It is very difficult, to concentrate on one's horse, when riding, when one's attention is being 'competed' for, by three things at the same time. I am well used to the first two things: namely, the horse's idea of what is correct, because, being well schooled, he knows more than I do, and my Instructor's idea of what is correct, because, being the product of centuries worth of knowledge, therefore, not to put too fine a point on it, also knows more than I do! The third factor, is a first. Probably, for all of us! The smell of sardines, being grilled!
Don't think little oily things, no larger than sprats, in tins. Think plump sardines, almost the size of trout. Think sardines, oiled, peppered, blackened on the char grill, and anointed with those very special secret ingredients, for which, the groom, is now starting to gain himself a world-wide reputation! I have, on many occasions, had to compete for Vinagre's attention, when riding in the latter half of the morning, in the cool of the indoor school, because lunch was already underway, in HIS kitchen! Yesterday, the boot was very firmly on the other foot! I wonder, what he thought?
When everyone had finished riding, repaired en-suite to freshen up, a shower perhaps, or a cool drink from the fridge, or perhaps a coffee,... made phone calls, checked our emails, etc. etc., we were not beckoned to the usual dining area, either, in cooler weather, inside, looking out to the pool, and beyond that, to the outdoor school, or, when temperature dictates, the terrace beyond the guest sitting room, when the only sensible option is to sit under the wisteria clad pergola with a view over the family cork estate, but to down near the stables, near to the smell of grilled sardines, which I had assumed to be lunch for the estate workers.
What lay before our eyes, was a table spread with the most enticing display of simple country fare.
It was a hot August day. We had been placed under the very wide canopy of a cork tree, for it was ancient, and being ancient, afforded the best shelter from the sun. With, on one side, a view of 12 very happy Lusitanos, heads stretched out of the windows of their stalls, heads nodding in the breeze, discouraging landing flies, and also expressing contentment, and, to the other side, a vista of the family owned cork estate as far as the eye could see, we were in horsey heaven. Storks circled overhead in the thermals.. it was soporific! The ambience was idyllic.
I already knew that my two Lusitanos made a daily contribution to the kitchen garden, for all the salad ingredients came from there, not the local supermarket. A table offering stewed green peppers, a salad of onions, tomatoes, lettuce, and garlic, together with potatoes, in their skins, because their sweetness forbad any dressing, and freshly baked local bread, locally produced cheese, and red wine, produced, with pride by an estate worker, made a feast, fit for a king. We lacked nothing. Rejecting polite dining manners in favour of more effective methods, we took the only course available to us in dealing with grilled sardines! A lot of finger licking ensued.
It was the second day, and the first, of getting to know each other, preliminary style, had been got through. We all three, had never met before, but with a common passion, and a friendly and welcoming environment, where the raison d'etre, is already a given, it therefore takes very little more than a second day, a good ride and a bit of good country hospitality, to turn three strangers, into 'conspiritadores'! And how we conspired!
We talked about the horses at length, and in depth, our Instructor at length and in depth (poor man), and our dissatisfaction about the riding culture and instruction from whence we had come, in an effort to "find the light". Long were the discussions, regardless of age, ability or experience. All that mattered was the horse, and the correct way to ride. Time, nor nationality, nor social standing, nor experience had any place in these discussions.
It was, a special lunch. All lunches are very good. But the reason for this extra special one? Another guest birthday, at Quinta do Archino!