A gentle man who favors Western, cowboy gear passes on the riding lessons he first learned 62 years ago on the back of his family’s farm horse.
PEGLIO, Italy–Before the sun rises over the Metauro Valley, Vittorio Angeli has pulled on his blue jeans, fastened his belt buckle that is the size of his fist, and covered his silver hair with a black cowboy hat.
It sounds like a scene from a Western film from the 1960s, but it is an ordinary day in Angeli’s life. He owns Western Passion Horse Ranch, a cowboy-style riding school that also offers trail rides, southwest of Peglio. Even though those classic Clint Eastwood movies are the work of an Italian director, Sergio Leone, in Italy it is unusual to find the Western style of riding that Angeli teaches.
But for his 70 years, Angeli has been breaking the norm, donning a cowboy hat and sliding into his worn, Western saddle, complete with a pommel. It is his passion now to show others the happiness a life with a horse can bring, and the lessons these beautiful animals can teach.
“If you ride a horse, you will be happy,” Angeli said through an interpreter.“And the world will become full with color.”
Angeli’s world has always been filled with color, as horses have been in his family for three generations. He still remembers the happiness he felt as an 8-year-old boy after his father put him on the family’s farm horse for the first time.
Though he now has a white beard and deep creases, Angeli grinned at the memory the same way he must have 62 years ago. That joy never faded, so after retiring from building washing machines, he used the 25,000 euro ($31,250) he had saved to open the ranch.
“My life has been filled with love and happiness through horses,” Angeli said. “To me, it is important to show young people this type of love and happiness.”
Angeli does that in the training ring. After 14-year-old Rosa Bendelli secured her horse, Elisabeth, in the stable, she smiled at her dedicated instructor. He patted his knee, offering her a seat after a long day riding, and Rosa gladly accepted, as she has for seven years.
Angeli teased her about the days she would cry at her lessons. Rosa playfully rolled her eyes at her teacher, remembering with some embarrassment her early days on horseback.
Then seven, she would be frustrated to tears while practicing her tight turns. Leaning her body in one direction, while stretching her arm in the other while still controlling her horse, Rosa despaired of ever mastering the Western technique.
But with a familiar chuckle that distracted her from the challenge, and a direct tone that guided her through each attempt, Angeli and his patience encouraged Rosa to believe in herself and to continue riding.
“It takes a lot of time to teach the right way to ride,” Vittorio said. “I don’t care if I lose time or money. For my own well being, it is more beautiful to teach the right way.”
Angeli believes that to correctly ride a horse, one must understand the animal: The way she moves and the way she thinks. Just as a rider is analyzing his horse, the horse is doing the same. She will trust a gentle stroke on the nose, and a firm grip on the rein. But if she senses hostility, she will refuse to listen. This is the foundation Angeli teaches.
Making money is not the business of the ranch. Students pay 250 euro (about $315) for 13 lessons, and the trail rides cost 60 euro ($75) per rider. Covering the expenses of managing the ranch, caring for the horses, and about two trail rides organized per month, there are no profits. But Angeli gains much more.
“I have money to feed my horses, and I have money to feed myself,” Angeli said. “This is all I need.”