The screening is not as terrifying as I had imagined. The theatre is ancient and gorgeous and mostly empty. They run the movies back to back with no transitions, and then have all the directors up at once for the Q and A. I have Rupert live on speakerphone, and hold him up to the mic so he can speak into the room. A man in the audience asks him what it was like to eat lung.
There is an immense amount of talent at the Festival, but not enough of an audience to appreciate the size of the gift. Jousting matches and falconers and sundancers and a man round-penning in a wheelchair and so many Baroque horses that they blow my mind completely: How have I spent so much of my life in ignorance of Mexican and South American horsemanship? I knew of course that the Spanish Conquistadores brought horses over with them when they landed their ships in the New World, but had failed to connect that they would have of course brought the Classical style of horsemanship as well, and that it would have adapted to regional influences, gathering a galaxy of textures all its own. Saturday evening there is an ‘Equestrian Extravaganza’ and the level of excellence completely blows my mind. I don’t have much to compare it to- except for ‘Cavalia’ and a training session I once watched at the Royal Esquelera in Jerez, Spain, so long ago it seems as if it was another life- and here I am clutching the rail at the very front of the ring as all of these enormously muscled stallions move with levels of collection and elevation and engagement I’ve never seen anywhere, let alone close enough I could reach out and touch them. It’s like watching a training session back at New Trails, except there are 40 Zags and no one to decipher the technicalities of what I’m seeing. Spanish walk, backwards, and at the trot (which makes it Spanish Trot?) and Terre-a-Terre and Capriole and airs above the ground I don’t know how to name. There is a dancer who falls in love with a Freisian’s black mane, and a flamenco guitarist and two dancers on 2 metre plywood dance floors laid over the footing, that a man on a Doma Classica stallion traces precise circles around with the end of his long ————, and the one that really blew my mind- that made me give up all attempts at filming in order to look at it with my EYES- was a story of the conquering of the Aztecs and their awe (and subsequent thievery) of the Spaniard’s horses, with M—- Contrerras dressed as ‘Conquest’ wearing a huge peacock feather headdress complete with skull and eerie mask on his head, mounted on a huge Fresian Stallion, the horses’s front legs strapped into boots made of brass bells that stepped an eerie dissonance to the soundtrack and made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.
My talks went well, if you consider an audience of 1 outside a roundpen in the dust as going well. I do, though. I was able to step into the space of not knowing what I was going to say and be provided with words, with story, just as I’d hoped. I’ve been in that space before reciting poems and playing music; and had hoped it would carry over into explaining the 6 stages of Horse Boy Method as well. It did, or at least it must have, because got to 22 minutes before pausing, and was relieved to see that my audience of 1 had grown to 10. If it had grown to 300, it would have been better. But there weren’t that many people to go around.
The only thing I’m disappointed about- really disappointed- is that I shied away from introducing myself properly to people in the barns. I was intimidated. I knew better than to be, but still I was. I needed someone to throw me an invitation; drop a rope down to the side of my lifeboat and shout through cupped hands that I could climb aboard this massive ship that sailed in out of the night. So instead I circle around the stalls like a hawk looking for somewhere to land, and smile gently at my uncertainty. Instead I make friends with a the evening’s MC, Rosa, who wants to connect all these Spanish horses with Hollywood, and a country singer who performs from the back of a borrowed horse during the middle of the extravaganza, and the event photographer whose warm and open advances I decide to not accept, and the staff of a Chicago therapeutic riding centre (my table neighbours) who would have driven Rupert insane. All of these possible worlds.
There is a young girl who comes to my booth again and again, who wants to ride more than anything. She asks me how much it costs to buy a horse and how much it costs to keep one. Her face falls when I tell her.
“Let me tell you something very important though.” I come around from behind the table, as if I’m about to tell her a secret. “When you are 12, you will be old enough to convince your mom to let you clean a few stalls in exchange for lessons. And that will be your ticket into that world.” Her face lights up. “That’s how I got started.” I tell her. “And it’s taken me all over the world…”
And another mom, an autism mom, whose daughter is at the table with her, who I try to include in our conversation because I don’t like the way her mom is talking as if she’s not there. She’s worried because her daughter’s obsessed with horses and won’t leave them alone; should she distract her with something else? “Don’t shut her down. Don’t close that door.” I say to her. “This is how she is telling you who she is. Let her fascination grow into a career. That’s how she’ll find her place in the world.” And the mom starts crying, right there, and there is something in the way that it happens that gives her her dreams back too, though neither of us notice; it’s too subtle of a moment, and she apologizes for crying, and I tell her not to, and then I give her a hug, and take her daughter over to the ‘Walk On’ table next to mine and help her pick out a plastic horse from their bowl of free plastic horses, little brown and black and grey plastic horses that in themselves are completely insignificant, but these kids I’ve met today are also myself and I’ve just been able to give them a tiny gift, just as I was given so many tiny gifts by so many strangers; tiny gifts that I gathered and followed and lost and had taken away and fussed over and chewed on and then found again, all of these tiny crumbs that I ate and chewed and digested until eventually, eventually, they became this life.