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Horse riding holiday in Sierra Nevada, Spain

by Jo Chipchase

I was on the look out for an active holiday that could be taken on four hooves rather than two feet and so I opted for a trail ride with Caballo Blanco Trekking Centre.

It is located above the spa town of Lanjaron in La Alpujarra, southern Spain, a mountainous region that extends south from the Sierra Nevada range, near the city of Granada – the perfect landscape for a horse riding holiday.

On a morning that was surprisingly warm for February, with 18°C temperatures and the sun shining, I arrived at the Caballo Blanco ranch to meet my mount for the trail ride.

I was introduced to Ciel: a 16h grey gelding who is reasonably lively while remaining easy to control, give or take the odd friendly head-butt. I was informed that my mount would stand still while I took photos but was also capable of a turn of speed on the “campo” (land).

Ciel, Caballo Blanco

Ciel (c) Caballo Blanco

The trail started off on a mountain track. It was a clear day and we could see a landscape that extended towards Salobrena, the Mediterranean Sea and on the distant horizon, Morocco.

We then headed on to a goat trail that wound its way up the Rio Lanjaron. This route had impressive views of the glacial scenery of the “rio” (gorge).

The snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada provided the backdrop while we passed the silvery-black structures of oak trees that had burnt down in a 1996 forest fire that engulfed the Rio Lanjaron. We also saw distant waterfalls cascading with snow-melt from the high Sierra.

Sierra Nevada, Costa del Sol, Spain

Snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada (c) wikimedia/Antonio Morales García

Our guide, Sarah Vesey, proved impressive in her knowledge of the mountain terrain, the goat trails, the local weather systems and the history of the area. At one point, our way forward on the track was blocked first by fallen trees and secondly by a bull with vicious-looking horns. However, nothing fazed Sarah: as well as passing any obstructions, she whistled at her farm dogs to herd the bull out of our way so we could pass without being gored!

After accessing a wider track that allowed an uphill canter, we slowed the pace and stopped on a grassy patch with an inspiring view of snowy peaks. Here, we dismounted for our picnic lunch, taken in the fresh air.

It was time to return back to base for an overnight stop in the Casa de Viento, which is known for its cuisine and hospitality, before resuming the next day.

There’s something calming about venturing off the beaten track into the majesty of the scenery. Faced with nature in all its glory, enjoyed from the vantage point of a four-hooved beast, we could go back in time… and make the stresses of modern-day living fade away. As Sarah said, riding in the Sierra Nevada natural park is “like a meditation”.

Caballo Blanco horse rider

Our guide, Sarah Vesey (c) Caballo Blanco

Fact Box

Caballo Blanco provides a range of riding holidays – whether riders prefer a trail ride or to head out each day from base. Established in 1993 and set on a plateau with a panoramic view, Caballo Blanco caters for riders of all experiences and ages over five.

Finding the right riding centre for you in Spain

In the UK, the British Horse Society regulates equestrian establishments and no respectable riding establishment would be without its BHS credentials, in Spain – and across Europe in general – accreditation is much thinner on the ground.

Sarah Vesey of Caballo Blanco advises:

“Check how long the riding centre has been running, read online reviews and view photographs on its website to see if the horses appear to be in a good condition. Check if the proprietors have any qualifications to their name. If you have any concerns, book through an established riding holiday agent. The same goes for choosing an agent: read the reviews on their web pages to see if the customers are satisfied.”

Holly Anthony of Far and Ride – a UK-based, family-run riding holiday says:

“Even if a Spanish riding centre doesn’t have formal accreditation, don’t discount it for a trekking holiday. Check that the proprietor has the necessary insurance for the safety of horses and riders and uses experienced guides.”

Booking the right package

Some holidays are based on a trail-ride with several overnight stops, others involve staying on one “ranch” and having several hours of riding lessons per day – perhaps instructing in a specialist skill, such as dressage. Some combine trekking with lessons in the school. Decide what format suits you best before booking.

Many deals exist for riding holidays, so shop around and take time to consider what you’re getting for your money. Many riding holiday establishments offer discounts for early bookings, last minute trips or during low season, while agents may offer loyalty discounts to repeat clients. Compare prices in terms of accommodation, meals and riding hours. Before you book, make sure that you’ve accounted for additional costs such as flights, airport transfers, travel insurance, drinks and tips.

If you are a novice, say so!

One tendency of novice horse riders can be to overstate their ability. Avoid this. You will gain more enjoyment from your riding holiday if matched to a horse and fellow riders that suit your experience. For example, the absolute beginner who can just about manage a steady walking pace is unlikely to enjoy being thrown into a group that wants to gallop and jump cross country hurdles.

If you’re a complete novice, it may be worth booking a couple of riding lessons at home before departing for your riding holiday. Knowing the basics of horsemanship – such as how to hold the reins, sit correctly, make the horse walk on, trot and change direction – could improve your riding holiday, especially if it’s a trek where tuition may be minimal.

Pack only what you need

When deciding what to take, travel light. Remember to carry sun cream and long-sleeved shirts: your trek will hardly be improved by a bad case of sunburn.

Sensible items to pack include jodhpurs or breeches, half chaps, riding gloves and riding boots with tread or walking boots with tread and heel.

So what will fit into a saddle bag? In reality, you won’t need much more than a change of socks, underwear and clean shirts… and your toothbrush. However, some treks have 4 x 4 back up to take luggage on to the next accommodation. Either way, it is best to leave the designer coat and Jimmy Choos at home!


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