It was almost as though we were in Texas. There was country music on the hi-fi, Stetson hats on some heads and large banners advertising American brands along the walls.
In fact we were in Ropes Ranch just outside Vicenza getting ready to meet some beautiful horses like this one.
Since moving to Italy over two months ago now, I have been constantly looking for things to do with my baby. It’s just that in England there are so many things going on for a mum and a child, that you can easily fill up all hours of the day with educational and fun activities from the day your baby is born until they go to Uni or otherwise move out of the house at around 18.
There are music groups, playdates, swimming lessons, art and crafts clubs, dance studios, coffee mornings for new parents, sports, you name it. There seems to exist a competition among British parents as to how many classes and activities they can send their children to. It can get to the point where one of the parents in a family unit is reduced to the position of a taxi driver constantly ferrying the kids from one lesson to the next. An interview I read recently with a French au-pair living with a British family also seemed to touch on this, when the girl innocently remarked that the children never seemed to have time for themselves, so busy were their schedules.
I have never been this ambitious or this determined to make my child do so much. On one hand my child is still a baby; on the other (and coming from Bulgaria – the land of ambitious parents), pushy parenting really puts me off. Yet, whilst we lived in England, I would go to a couple or maybe three activities for babies and toddlers a week: a gentle singsong in the local library, a musical group a few minutes away from us and a very active play morning for close to a 100 kids all running frenetically in a huge hall filled with toys to the brim.
As a stay at home mum, having places to go to gave my week some structure and nice approximation of routine. I was even starting to get bitten very gently by the competitive bug and was looking into more things for my baby and I to do and more places to go to together.
Then, we moved to Italy and all this changed. I don’t know if this is because companies here don’t seem to use social media as heavily as their British counterparts do or simply because we are in a new country and it takes time to find out how things work, but I have really been struggling to come across regularly held activities for a mum and a child to do.
In England it’s easy; you just search on Facebook or ask in the local library or the local hall and you end up with a long list of ideas as to where you can take your child to meet other children and do stuff. I haven’t been so successful in Vicenza, I am afraid.
The only regular thing I have found so far was a music group and even then this was a bit of a disaster as, for the music group to run, they needed at least 6 parents and they managed to attract just 4. L
We keep asking around about activities for babies and kids and the usual answer we get is that la famiglia is at the centre of everything in Italy and usually la nonna makes sure the child is kept occupied during the day. With our two grannies residing at the opposite ends of Europe, this doesn’t quite work for us.
So, I get super excited every time I come across a fun educational activity I can take my baby to. Ropes Ranch was one such lucky hit.
Located a quarter of an hour outside of Vicenza and on the outskirts of Grisignano di Zocco, the ranch offers horse riding lessons and experiences to kids and adults.
So we put our wellies on (or in my case, my faithful FitFlop boots) and got ready to muck in (although, to be honest, I didn’t even expect there to be any mud at all).
We were welcomed very warmly by Denis and his assistant and shown around the ranch.
First, we were taken to the farriery where a horse was having his measurements taken for new shoes. Denis explained that the hooves of no two horses are alike, so the farrier needs to carefully forge the horseshoes to make sure they fit and don’t hurt the horse.
Then we were off to see four little calves. They were cute and would have been cuddly had they not been rather muddy.
Mud really stresses me. I can’t bear to get my shoes or clothes muddy, which I gather has stayed with me since my childhood when I was actively encouraged to keep neat. So, I lagged behind pretending I was busy taking pictures. Lame, I know!
Next, it was time to meet a hen and her clutch of chicks. Feeding them was a lot of fun, but I was especially touched when this smallish hen spread her wings as much as she could so that as many of her chicks as possible could cuddle underneath. One bolder chick even took refuge on her mum’s back.
And so to the main event! The horses!
We were introduced to Nacho, Tortilla, Gaia and the daddy of the group – 32 years old Pegasus! That’s a centenarian in horse years and then some.
We fed the horses some hay, at which point Nacho was led out of his enclosure and we were given a brush to groom him. Nacho was very patient and good-mannered. He would let you get really close and pet his dun coat.
Not only that, but Nacho let our baby have her first taste of riding. Unsure a bit at first, she gripped tightly onto the saddle with one hand, holding with the other onto her daddy’s hand. I watched proudly as she completed a circuit and a half before she decided it was time to get off the horse.
I don’t have much experience with horses. My one riding experience was many years ago when a friend and I went to a horse ranch in Bulgaria for a try-out. I was unable to make the horse move, so I just stood there on top of it feeling rather stupid. People at the ranch were not very welcoming either, so we left and my friend was quite disappointed as she really wanted to learn to ride.
Well, our experience at the Ropes Ranch was the complete opposite. Everyone was very accommodating.
As it had been raining for the past few days, we were in the indoor arena and I was really taken with all the big banners advertising American brands in it.
Look at the face of the young man in the first one. Apparently, he is an experienced bareback and bull rider. There is a whole wide riding world out there that is completely unknown to me, I thought.
Hopefully, one day I would visit Texas and see it all for myself. Until then Ropes Ranch will be our first port of call when we want to be close to horses and feel their magic again.
Via Palladio 4, Grisignano di Zocco