I’ve traveled to Italy regularly since I was a little girl—I was 12 the first time I went, and I’ve returned almost once a year since then. In 1997, my mother met an Italian man while she and my sister were traveling, and he’s been in our life ever since. I love Italy; I love the food, the language, the people, the life! Under every other circumstance besides this particular one, I would’ve been ecstatic about my upcoming trip.
But when I boarded the flight to Rome on Sept. 29, I was simply dreading the next two weeks. Ten days earlier, my stepfather, Pasquale, had a stroke while he was working in Rome—he is a tour leader and during tourist season he spends most of his time there.
Unfortunately, Pasquale was alone late at night when it happened, and it wasn’t until he failed to meet his group in the lobby of the hotel the next morning that he was discovered, unconscious. We received the news at about 4 a.m. (10 a.m. Italy time), and very little was known about Pasquale’s state, except that it was a very serious situation.
My mother immediately flew over from our home in Lexington, Ky., to be by his side. After arriving and assessing the situation, she asked if I would come to Italy to help.
Initially, as I brainstormed ways to keep working during my extended stay in Italy, I thought I might find time to snap a few shots of equine-themed statues and fountains for a possible photo spread in the magazine.
Unfortunately, there aren’t a ton of equestrian statues in Rome, and besides, my free time was virtually non-existent once I got there. We were dealing with a number of other issues related to Pasquale’s situation, which made the experience even more overwhelming and all consuming.
Faced with a day-in and day-out crisis, I found it really hard to think about anything else. But despite the fact that the horses of Rome weren’t obvious at first, they found a way to creep into my life to cheer me up, even while I was smack in the middle of the city.
A woman who works with my stepfather is also a horsewoman. She’d come to Italy from England to work with horses and had spent years grooming for some of Italy’s top show jumping equestrians. Karen and I were able to talk horses nearly every day. Even for those 10 or 20 minutes, I reveled in swapping show stories, riding adventures or just gossiping about the top headlines of the sport.
After one particularly rough day, I was sitting at the café directly across the street from the hospital, working on an article. It was pretty late; it was Friday night; I was sad and depressed. I saw a girl dressed in breeches, boot socks and tennis shoes get out of a car and head to the café. She walked in the door and moments later came over to me with one of the guys who owned the café—Emmanuele, with whom I’d become acquainted after spending plenty of time at his establishment.
“This is my friend,” he said. “She also rides horses. I told her to come by. I thought it might make you feel better to talk to someone who also loves doing what you do.”
I need not really express how touching that gesture was, or how nice it was to chat away in Italian about my job covering horses and horse shows, what kind of horse I have, where she rides. Emmanuele hadn’t explained my situation, so she thought I was in Italy for vacation.
“You like it here?” she asked.
“Yes, I love it here in Italy,” I replied.
“Oh, but don’t you miss your horses? I can’t go so long without riding,” she said.
I smiled because it seemed like such a sweet thing to say. I suddenly felt old in her 22-year-old presence, realizing that throughout the rest of my life the future would surely hold other tragic events during which horses would take a backburner.
But despite the many different things I’ve already been through, that I know life is constantly changing, I’ve also learned that I always come back to the one thing that can really pull me out of a funk, and it’s comforting to know I will always have horses to help me through.