This is the view out the front of my deck: pastures to the ocean. I’m having a rest day, staying in the future Air BnB at Bex’s farm. She organized the first clinic here, which if you ask me, was a huge success. In this context, I define success as me having a wonderful time doing what I love best. A clinic involves all my favorite things: horses and people who care about doing the best for horses. That about sums it up.
I still have concerns about understanding the language. When I went to Europe to spend my thirtieth birthday with the Eiffel Tower, I stopped in London on the way. I could not understand a word. I had to ask people to repeat everything. Nothing quite says tourist like leaning forward with a furrowed brow while staring at a stranger’s mouth.
I had packed my high school French with me, but if I was failing with my own language, I knew there was no chance once I crossed the channel. All these years later the paranoia returned, coming to New Zealand, and knowing that I would need to speak to be understood, and I might be doing the leaning-forward-and-squinting thing at riders. I prayed that I didn’t sound as confusing to the riders employing me, as they did to me.
Now on to a few travel bits. For sake of convenience, I will refer to New Zealand as the Garden of Paradise. It’s just simpler.
My first hotel in the Garden of Paradise was a small independently-owned place. I signed in and was asked if I take milk. I do the leaning-forward-and-squinting thing and she repeats, “Do you take milk in your tea?” I smile, the best apology for being a tourist, and nod. She reaches under the counter, opens a small refrigerator, and hands me a small glass bottle of milk. We used to have these in grade school. She says it’s from a local dairy. Usually, I must beg for extra synthetic powdered chemicals to change the color of my coffee.
Clutching my cold milk, I trip over my bags until I get to my room, door wide open to let the air in. It’s simple but clean. There’s a French press and coffee for my fresh whole milk. It’s what happens in the Garden of Paradise. Along with large refillable soap containers, unlike the tiny plastic ones that I drag along with me, until I use up the soap and can recycle. But this room has a recycle bin, too. Yay.
The first day of the clinic means I get to talk about horses for hours on end, so I’m in a great mood when we all go to dinner. It’s a long table of women from the clinic. We all order wine or beer or hard cider, and wonderful dinners. Then we share all of that. It’s that happy chatter of old friends and I feel so warm; so very included. The kind of people you’d meet in the Garden of Paradise.
The menu looked a bit pricey but I’m on a stipend. At the end of the meal, I’m feeling wonderful, so naturally, I leave a big tip. The service was great and I want to acknowledge the generosity I’ve felt all day.
I’ve eaten out four times now, each at small independently-owned bistro sorts of places. The food has been natural and beautifully prepared. I don’t even see chain restaurants, the bane of my existence. I’ve had a small business since I was nineteen; I like supporting people more than corporations.
Around the second or third dinner, I’m informed that Kiwis don’t tip. I’m shocked. Such rudeness is horrible. Without dropping a beat, I’m told that servers in NZ are paid a living wage. About $20 an hour. Oh. I guess everyone would be able to make a living if it’s the Garden of Paradise. Dinner prices seem more than reasonable.
At the end our clinic time together, the clinic participants all give me a gift. It’s a copy of The Wonky Donkey, a children’s book that they have all signed. It comes with a CD of the song, which someone is playing on their phone, so I can hear it. We are all singing along and dancing a bit. It’s possible that some dressage queens would not fully appreciate this kindness, but I am bray-starved here. Then I had something in my eye, but not bad.
Thanks to all the Cambridge horses and riders and especially Bex, the organizer of this baptism to teaching in the Garden of Paradise. You were all perfect. I love your horses, too.
I’m nostalgic; I think of all the clinics I’ve been to over my riding life. How many times I’ve done the leaning-forward-and-squinting thing on my horse or as an auditor. German accents. French accents. Stuffy accents. At clinics now, I listen with each of my senses to understand the equine language I’ve tried the hardest to master, along with all its dialects. Communication –verbal, written or equine –has become my overwhelming passion. I always know what a privilege it is to do what I do.
Snapshot of a perfect moment in time: I’m in the Garden of Paradise and I’m the trainer with an accent.