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"There, there," said the general. "Did the horse really hurt you?" La Gorda nodded vehemently and whispered into her father's ear. "We'll see, we'll see," he said.
"I told you," said Patty triumphantly. "She wants a Lambretta like Vicky's." "We'll see," said the general, with a smile. The doctor came in. Crisp and jaunty, he shook hands with the general and the children, then went to work with his equipment.
Ten minutes later, he was back. The general still stood quietly stroking La Gorda's hair as she continued to sob weakly. The doctor waved the X-ray plates. "Absolutely nothing here!" he announced happily. "She is only in a mild state of shock. Let her rest a few days to make sure—but nothing seems wrong." Mariles clapped the doctor on the back. The doctor produced a framed photograph. "See, mi general, I used to ride too." He handed the picture to the general. Mariles studied it. "You were very good," he said graciously. "Your legs are just a little too far back, but you were not bad at all."
A gentle snore came from the couch. La Gorda, exhausted, had fallen asleep. The doctor winked at the general. "She was not hurt," he said. "I thought not," agreed Mariles, "but one has to be sure. She has not yet learned that a fall is no tragedy. I remember my last fall—Chihuahua put me down in Toronto at the Royal Winter Fair. I was circling the ring with the trophy I had just won when they turned the spotlight on us. Chihuahua thought it was something to jump, so he jumped. Was I surprised! There I was, sitting on the tanbark, still holding that big, silver bowl!" He walked over to the sleeping La Gorda and shook her gently by the shoulder. She woke up and buried her head against his chest, sobbing again. "There, there," said the general. La Gorda raised her head and whispered lengthily in his ear. "All right," agreed the general, "all right—we'll get you one too."
Last spring the Mexican Equestrian Federation, the actual official representative of the nation at the International Equestrian Federation congress, decided to hold five tests of its own to select a Mexican non-army team. In an atmosphere of some tension, alert for any signs of unfavorable government reaction, the trials were held. Mariles entered, won and was appointed captain of the team.
With an entire summer to practice in, the general was ebullient about the prospects for putting on a worthy show north of the border this fall. He showed his confidence when, later that evening, he arrived with his family at the club casino, laden down with movie projection equipment and reels of film, to show and explain some of the victories of former years. "You may learn a good deal about jumping from these films," he said. "I always have. And I have shown them many times to the members of my team this past summer as we trained. We have trained hard, and I think we will do well. Anyway," he added defiantly with a gesture that included all forms of higher authority which sought to keep him out of competition, "we will show them! They may have the power, but I have the heart, and they cannot break it!"
The screen was set up, the first reel threaded in, the lights dimmed. "Now," said the general, "we will look at what we have here. I study these films. I learn my mistakes and I analyze the different styles of riding. I changed my ideas on balance after watching movies of my daughter Vicky riding when she was 5 years old." He clicked the projector's switch. Nothing happened. He jiggled some wires and peered at the interior. He flicked the switch; again. Nothing happened. Mariles turned away from the machine in disgust. "Wait, Humberto! called his wife. She inspected the projector and pushed at a plug. The machine started.
"This movie," Mariles explained, his good humor restored, "was taken in Rome in 1948. Ha!" he shouted, "There goes Raimondo D'Inzeo. Look at his elbows—now remember and watch how much better he is four years later—he became one of Europe's great riders. But that year when I was in Rome one of the officers told me that I was the only one that really rode in the Italian style."
The film whirred on as riders from assorted countries appeared. "Now this is me on Arete," he continued. "Watch my legs—my stirrup is longer—the center of balance different. This way I can use my legs to help the horse, both on the take-off and landing." The film ended with a Mariles victory. "The saddle," he said as he readied the next reel, "is extremely important. In fact, I have designed my own saddle, and now people are writing to me from all over the world, asking how they can get one. My saddle is short from pommel to cantle, and deep. This way one has the most contact with the thighs—and therefore better balance and security."
Now the family settled deeper into their chairs, obviously expectant. They knew what was coming—the film of the general's Olympic victory in 1948. "Here first is a Chilean," Mariles announced. "They believe that the rider's body should be parallel with the horse's neck. That is why they always fall off when there is any trouble. They are not deep in the saddle, so it is not a secure seat." Several other riders made the course, drawing praise or criticism from the general. "Ha! Here come the Russians!" he exclaimed. "The Americans would like this film...all three riders fall off." There was a silence while the Russians made their appearance and fell off. "Now," said the general, "here I come...." His family drew in its breath as though truly unaware of the final outcome.