before. Even if building something new means ruining something old. Did you know, for example, that for years the iconic Coliseum was the biggest source of marble, travertine, and limestone for the houses of Roman nobility?
But let me get back to Equiraduno. I participated in the last two days of travel by the yellow route: from Sacrofano to Tor di Quinto Military Riding Center in Rome on day 1 and from Tor di Quinto to Vatican and back on day 2.
On day 1, I woke up at about 8:00 am so we would have enough time to prepare the horses and be ready to leave at 9:00 am. I got the beautiful Haflinger mare Ganesha. An unexpected name for the flaxen chestnut. To me, she looked more like Marilyn Monroe or Mae West of the equine world—blondie with curves. :-) This girl surely worked on her shapes a lot. Whenever she saw an opportunity—and this was like every time we stopped—she would pull her neck down and start munching whatever she could reach for: grass, dry leaves from last year, hay, her straw bedding . . .
At 9:30 am after the parting speech of the town’s mayor, we went off on the footsteps of pilgrims. There were about 25 of us, riding all types of horses, including Arabians and Andalusians, Maremanos, and even ponies.
What can I say, the life of pilgrims wasn’t easy . . . especially in central Italy and especially in July. Dreams about shower and fears of getting a heat stroke didn’t really leave me during the entire ride :-) So I guess I really looked poorly when after traveling for about three and a half hours, we stopped for lunch. Martina’s mother asked me if I was tired, and when I replied, “Yes, I’m a bit,” she cheerfully informed me that this is my “sacrificio” to the pope. :-)
I was dying to get a sip of cold water, but of course the needs of our horses came first. We loosened their girths, watered them, and let them graze under the trees. The next couple of hours were spent in the fun and noisy company of equestrians enjoying traditional Italian meals and drinks.
Then we saddled our horses again and went for the final part of the ride to Tor di Quinto where we planned to leave our horses until the next morning.
After 20 more minutes of riding in the countryside, we were met by police escorts and finally entered the busy streets of the City of the Seven Hills.
The biggest virtue of Ganesha was that she was the complete opposite of being a drama queen. I think everyone would agree that riding a nervous and spooky horse among dozens of other animals in the middle of the crowded city is a sure way of getting more grey hair, but Ganesha took really good care of me all the way.
We then entered the enormous Tor di Quinto. The place has great facilities enough to host hundreds of horses.
Have you ever noticed how tasty simple food and even pure water are after a long trip? Now try to imagine how an ice-cold champagne in plastic cups feels after six hours of riding under the scorching sun! The taste of pure happiness for sure!