My last afternoon at the Rancho was overcast.
‘Strange weather,’ the manager Jenny said. ‘It’s never like this.’
The only other guest didn’t feel like riding. It was just me.
At the corral, I looked for Carlos, the intelligent ex-software developer, who had re-trained as a wrangler. Along with Miguel – a sparky, young speed-demon of a wrangler. Carlos had been guiding me, and I had been keen to say goodbye. But it was the newest, quietest wrangler, Alvaro, whom I had yet to speak with, who met me. He smiled, hesitant.
‘Carlos has gone to family, and Miguel needed to do jobs,’ he said in his singsong lilt. ‘Guess you must talk to me instead!’
Secretly, I did not want to speak to anyone new. I was already dreading returning to England: to the work deadlines, and relationship problems, that I would face. I was scared I couldn’t dodge well-meaning questions from someone new.
Alvaro had a different horse ready than the one I was expecting. ‘Not your favourite?’ he said when he saw my expression.
I pointed to the smallest of the Rancho’s horses, Gladiator. ‘He’s who I want to take home.’
‘But he is so tiny!’ Alvaro’s smile grew as he saddled him instead. ‘Perhaps you could fit him in your suitcase?’
And I did, desperately.
Despite the unusual brooding weather, it had been a perfect few days at the Rancho. I had ridden every day, galloping faster than I ever had before, beside lakes so clear they could have been painted. When talking with other guests on lazy walks through cornfields, I’d had to catch my breath at how endless and magnificent it all seemed. In evenings, I’d sat in the hot tub with house-made margaritas (the best I’ve had) and listened to the Rancho’s very own waterfall. Truly perfect.
Alvaro led me somewhere new- up into the hills – quietly talking about his young children, and about marrying his sweetheart. He told me of the difficult years he’d spent in America, making money on a construction site, and of his dream for his own pig farm. We compared notes on our dogs.
At the top, I posed for this photo. I was smiling at Alvaro, noticing how kind and gentle he had been, both with me and with the horses. Gladiator – one of the best horses I had ever ridden – was also making me smile. Finally, I smiled because maybe it was possible to carry a piece of this happiness home. That moment, on top of Gladiator, looking out over those plains, was that piece. I carry it still.
Going back, we raced our horses.
‘You won’t keep up with Versace,’ Alvaro warned.
Gladiator did, easily. If Gladiator hadn’t been listening to me so attentively, he would have overtaken Versace. If I hadn’t been listening so attentively to Alvaro, I might have let him. And then we might have galloped so fast into the afternoon sun, crouching forward, that we would have outraced everything.
– Lucy Christopher from Bath, Somerset, England
2nd Place Winner – RLC Photo Contest 2016