Bibi and Me

by Fabrizia Bartalucci

My first memory about horses dates back to my childhood when in granddad’s arms, I caressed their soft, warm muzzles. I have always considered horses to be noble and dignified animals but I only got to really know them in my early period at university when I started going to a riding school not far from the town where I lived at the time.

I was so thrilled!!! After only a few lessons I could trot and gallop and finally I started my jumps. It seemed horses were play machines where if you pressed a certain button, you got a certain behaviour. And it seemed to work.

But, if it’s true – and indeed it is – that for every action there is a reaction, it is just as certain that in the relationship with a sentient being, the reaction can be completely different from the expected one. So, you need to be ready to understand, anticipate and handle it, adapting promptly to the unexpected.

Too bad I knew absolutely nothing about horse behaviour and communication. So, I could not handle it when a mare balked after a jump, slipping from the saddle with one foot stuck in the stirrup. The mare started galloping, dragging me in a crazy run. I got away with a broken sacrum and a deep fear that would last for the next 25 years. Then I met Elena.

I could say I met Elena by chance. But it would not be true. Because I believe you meet people and situations only when we are ready to receive what they can give us, and possibly willing to change the rules of the game as we have known them until then. And that moment for me arrived last summer.

I was on holiday in Castagneto Carducci when a dear friend – who had never abandoned the idea of seeing me on a horse again – proposed a horse trek to me. For the first time in many years, I felt a curiosity and desire higher than my terror. And I let myself be tempted. After all, what could have happened to me? A trek in single file with horses used to that type of work and a guide as a trailblazer. So, I asked for information at the structure where I was staying and they gave me Elena’s contact details.

Rethinking now, I now realize how inadequate my request was if not ridiculous. However, Elena agreed to meet me to talk about it and explained to me with kindness and clarity her type of work. While the idea of the trek fell through completely, the idea of having met a person who could finally help me cure the terror I felt, sprang up in me. So, I talked to her about my experience and we decided to try. I left that meeting full of enthusiasm.

I had been struck by Elena’s professionalism, kindness, calmness and firm self-belief, typical of people who have great competence in their work. I had greatly appreciated the scientific approach deriving from her academic path inexorably combined with her knowledge of horses, their language and behaviour, thanks to years of experience. And since that summer end, every weekend and every free moment that I can carve out I take the car and reach her and Bibi, the splendid thoroughbred which I usually work with.

I came out of the first meetings euphoric: to find contact with a horse again, smell its odour once more. It was as if a childlike part of me had resurfaced, an emotional compensation after years of fear and refusal.

Meanwhile, Elena explained to me the behaviour of the herd, urging me to pay attention to the methods horses use to communicate between them. She was teaching me to understand them. I instead understood very little. Or better, I followed her with my head but my emotional part could not connect, get in tune. I seemed to have landed on an unknown planet where I did not speak the language. I was really confused. I watched Elena move with patience and lightness, and it seemed simple to me: few words, few gestures, few movements. Because as she often tells to me, with horses the less you do the more you do.

Then my turn came and I was clumsy, impatient and ineffective. I had the feeling that between her and the horses there was a secret communication code that I could not access. But above all I could not find a guiding thread, a method to be applied to succeed. And I could not find it because there is no method. The method was Bibi herself.

It was not easy to accept. I had been educated and accustomed by the academic and managerial paths to organise, solve problems, manage people to achieve results in predetermined times. There could be no room for disturbing elements. Everything had to fall into place. And this was, I believe, essentially the reason why I was not able to communicate with my Bibi. It is not easy to dismantle a superstructure that has supported you for years. You must be able to get back into the game, to start from scratch another time. But the desire I had to “speak” to her was stronger than anything else. Only then did I start to understand what Elena had been telling me for weeks: to create a communication based on listening and mutual respect. I slowly started trying. The results were not promising. The relationship between me and Bibi was absolutely asymmetrical in the sense that she always knew before me how I was, what I was thinking, what I would have done and where I would go wrong. She was my mirror. She referred me, without my initially being aware of it, to my moods. I began to understand the gap that existed between my actions and my emotions, because you cannot pretend with horses; any type of filter is ineffective. I started looking at her with different eyes and listen and pay attention to her. And something started to change. I began to “hear” her, to notice the movements of her eyes and ears and perceive if we were connected, if she was with me.

And Elena was always there. Like a wise facilitator, with an almost maieutic ability to help you express yourself. There have been topical moments on our path. Falls and restarts, waiting times and chases. But among them all I remember one which moved me. A picture of me and Bibi taken by Elena from behind, during a work session. We are having a break, both looking in the same direction. Finally, together. Elena had managed to grasp with a photo the place where I wanted to arrive. But she and Bibi already knew. That I would have got there.

I know there will still be no days, tens and hundreds of moments of discouragement and frustration. And I also know that they will depend largely on me. But I will not stop working on that subtle harmony that we have created, because it is there that I will find the answers.

I have immense gratitude for Elena and Bibi: for all the times they have waited for me and have let me make mistakes and try and try again.

Thank you.


Florence, March 2024