Saturday, January 8, 2011

My meeting with a Legend...

I am so pleased that this piece was broadcast on RTE 1 (Ireland’s National Broadcasting Station) August 16th 2009, when the subject was 100 years old.

My hero died almost a year later, having reached 101. He did not get to this age by sitting around minding himself... here's the story of my meeting with one of the most fascinating men I have ever had the good fortune to encounter. 

On a January morning in 1941, at dawn in the African desert, a dashing Italian officer led a successful cavalry charge, almost the last one in history, against the might of the British Army in Eritrea, interrupting their early morning tea. 

Over fifty years later, on another January morning, this time in County Meath, the same heroic figure interrupted his morning to help me overcome every riders nightmare, a total loss of confidence following a fall.  The hero on both occasions was Amedeo Guillet, the subject of Sebastian O’Kelly’s book.

Amedeo, A True Story of Love and War in Abyssinia, recounts his astonishing, long, thrilling life, his endless dangerous and dazzling adventures, his fearlessness, courage and sheer daring. Said to be the most decorated person in Italian history, Amedeo’s life has been described as The English Patient meets Captain Correlli.

A truly noble man, Amedeo has lived now for almost 100 years, and what a life it has been. His horsemanship is without question - he was selected to ride in the Olympics of 1936. His bravery in combat has earned him more honours than we can count, both in Italy and elsewhere. In the Spanish Civil war, he received the Silver Medal for Gallantry.
During the following years, including the famous Eritrea cavalry charge, and his subsequent adventures in the horn of Africa, cheating death on many occasions, depending on who was speaking, he was known as either The Devil Commander or The Italian Lawrence of Arabia.

At the end of the war, Amedeo Guillet joined the diplomatic services and represented Italy in Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, Morocco and India. He was to cheat death in Morocco once again, when over ninety people, including the Belgian Ambassador were killed as rebels stormed a lunch to celebrate King Hassan’s birthday in 1971.

His Excellency spends part of the year in County Meath and so it was there that I met this living legend, this hero. I walked into his yard and standing beside the Ambassador was another man, who looked, I have to admit, equally heroic. I was introduced to Fergus O’Connor, a friend and long time pupil of Amedeo’s. They had worked together for many, many, years. Without delay, which was just as well in my case, I was given a leg up and we began.

The first thing Amedeo impressed on me was that “all will be well” and straight away he put me through a few initial moves, using the Caprilli method of riding, new to me, and offering words of encouragement and support, all the while keeping me moving, concentrating, with no time for any negative thoughts to arise.

We quickly moved on to some advanced paces, and all I could hear was the voice of one of the greatest horsemen that ever lived, keeping me, surely one of the least talented riders ever born, moving on, and on and on.

After about twenty minutes, I wondered aloud why I had ever stopped riding. His Excellency gave a little smile and said this was a good sign. He was right. That magical morning, I got something huge back in my life.

Thanks to the Italian Lawrence of Arabia, I had found again, in a beautiful yard in County Meath, that ‘top of the world’ feeling.

And it did not end there. I went back to Fergus O’Connor’s superb equestrian school on the
Slane Road
at Dunmoe that very same day and continued with him until all my problems were sorted out. He, like his teacher, is a genius in the world of the horse, and the only instructor using the Caprilli method in Ireland. An internationally recognised talent, Fergus also possesses that curious gift, the ability to inspire confidence in both horse and rider. And just like Amedeo, he has the same passion for working with people and horses.

All these years later, Fergus’s explanation of why he was there that morning still makes me smile.

“Amedeo said someone was coming for help on Saturday morning at ten, could I be there? The last time he said that, the person who came into the yard was a European Princess. For all I knew, you were another one.”

1 comment:

  1. Sisters under the skin, I suspect. I never to my knowledge was instructed in the Caprelli Method, but an incredible (then old) lady gave me some in Meussler's. We must talk some time! (That's a joke, I think.)