Beth (short for Elizabeth) loved horses and would walk for a long time in the country just to see them and pet them over fences as she walked alongside pastures. She loved their soft, pink noses and warm breath through their sensitive nostrils. They seemed to like her as well. Her friend was named Isabella. Instantly they had felt a rapport with one another when they met at school, because they both were named after St. Elizabeth, Our Lady’s cousin and the mother of St. John the Baptist. Beth was a New Ager and Isabella was a Catholic.
Beth was a “tomboy”, which meant that she had a mother that loved freedom and even a little rebellion. Her mother loved modern things like inventive architecture and formal, straight lined, modern style. She had one flower arrangement in a simple vase on the coffee table in the living room, elegantly arranged. The color scheme was beige with turquoise blue accents. She usually wore a blue housedress. Her paintings were semi-abstract. Beth’s room was very simple, with furniture of nice wood, in straight lines and a white chenille bed spread with blue accents and a couple of green, large leaved plants.
Isabella’s mother loved having statues of the saints in her home, lots of flowers and comfortable Colonial looking furniture, some of it carved, with some Mexican vases about and paintings of Mission Style scenes. The color scheme was a warm stucco, with reds, oranges and yellows splashed about. Isabella’s room had a vanity with a rounded mirror and pink chiffon ruffles, a canopy over her bed, also with pink ruffles and white ruffles on her window curtains. A pearl rosary hung from a hook alongside the mirror with a statue of Our Lady and a brilliant picture of Our Lord and Our Lady. Several small vases of delicate bright flowers were set about.
Whenever Beth had the chance, she would change into blue jeans that usually had holes in the knees, and do daring things, like walk the neighbor’s fences to go to her friend’s house and play King of the Mountain with the neighbor boys, which usually ended up in a grass fight. Her mother looked doubtful as to the extent of this freedom when she faced a grass stained, bruised kneed and mud bedecked young teenager with mussed pony tail swaying, coming in the door barely in time to wash for dinner! All seemed resolved as the family sat at dinner in quiet, well-scrubbed, neatly combed and clean clothed formality, of a rare “children should be seen and not heard” rule unusual for our day. The wildness ended inside the home!
One wonders how a friendship could have developed between this wild Viking type and the luminous eyed, gentile, entirely lady-like, feminine, always poised, patient and somewhat bemused dark haired, dark eyed Hispanic of Mexican descent! Isabella was never critical and Beth always was!
After a while of observing Isabella, Beth started feeling badly. You see, Beth hated to lose. She competed in Quarter Horse competition for cowgirls. It was hard to be strong and not show disappointment if one did not come in first in barrel racing. The competition against the other girls was intense. Why did she feel that she was working against herself? She was not even competing with Isabella, which is one reason why the friendship worked. Why then, did she feel like she was losing!
Beth loved her mother very much, and her two older brothers. Her mother was a great companion and a wise and talented teacher whom she loved dearly. She seemed a dignified lady, traditional in morals, supportive of her father and helpful in his business, with good homemaking skills; yet she also seemed quite hard and dedicated to freedom. Perhaps her need for creative femininity was not understood and she was unfairly oppressed somewhat, as she seemed to always have to fight in order to do the oil paintings she so loved. She sought answers to this in the New Age and that strange Utopian hope.
Isabella’s mother was quite different. Beth was always welcome in her friend’s home for a cup of Mexican chocolate. The aroma of corn based dishes filled the kitchen. There were always children playing, the older ones watching them automatically. Mrs. Espinoza loved to paint decorative vases as gifts for her friends. She also painted small scenes of Saints as gifts. She was always encouraged in this creativity. After a time, Beth began dressing in flowered pants, and then even a skirt, when she came to visit, as the games were gentle, and jeans seemed crass and uncomfortable in that home.
