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Spain - Sierra de Gredos
After a very early start from my home in the morning, thankfully my flight was on time and I arrived slightly early into Malaga. Andrew was waiting for me at the meeting point along with Sue who was also on the same trip as me.
From Malaga the transfer vehicle was to go onto Gibraltar to collect Rebecca (another guest), however mid-way through the transfer Andrew received a call to say that the Gibraltar flight had been unable to land and had transferred onto Malaga. This meant that we had to about turn on the road and drive back to Malaga. By this time it was raining heavily so I was quite glad to be sat inside the transfer vehicle! During the drive to Los Alamos we passed through lots of little villages and were pleased to see some local Ferias taking place where the whole town seemed to be outside and having a party! You could also see from the roadside how they take and treat the bark from the cork oak trees to make corks for our wine bottles; very interesting and not something I had ever considered before.
We all reached Los Alamos just after 3.30pm and as well as the sunshine coming out we were also warmly met by Rhiannon and Jackie. We were shown our rooms and then served a very welcome late lunch which we quickly devoured due to being hungry. Lunch was a mixed salad with dressing, sliced tomatoes, deep-filled potato and cheese tortilla, Spanish cold meats (sausage, salami, ham etc.) cheese and bread. Served with a “summer wine” and water.
After lunch, we all met Rachel who is responsible for the horses and she drove everyone the very short distance to the horses’ area. This is a very large pine tree area, where the horses were all loose in sectioned areas within the trees. She gave a little talk about the history of the horses that were near to us, then asked each person what type of riding they currently did, and also what type of horse they preferred to ride. She is obviously very proud of her horses and has a thorough knowledge of each and every one.
We all choose to stretch our legs and walk back to the villa (a distance of only a few minutes). The sun was still shining and it was warming our faces beautifully. We then had the chance to unpack our bags and relax in the garden for a little while chatting or reading our books and enjoying the sunshine.
Everyone met up again about 7:30pm for drinks and supper. This was Vegetable Soup, followed by Spanish Pork Cassoulet served with Rice, followed by Strawberries & Cream.
During the meal Andrew explained to us all what lay in store for the week ahead. We all retired to bed quite early as many of us had been awake since the very early hours of the morning.
I awoke to another very sunny morning and the sound of a nearby cockerel singing his heart out! It certainly sounds like rural Andalucia and I was looking forward to exploring from horseback.
Breakfast was laid out on the dining room table and there was cereal, fresh orange juice, tea & coffee. Plus toast with a selection of jams, eggs, bacon and sausages to cook for those who wanted it. All of this was self service.
We walked to the horses at 10:00 and were met by Rachel and Jackie. All of our horses were tied up and fully tacked looking well brushed and clean. Rachel gave a little safety talk about not getting too close, keeping 2 horses length apart in canter and then proceeded to advise each client who was riding which horse and a little bit of information regarding each of our mounts.
I was riding a 7yr old, approx 16hh grey mare called Feria who was very pretty and typically Spanish. She was a very sensitive, delicate mare who settled down very quickly with me. The other horses out on the ride today were incredibly well behaved and knew their jobs thoroughly. Chico, a little grey 14.2hh gelding was very willing, speedy and safe. Gancho a little 14.2hh bay gelding (barb type) marched along covering the ground surprising well considering his small stature. Terano was about 15.2hh bay gelding and very bombproof, he was sensible and sure footed, making him perfect for the less experienced or nervous clients.
We spent the morning quietly riding through the forest and getting to know our mounts, with a few trots and a couple of little uphill canters. We stopped for lunch just after 1pm and this was at a hidden little local bar in the middle of the forest. We all choose to sit outside the bar in the sunshine and ate a delicious tuna salad and Spanish cheese tortilla, followed by a wobbly hot chocolate.
After lunch we remounted and continued winding our way through the forest for about another hour. When we finished riding, we untacked and washed down our horses then lazily watched them all being fed and enjoying their well deserved nose-bags.
Walking back to Los Alamos I was chased by a very large, and very noisy turkey who was guarding a village farmhouse – making the others laugh at my misfortune not to still be mounted upon my horse, thus not achieving a very successful gallop to safety!. We arrived back at Los Alamos about 4pm when we all had a bit of “downtime” before supper. Some of us sat beside the pool enjoying the sunshine.
