Saturday, 4 October 2014

An Argentine Groom #2

Hector is slightly detached from the other grooms. He sticks to his own horses, his own stable block, his own corale and his own routine. He's up at 5am to turn the horses out and reappears periodically throughout the day, whether to do his laundry, shoe a horse, or ride one. Slightly bow-legged, he prowls around the yard wearing pumps, loose chinos wrapped close to his calves by horse bandages, and a large cotton shirt that billows out behind him when he rides (when not covered by a woollen, M&S-style jersey). The carved wooden handle of a knife pokes out of his belt, and he often has a few loops of baling twine around his neck.

A polo player as well as a groom, entrusted with training the youngest horses and working the most difficult ones, there's no doubt that he is the most experienced horseman of the grooms. He couldn't look more at home on a horse. Legs thrust forwards and right arm held easily at waist height, he can put any horse through its paces, whether galloping across the fields and pulling up to a sharp stop, or practising razor sharp turns in the menage.

He's travelled across Europe with polo ponies, and has worked here for 17 years - he's currently sleeping in the guest room of the Polo Club House while waiting for the construction of his own on-site house to finish. Hardened perhaps by years of earning his living from horses, he's certainly on the severe side - he's been known to castrate a stallion with a kitchen knife to save on the vets bills.

He works with his son, a sweet but shy teenager who I've never heard utter a word. An efficient, self-contained duo, they go about their work wordlessly. Yet even so, Hector is a noisy presence on the yard. He hollers directions at his herd, 'aaaayy's' loudly at a horse if it misbehaves, sings as he works and, when he does stop to chat, speaks loudly in an incomprehensible garble.

It takes him two weeks to talk to me, during which time I'm referred to as 'la Chica'. We have since advanced to a 'buen dia Lottie' greeting, and a 'finitio?' bark if I'm near him when I get off a horse. Yesterday, he even gave me a few tips (and a thumbs up) in the menage when we happened to be riding there together. It may be slow, but it's progress!

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