One day Isabella invited her to The Dancing of the Horses. She said, “Oh, let’s dress up! We can both wear peasant blouses and ruffled skirts with combs in our hair! We can be the opposite twins! I’ll dress in the green along with my companions, and you may borrow my yellow skirt! Beth liked that idea, and laughing, they dressed up. Isabella brushed Beth’s blond hair into curls, tied with a yellow flower, and set a fine straw hat on. Then Beth brushed Isabella’s dark locks, tied with an emerald green flower, and placed a similar hat or sombrero on her. A few sprays of perfume and the two companions walked arm in arm to the waiting car and went off with Mr.& Mrs. Espinoza to the horse arena.
At the stables, immediately Beth was astonished. What kind of a saddle was this? Isabella laughed. She demonstrated how a lady sat side saddle. All Beth could do was watch in amazement. How could one possible stay on the horse in one of these! Mr. Espinoza gently guided Isabella in guiding the horse, gazing pleased at his graceful daughter, riding obediently and beautifully. Soon she was off with the other girls, full ruffled skirts flowing over long tailed horses, galloping and turning. Beth was thrilled at the control and strength they displayed. The firm and disciplined riding revealed a refinement and graciousness never to be found in the rough, aggressive life of a cowgirl, Beth realized. She became enchanted, falling in love with Escarmuza. Oh, she wanted to learn this kind of riding! The horses responded so well to the light touch of the girls. Horses often prefer girls and ladies to the men, as they treat their gentle mouths so tenderly, exerting only the pressure necessary to guide the horse and give it their commands.
Feelings like steady breezes were lightening Beth’s awareness. Maybe being a bruise kneed cowgirl in tight stiff blue jeans was not so great after all! The skirt and petticoat felt so much nicer and more comfortable and she enjoyed feeling modest and pretty. And the fathers looked with such a balance of humility and appropriate pride at their young daughters! They both looked so happy with each other! Beth often felt conflict with her own father, as if she had to compete with him. That did not feel so good. These fathers and daughters complimented each other. It resulted in an elevated dance of horses and young ladies, and continuity of family customs.
The brilliant white ruffles with emerald green bands swirled and twirled; shinning coated horses cantering in smooth circles past a blur of benches, now suddenly changing direction, now passing in opposite direction, a sudden power stop here, a vigorous rear there. All the while the young ladies, the senoritas, maintained complete poise and displayed a feminine strength of a lovely union of horse and rider in complete balance. Certainly each senorita displayed individual skill, however, the consciousness was very much on the pageant as a whole, each girl riding to enhance their companions, rather than competing with or fighting against each other.
After the show, Isabella’s father helped Beth to mount the horse side saddle. He patiently walked her around a nearby paddock, then let her trot by herself and even do a figure eight all by herself. He talked to her and suggested a few things to help her with her balance: such as keep your hands in a straight line with your forearms and your back straight. Then he smiled and said that she had done very well for the first time in riding side saddle. Beth knew she had a long way to go, however, she was happy to begin, and felt how natural this kind of riding was for her. She did not feel like fighting with Mr. Espinoza, a situation for her to get used to! It both surprised and pleased her.
Later in the day, the two families joined each other in a meadow beside Mr. Espinoza’s horse pasture for an afternoon picnic supper. Gently, Isabella calmly, quietly and a little shyly, asked if Beth would like to come and experience Latin Chant at Mass in the morning. There was no pressure, merely a cordial invitation. Beth thought a moment, and then decided why not? After all, she had had such a pleasant surprise in experiencing Esperanza. Would not, perhaps, this strange Chant also open a new world of something graceful to her? She was encouraged to try and she trusted Isabella. Her parents, being the broad minded New Agers that they were, had no objection to any religion. They were actually a little relieved to see Beth consign her hole in the knees blue jeans to the waste can, as they were beginning to worry a little about her and were at a bit of a loss as to what to do about it! They liked Isabella’s confidence and were hoping a little would wear off on Beth! Besides, how can one go wrong with another friend also named after St. Elizabeth?
To be continued.
Photo #1 print from 1200’s AD
#2 painting from 1400’s AD
#3 1700’s AD
#4 contemporary arena
In the English tradition. The relaxed, pleased smile of this very sophisticated and elegant lady shows how natural it is for a lady to ride sidesaddle. The beautifully bred horse seems equally pleased and happy to do its best to show itself and the rider to best advantage.