As we rolled into this month of December, 2014, the ‘word’ was to expect the unexpected: be prepared for just about anything. In my mind that could be a huge range of stuff, but nevertheless, opportunities come along and decisions are made about what, when, where. This month had started out with several things on the ‘list’ of possibilities to partake in, considering we have now duly entered into the holiday season, and really, we are not ones to jump into too much at this time of year…
October and November were a bit beastly for the chaos elements and challenges and time issues, and we decided that we would tone things down a bit for the end of the year; I had noticed that there was going to be a Cabalgata in our ‘home town’ on the 14th and had thus mentally made a note of it, but really had not seriously thought of attending, as that is a big ‘to-do’. However, it really crept up on me, considering that it was right here close to us and we could ride to it instead of having to haul horses, so eventually I said, ‘let’s do it’ as the other considerations (of what to do for fun) crossed themselves off the list due to expense and distance.
What is a ‘cabalgata’? Costa Rica has a past rich with horses, and still the campesinos (country folks) depend on horses for much of their mobility. The Tope dancing horses
are the pride and joy of this country, but the cabalgatas are ‘fiestas on four legs’. They are a trail ride that can be sponsored by anyone in Costa Rica, these days you will find one or more every weekend from mid-November into August, but they are big trail rides in the countryside that are open to anyone and everyone that can ride – a total family affair. Everyone is invited, the cost to participate is a donation usually to a community, or a family or a person in need. There is a total fiesta atmosphere as people come together with all kinds of good food available, plenty of ‘bebidas’ (drinks) of all kinds, sometimes it might even be set up with vendors’ booths and fun stuff for the kids, but always there is plenty of music – every little corner of the affair boasting their music choices (bring your earplugs if you don’t like ‘loud’). Everybody is happy and having fun, horses are everywhere – after all, this is what a cabalgata is, yeah? It is a grand trail ride with no rules…pretty much.
I attended my first one last April, a Tico friend was hosting it in a very rural pueblo ‘over the ridge’ from us, and it was in beautiful country – so we invited our buddy to go along with to bridge the language gap on a first ride – in all manners of speaking. It was hot that day, but rain was imminent for the afternoon, so we all took off in time to get back before the rain. A Toyota Land Cruiser had speakers posted on top and a sister and brother all decked out in their finest fiesta gear rode in the back for singing to us along the way, complete with mic’s – they were all of about ten and thirteen years old. Oh I wish I had a camera! Or at least a phone with a good one, but not to be. We rode through the country side behind the blaring loudspeakers and my horse Kinto insisted on being the lead horse – right behind the ‘Yota. Midway through the ride we stopped and a truck with ice cold refreshments was parked, so we all got off our horses and everyone visited with everyone while quenching their thirst; the youngsters sang a few ballads that were beautiful and also funny – everyone enjoyed the atmosphere. We rode until it started to sprinkle and then everyone returned to enjoy some lunch and refreshments and a band that was all lined up for the next three hours. Everyone danced!! Little kids, older kids, kids with parents, parents with parents, little people, big people, young people, old people and everyone had so much fun dancing! Not to mention that EVERYONE is good at dancing!
It was one of the most culturally fun and enlightening experiences – as authentic as it gets, and not generally offered on the tourist ticket. In fact, Mate and I and one other guy were the only gringos there, but we were amongst many friends. I knew there would be more for me after that!
Fast forward to December, 2014, and there’s an announcement of a cabalgata in our own ‘home’ pueblo – do I or not? We now have four horses, room for a couple of more friends, and the holidays were coming up – y, porque no? We could ride the horses from home to the cabalgata, which in and of itself is exciting enough. I had exclaimed to our friends how fun and easy a ride a cabalgata can be, something everyone living in Costa Rica should at least attend if not ride in once, anyway! Our friends were a go and preparation started a couple of weeks ahead of time to arrange for shoes for the horses and all of the grooming needed and now – because of two more horses – there was work to be done on the riding gear, there would be some mixing and matching and repairs of gear to make it work. A great first step into the summer season in preparation to do a season of some serious riding!
This is one of my favorite things to do, get all the horse tack out and clean it all and see what you’ve got and what will work for who and what do we have to get fixed to make it work, etc. When we had the ranch and up to fifty head of horses in all ages and stages to work with over the summer (in a past life) having your gear in order, taken care of, cleaned and up to date is absolutely a must do. Down to four now and living in Costa Rica – the ‘land of make-do – we have to make do with what we have, and it is an odd assortment of stuff that is coming together quite nicely, I must say, to go with the awesome team of four horses that are also coming together quite nicely – which is totally awesome! We got the horses all shod, except for Max – his feet are too big and he needed another size bigger shoe, and we didn’t have them and the ride was only a week away. Fortunately for him he had been barefoot for a long time, but he didn’t have to walk on rocks all day every day, either, so this ride would be a test…and at the same time, his rider was ‘marinating’ on whether he was going to ride or not. Poncho is not a seasoned rider, it had been a while for him, not to mention that he had a gazillion things to do to prepare for a long journey across the ocean for the holidaze. We didn’t actually know until that morning whether he and Max would be with us on the ride – or not. Of course I was on Kinto, totally a fun ride; our steadfast Tico buddy would also be riding with us, he would be on the other ‘new’ horse Chuck, as he would definitely need a seasoned rider to take him out on the highway and through the chaos of a cabalgata before we started our season – I had no idea how he would be, it was his trial run; and the fourth rider, a seasoned experienced horse handler who is the mate of Poncho, rode my Juan – what a team!
