It feels like the type of riding that will continue to improve your commitment, your skills, and maybe even your heart all at once, long after leaving. The passion here in these Tuscan hills is infectious. Right as I lift my eyes to the surrounding golden countryside, Giovanni De Marchi coaches me through a walk to canter transition with the enthusiasm of someone still very much in love with the art of dressage even after decades of teaching riders from around the globe. Of course, with the good life, la dolce vita, so close at hand in this region of Chianti, it might be impossible not to cultivate the same joyful approach to training, or life in general, on a daily basis.
With several young instructors and over twenty high quality school horses Il Paretaio caters to new or novice riders as well as advanced dressage students. Lessons run throughout the day beginning at 7:30am with a large pause in the middle to reprieve from the heat. Students ride together in small groups of two to three or can opt for a private lesson when the schedule allows. Each 50-minute lesson follows the progression riders envision of European riding schools, complete with castle views from the arena. Throughout, riders remain mostly in single file formation, which puts riders in a constant state of adjusting their horse’s rhythm, another reminder of staying firmly rooted in every moment.
Later in the evening, we are able to expand on some of these philosophies and the classical tenets that Il Paretaio preserves. Seated around the massive dining room table with the sun long disappeared, students relaxed for bountiful and leisurely Tuscan dinners with free-flowing wine from the local Chianti region. Giovanni and Cristina, along with their son Pietro happily shared their love and wisdom of training horses and riders. Above all, lightness of a rider’s aids and harmony with her horse remain uncompromised foundations here, in addition to memorable food and beautiful surroundings.
Most nights ten to twenty students are gathered for dinner, coming from all over the globe and joined by the common bond of horses. During our week at Il Paretaio, we shared arena time and meals with couples from Germany, China, a few families from France, Belgium. As we cleaned every morsel of Tirimasu from our plates, we shared stories of home and talked in the language that united us: horses. During dinner, the following day’s riding schedule and horse assignments appeared on the mantle. This daily spreadsheet logged the rotation of twenty guests, five instructors, nearly 30 horses, and two arenas. Impressively, everything ran like clockwork.
On our final afternoon at the school, we headed out through the countryside for a two-hour trail ride to the private wine cellar of Riccardo Casamonti. We rode through slanting afternoon sun washing over butter colored hillsides, clip-clopped through the cobbled piazza of ancient stone villages, and meandered through verdant wine farmsteads. As our horses nibbled grass nearby, we snacked on homemade olive oil drizzled over flatbread and learned about the evolution of well-known wines like Chianti Classico. Tasting the exquisite flavors of Casamonti’s three different red wines, we detected characteristics that might only be described as passion, or commitment to history. Traveling home on horseback later, we nearly lost track of what century we were in.
I had arrived at this classical riding school intending to dissect and hone the minutia of dressage aids. Or at least that was what I thought I needed. Turns out, I needed the kind of revamp to my riding that comes in the form of improving oneself from the inside out, taking time to settle down and breathe. With quiet elegance, life at Il Paretaio improves riders in ways they did not anticipate, ways they will quickly fall in love with. This just might explain how classical dressage has survived so long.