Way back in 1975 I swapped from being a weekend rider to a ‘cowboy’ – spending the next 45 years or so riding some 600 horses worldwide.
It all began when I joined an excitable bunch of seven latter day Don Quixotes, of varying ability, for a 15-day 250 plus miles pioneering summer sortie into Spain’s Sierra Nevada (Snowy Mountains).
Run by Aventura – founded by horse lover Sally Harvey and her partner Jeff Judd – we set out for a mid-June journey from their base at Orgiva, keen to tackle the trails (and trials), which lay head.
Overnight stops were in pasadas, country inns used for centuries by mule teams where we slept on iron beds with straw mattresses. A shower, cold of course, was a luxury. Generally it was an enamel basin and a large water ewer. Dirty water was thrown out of the window…
First stop was Pitres, 30 miles, or so, a whole day ride where our drooping forms showed what fragile cossetted creatures we really were. The pasada, I recall had pink walls, That is all I remember after being woken at some unearthly hour by the clattering hooves of a passing mule.
By now I was falling in love with Marquesa, my Andalucian mare, a former plough horse who picked her way piaffe fashion along tiny stone strewn trails as the olive and orange groves around Orgiva gave way to a forest of mountain oak before reaching Travelez, at 1,829 reckoned the highest village in Europe.
An evening of flamenco by a local trio, along with sampling local fare, was as magical as the sight of the snow where, at around 10,600 feet, we crossed the mountain range, an uncompromising blend of great, grey boulders and tufts of grass,
In sharp contrast was our destination, Jeres del Marquesado, awash with white washed homes with window boxes of geraniums and carnations. It is also the home of the rare split-nosed dog.
Arizona style scenery marked the ride to Guadix with it dusty gorges and red, rocky hillocks. Watch out for the sign ‘Barrio Troglodyte’ the home of the cave dwellers, whose dazzling whitewashed chimneys and doors contrast dramatically with the snow-covered peaks of the Sierra Nevada looming above.
From there was a choice of crossing the snowline or join the eight-day ride down through steep-sided canyons into the village of Cadiar. I took the former, a unique experience I have yet to repeat. The snow and sight of the town’s splendid Renaissance castle still sticks in my mind.
So, too, does the day when, while stopping in a remote village an elderly lady, dressed in black, chased one of our riders, a vet, whacking him with a Harry Potter style besom believing him to be sent by Satan!
But then, as I wrote at the time, the whole adventure was ‘ an escape into mild madness in which time and conventions matter little.’
To quote one fellow rider: ‘We dined on pork, houmous, meatballs, cheese, bread, chicken, and wine. We were never hungry. All in all, this ride surpassed our wildest dreams.’
For the record my fellow riders included Dick, the vet, and his wife, Pauline in her early thirties who ran a hair-dressing business with her mother, Jane, in her late twenties and a personal assistant to a managing director, and Gerry, in his late thirties, a civil engineer turned anthropologist.
And the cost? £189 covering flights to Malaga and back to Gatwick, hire of horses and equipment and accommodation with breakfast, lunch and dinner, including wine. Those days and costs have long since gone, as has Aventura. And the 15-days expedition was eventually dropped as being too tough for some.
But fortunately the spirit of the Sierra lives on. Thanks to Dallas Love who with a worldwide reputation, runs Sierra Trails offering a range of day rides and hacks to short breaks and four distinctive week long trail rides www.spain-horse-riding.com or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. So, I suspect are the mix of riders, drawn together by a love of horses, especially the Andalucian.
Main photo courtesy of Dallas Love