We got all the gear together and the day before the ride, a beautiful sunny day, we bathed and beautified each of the horses, totally a horse pampering day – they loved it and they were beautiful!
And then it rained all night long. Not just rain, but big rains with all the action included. At that point I figured, ‘Well if you are going to rain then just do it!’ However it stopped early and actually cleared up – mostly. Checked in with everybody – are we still going to go, the Sun is shining…? Yep, we are all game and so the plan is to get to the fiesta site by the time stated…we figured it might be closer to being on time because of the questionable weather, as cabalgatas are notoriously NOT on time.
We arrived at the barn early enough to make sure the horses got groomed and saddled to be ready to go and all of a sudden I am hearing this screeching noise…like a large raven with a sore throat…I am wondering what the heck? And then it dawns on me what it is – macaws! The Scarlet Macaws are slowly making their way back into our part of the jungle, which is absolutely awesome, and sure enuf there are two in the tree just off the hill where we are. Mate grabbed the camera and shot a couple, then I changed the lens and just managed to get a couple of them as they took off. What an omen! Made me giggle inside, come what may, thanks macaws! Everyone began to arrive and the horses were all ready to go – riders ready! (I heard someone mention, ‘how come they have slickers and we don’t?) Mate was in the truck to drive behind us on the ‘highway’ for safety (narrow, winding roads with crazy drivers), off we went. Billy was in front on Chuck to set the pace and Max was either trotting full out or stopped or walking, the other two horses were getting in the pace nicely. Poncho asked a few questions and we got him going again – all of this was a ‘first time’ on more than a couple levels, so we had a few kinks to work out.
And I will make an apology right here and now, doing group trail rides is not familiar territory. Being a hostess is hardly my thing, on any level; ‘mi casa es su casa’ is more like it, you want a drink of water the glasses are over there! It’s just not in my blood, no matter what. So being a very good host on the ride was new for me, and I want to be a good trail host ‘cause we are going to be doing a lot of this in the next year, so realizing where I have lots of room for improvement (btw, anything out of the house is improved for me)…yes, a few more rides and I will be on automatic pilot for those tips to pass on to novice riders, on new horses, in radical situations (or not) to make a much more pleasant experience! I observe, I reflect, I learn…next time there will be improvements – sorry about the slackin’!
After an almost 30 minute ride to get to our little village, we see there are lots and lots of people, the church is right in the middle of it and they are having First Communion so everybody is there and celebrating something! Mmmmm, I smell roast chicken…! There were even soccer games scheduled (those dedicated athletes don’t miss a chance to play, any time for any reason); horses are arriving, we ‘park’ ours in the allocated field and register for the ride.
Now what? So the ones in charge ask everyone if they want to eat now or go on the ride now…and neither one actually manifested, it started to pour buckets of rain! We ran up to the horses and scavenged some plastic to cover the saddles (mental note: saddle covers and/or slickers: standard equip for cabalgatas), and went back to wait and see. The clock dragged on, the music blared, the food was nowhere to be seen and everything was wet. It was like the two buzzards in Disney’s Junglebook, ‘Wat we gonna do?’ ‘I dunno, watcha wanna do?’ ‘Now don start tha’ again!’
Off we went to follow the blaring speakers in the rig ahead leading the way, it was only lightly sprinkling at the moment (gracias Dios) and we made it to the traditional stop for mid-ride refreshments – where we decided it was a good idea to return from whence we came and head on home before all hell broke loose – which it undoubtedly looked like it could at any moment. The horses were ready and jogged all the way back to town, Mate was at the truck and ready to go so we just kept right on moving back to the ‘barn’. Everyone was glad for the experience, but also very glad to be done – we jogged all the way, and even for us seasoned riders jogging like that can wear you out! Especially on pavement with lots of traffic – yikes!
We got the horses put away, gear (all wet) put away until manana and headed back to the fiesta. Poncho and his Girl left us at that time, been a long enough day for them, so they gave us their registration numbers for the raffle. Billy and his Amigo hung in there, food was ready by the time we got back so we all ate and then they left with a long drive back in the rain with horses in a trailer (they gave us their numbers, also), but the party had fizzled with the rain, most folks had left or were anxious to leave as many had to ride home yet. They had one dance and then did the raffle (which is usually last thing) and lo and behold out of 5 numbers we won three prizes! I didn’t win the saddle tho, which had been a primary inspiration to go in the first place, sigh. Oh well, we were blessed for all things and had a great day, regardless of the ‘unexpected’…or did we expect it, verdad? LOL
You never know what you are going to get, it is whether you have fun getting it or not! Not what happens but how you deal with it. We had fun, even if, but the next one will definitely be in the summer time! In fact, now that we got all of our horses lined out and the tack issues in order, we are taking a long ride to Nauyaca Falls the day after Christmas – woohoo!! 2015 is going to be a grrrreat year! (that is unless something unexpected happens…!)