Gabrielle Mastini: Cavaliere di cagli

Story by Lynne Tarter

Her tail whooshes from side to side as she stands beside him, and one thing is clear: Furry-coated Camille is in love with Gabrielle Mastini. Dogs know.  This man has a wonderful soul. 

Gabrielle considers himself the Cavaliere di Cagli or horseman of Cagli . “Horses are my life and breath,” he says. His fondest memories are of Kaid, his favorite pure black horse – one of the nine horses he has owned over the years.  When his boarding stable closed down years ago, he was forced to give up his horses.  However, for the benefit of Cagli’s youth, Gabrielle turned his love for horses into community activism.  He volunteers regularly on his friend Cesare Baldeschi’s ranch, where they manage a non-profit equestrian therapy ranch named Posto della Viole .

The Mastini family has a proud history in Cagli dating back to 910 A.D., when the town was built on top of a mountain in the Apennine range.  Having served as knights for the Duke of Urbino, the Mastini family crest features a loyal canine under a majestic eagle. While viewing the Mastini crest at his cousin’s house, Gabrielle laments, “As a family, we lost everything.  From 18 castles 1,100 years ago to now just a family crest.”  To preserve some of this rich history, Gabrielle labors in what looks like an ancient furniture restoration shop .  H e is working to careful ly restore a 610-year-old billow used to fan the coals of blacksmiths in the 1400s.  Fondly reminiscing on the time he spent in the shop with his father, he states, “I miss my father; he taught me everything.” 

Gabrielle shares his many talents with the Cagli community through theater.   An accomplished playwright of three comedies in Cagliese dialect, he wrote a comedy last year about a honeymooning couple entitled “The First Night,” a story about a fearful, conservative new bride who finds herself on her honeymoon with a seasoned, passionate new husband. He is also a poet and fiction writer.

Along the gravel driveway of Posto della Viole, upturned sunflowers undulate in the country breeze . The powerful scent of lavender is overwhelming.  Immediately, Gabrielle rushes to see Nerone and Cristallo, the ranch’s equine stars.   Geese honk from the back of the buildings; pigeons, rabbits and bees are tucked into shady spots around the ranch.  Approaching the horses, Gabrielle sings out, and the horses respond with equally warm nuzzling and a gentle neigh.

With over 800 heritage plants including 300 black-truffle, olive and various fruit trees, ranch chores never end. Five youth ranging in age from 16 to 18 live there full-time. Gabrielle says he hopes that caring for the animals and taking part in the day-to-day work of the ranch touches their hearts and minds. The teenagers plant, shovel, feed, sweep and clean.  And always, they walk with the horses, talking quietly to them, guiding them through the fields as the horses eat clover and thistles. 

Gabrielle walks and talks privately with a teen resident of Posto della Viole. Stopping at the red barn, Gabrielle pulls out a hose while the kids grab their brushes.  Bath time! Gabrielle smiles as he brushes Nerone and chats with the teen.  A calm settles over both their faces as they wash Nerone’s neck and back.  Once finished, Nerone’s black coat glistens in the sun as the group walks him back to the paddock. 

With his bridle removed, Nerone prances into the center of his pasture and drops to the ground, rolling and twisting on his back in the dirt.  Popping back up with mouth open, lips pulled back and teeth showing, Nerone’s pleasure is met with a smile from Gabrielle.  The Cavaliere di Cagli laughs at the futility of bath time and the joy his beloved horses bring to the youth of Cagli. 

Gabrielle Mastini and his horse.

Gabrielle Mastini and his horse Nerone.

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