Exploring Catalonia on horseback

by Hidden Trails 09/24/2009

Riding in Spain  by Jim Keeble

‘Imagine you’re having sex,’ shouts Mick.
I try not to think too deeply about this, given that my partner is a large brown horse. But I do start to rise and fall in time with the trotting. It’s not exactly sex, more survival, but it is a lot more comfortable than before.
I love horse riding. The only problem is, I’ve not done it enough and I’m not as good as I’d like. Which is why I’ve decided to head to the Garrotxa region in the Spanish Pyrenees and ride in the hills for a week. Arriving at the lodge, a restored 15th century farmhouse half an hour up a narrow track on the crest of an oak-clad ridge, I feel a little intimidated. Everyone else in the seven-person group seems to ride every weekend, and often during the week. Before breakfast.
On the first night I drink to calm my nerves, consuming a little more than my share of the excellent local red wine. I awake to mist pirouetting up the valley, and the naying of horses eager for my blood. Mick Peters comes into the breakfast room.
‘We ride,’ he proclaims, as Genghis Khan must have done to the Mongol hordes.

 

Mick is an ex-farmer from the UK and he’s been in Spain for eighteen years. He has the patience of a saint and looks a little like Butch Cassidy, which might explain why the women in the group seem to respond particularly well. Most of his guests are English, German and Dutch. The Spanish, he says, don’t ride much. Riding is still considered an aristocratic pursuit in Spain, not for the ‘hoi polloi’. We, in contrast, are highly ‘hoi polloi’. There’s me, Paul Reeder and Denise Clarke from Limehouse, East London, German nurse Carmen and her daughter Steffi, German physio Karin, and businessman Helmut.
We’re due at the stables below the house at 10am. And yes, the Germans are there first, but beyond this observation any nationalism is non-existent. In fact we’re all getting on very well. They’ve kept quiet about soccer.
Each morning we have to prepare our steeds, check their hooves, talcum powder them, saddle them and harness them. My horse is called Pulida, which means ‘clean’, although with my amateur coat-brushing she rarely seems to be. Pulida, as Mick reassures me, is a gentle beast and seems highly sympathetic when I try to put the saddle on her the wrong way round. Before we set out Mick explains some important rules.
‘If you drop something and we stop, that’s a bottle of champagne. If you fall off, that’s a bottle of champagne.’
I ready myself to buy a case.

 http://www.hiddentrails.com/_templateresources/images/gallery_500/PR-CJSR/04_spain_catalonia_riding_tour.jpg


The countryside we ride into is gently spectacular. These ancient volcanic foothills are thickly wooded, laced with medieval villages and countless paths devoid of people. Garrotxa means ‘land difficult to walk upon’ but the horses, born and raised in the Pyrenees, are as sure-footed as a Riverdance line-up. Mick keeps us moving. ‘Trot!’ and ‘Canter!’ are words to loosen my sphincter. But our first day’s ride is relatively easy - three hours in the saddle, taking in a ruined 13th century monastery where we eat oranges and gaze up at snow-tipped Pyrenean peaks.
The week is well-planned - a full day’s ride followed by a half day in the saddle and plenty of time to recover. I find sitting on horseback surprisingly relaxing, a time for happy contemplation, lulled by clopping hooves. On the longest day we ride to the medieval village of Besalú, where we tie our horses by the river and swagger into town like desperadoes to eat sandwiches. In all we spend seven hours in the saddle and cover 25 kilometers.
‘Como esta tu culo?’, asks Mick’s Spanish wife Rosie on our return. How is your backside?
Surprisingly, it doesn’t hurt. But my back does. And calves. And knees, and thighs and arms. My head feels fine though. Until I have another evening on Mick’s wine. Flushed with equestrian success we sink several bottles and end up singing by the fire, a demonic Anglo-Germanic choir howling out Elvis Presley songs until the small hours. There is, I muse over yet another bottle of Vino Tinto, still hope for a united Europe.
Back in the saddle, my first ever gallop is the most exhilarating thing I’ve done since riding down two flights of stairs on a plastic tractor aged five. I even keep my eyes open.

http://www.hiddentrails.com/_templateresources/images/gallery_500/PR-CJSR/05_spain_catalonia_riding_tour.jpg

On my last night I sit by the fire feeling more than a little pleased with myself. I begin to wonder if I might stay on to try the subsequent week long trail ride, a trip which several members of the group are doing, where you travel on horseback from the hills, via small hotels, as far as the Mediterranean.
It can’t be that difficult, I decide. After all, it’s like having sex. For eight hours a day, every day, for six days.
Maybe next time.

This trip can be booked with Hidden Trails, a specialist in equestrian vacations all over the world. 
You can call toll free at  1-888-9-TRAILS or contact them on Skype at  skype:hiddentrails .
You can also see details on this trip including rates and trip date on their website at: 
http://www.hiddentrails.com/tour/spain_catalonia_explorer_ride.aspx

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