One miserable, wet winter's day a few years ago I sat staring out of my kitchen window at the leaden sky, feeling thoroughly miserable. Newly divorced, stuck in a job I hated, and horseless for the first time in 25 years, I was at an all-time low. I was rapidly running out of reasons to get out of bed each morning. Seeking distraction, I booted up my laptop and began randomly surfing. Hmm. I wondered. I had money in the bank, plenty of annual leave to take. Why not? I thought.
A few weeks later, my Easyjet flight touched down at Malaga airport in Spain. I had never been on a riding holiday before. Come to think of it, I'd never been on holiday on my own before. I felt a little nervous, but it was too late now. I was here! I quickly located my host, who was waiting for me with the other holiday makers in my group, and I was relieved to discover that there were two other girls who had come by themselves. Everyone quickly got to chatting (about horses, naturally!) and I soon found myself relaxing with my new horsey friends.
A couple of hours' drive later, we arrived at Los Alamos--an enchanting traditional Spanish style farmhouse situated in the heart of a beautiful National Park. It was close to the Southern coast with its stunning, golden, sandy beaches. Having settled ourselves into our cool, comfortable rooms, we reconvened out on the patio and enjoyed lunch with summer wine and basked in glorious late afternoon sunshine, while our hosts asked about our riding experience and decided which horses we were each to be partnered with for the duration of our stay.
The following morning we strolled along the little footpath from Los Alamos to the field where our mounts waited in the shade, already tacked up for us. Our horses were all either part-Arab or Andalucian. All wore English saddles and either Pelham or Kimblewick bridles. Our guides explained that all the horses were trained using strong Spanish bits and responded to the slightest pressure on their mouths. Better to use a little contact on a stronger bit than a lot of contact on a softer one which could leave the horses' mouths bruised. My partner for the week was a gorgeous seven year old grey gelding called Duende and we hit it off straight away!
The forest trails were sandy and wound beneath the pleasant dappled shade afforded by umbrella pines and eucalyptus trees. Cattle grazed peacefully among gloriously scented banks of wild lavender and thyme and the forest floor was carpeted with pretty pink and white wildflowers. Occasionally the trails widened and we would enjoy a brisk canter. As the week progressed and we got to know our horses, the rides became a little faster. The 'Roller Coaster' trail became a particular favourite. The Roller Coaster is a broad, sandy fire-break which undulates quite alarmingly as it drops away steeply downhill. At first, everyone was more than a little nervous as were told we had to tackle it in a strong canter and to sit back! Our wonderful horses however clearly knew their job; no-one fell off and we all thoroughly enjoyed the buzz!
One glorious day we rode along the beach. The views from the forest out across the sea to Gibraltar were spectacular. Distant fishing boats bobbed like toys on a sea of sparkling sapphire blue and the coast of Morocco was just visible through a smoky lilac haze. As we followed the steeply winding trails down towards the coast, the horses' heads came up as they picked up the salty tang of the sea. We threaded our way through the dunes before emerging onto a broad swathe of deserted golden sand. The horses jogged and splashed through the frothy shallows as we followed the waterline, making sure that the sand was not too deep. Then we galloped! I remember laughing in delight as Duende dropped his head and stretched, loving the freedom and the feeling of the cool water soaking him as he accelerated.
As we walked lazily home on that last day, I closed my eyes. The sunshine was warm on my shoulders and the hot Levante wind lifted Duende's mane. I ran a hand fondly down my new friend's neck, and reflected that perhaps life wasn't so bad after all-- at least, not while we have horses to share it with.
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