Supper tonight was Prawns in Garlic for most people and Deep-fried Breaded Mushrooms with Garlic Mayonnaise for me as I have a seafood allergy, followed by Chicken cooked in a tomato and diced vegetable sauce with mashed potato, followed by poached peaches covered in a honey dressing.
I awoke today to discover the weather had done a complete u-turn. It was now absolutely pouring with rain and looked like it was set in for the day! Not to be defeated, we all climbed into our waterproofs and made our way to the horses at 10am. Luckily for us by this time the sky had emptied itself to a drizzle.
I rode a horse called Terranto today who had an amazing wavy mane that fell well beyond his shoulders. He was a 15.2hh grey gelding and very secure footed. He really enjoyed being near the front in the canters and although he did take a good hold, he was certainly easily manageable. Everyone else rode the same horses as yesterday. Jose led the ride today.
We rode through the forest to the beach. Once at the beach Rachel placed all horses in a line, with Jose at the front, followed by each horse in order of how fast they could gallop. This ensured that no horse would get “boxed in” and try to overtake the one in front. I found myself with my speedy mount right at the front and really enjoyed myself when we rode at the waters edge for a very long canter/gallop. Luckily the rain only returned just as we were leaving the beach and we quickly made our way to our lunch spot. We all tied our horses to some trees within a wooded area near the beach and went inside a lovely little bistro to dry out beside a very welcome open fire. We all had built up quite an appetite in the sea air and quickly finished our sandwiches and warm drinks.
We then remounted onto very soggy saddles from the heavy rain during lunch (wet bottoms all round) and made our way from the beach back through the forest for a good fast gallop along one of the firebreaks in the forest.
Back at Los Alamos we all dived for our nice warm showers and dry clothes! A roaring log fire was blazing in the guest room and we all sat around this warming ourselves and re-telling tales from the day. Supper tonight was a delicious tomato and herb soup, followed by lasagne with garlic bread and a vast mixed salad, followed by blueberry pancakes (as it was ‘pancake day’ back in the UK).
Today the weather was a little better and although overcast promised to be dry and warm. We rode through the forest today taking in all the different array of flaura and fauna it offered, including the wild asparagus plants and some miniature ‘bee orchids’. We had some great speedy canters along the winding forest tracks. Later in the morning we all undertook the infamous “corkscrew”, which is a forward going canter over rolling sandy tracks that seems to go on forever – wide toothed grins all round!
We were then delighted to stumble upon an old Spaniard riding his stallion in a clearing in the middle of the forest practising his Spanish Walk. He looked in complete control and could easily have been a scene from a hundred years ago wearing his flat cap and his horse completely decked out in traditional Spanish tack. We stopped to watch for a while before moving on for lunch at local bar in the village. Lunch was a huge mixture of dishes, including vegetable stack (made up of aubergine, peppers, onions and tomatoes), garlic chicken – poached fish, bread and chips. The dishes just kept coming and coming……
The afternoon was spent at a leisurely pace through the forest and out onto the farmland beyond. We rode beside green fields full of cattle and up steep gulleys – at the top of which were views of the ‘broccoli’ like trees of the forest spreading out as far as the eye could see.
I rode a horse called Candita – a new bay gelding that is about 16hh. He didn’t like to be left behind and would jog regularly to catch up but at least I didn’t need to use any leg! He also had a very long stride and covered the ground easily in canter.
The weather was a mixed bag today, with a mixture of sunshine and showers but pleasantly warm. Some of our party had massage treatments booked for late afternoon and they said that the masseuse was very good, and even did some spine realignment too.
We were joined this evening by Vikki and Anna who had arrived for a short break weekend. Supper tonight was bruscietta topped with goat’s cheese, Spanish meatballs served with potato wedges and vegetables and to follow a chocolate mousse dessert.
Today Geoff and I left at 8:30 in the morning for the hour car journey into Jerez. Upon arrival we collected our tickets for the show at the Andaluza del Arte Ecuestre.
We then went onto the carriage museum within the Equestrian Centre. Here we could walk amongst the ancient parade carriages, peering inside them. We could also freely walk around the stable yard where the grooms were plaiting and tacking up the stallions ready for the show. Each stable was immaculate, with clean bedding and hay supply. The stallions were all in immaculate condition and looking like each and every one had received a daily bath! We could also stand outside beside the training arenas and watch the horses going through their daily training and exercise.
The show started at 12:00 and finished at 1:30pm. It was a beautiful display of the Spanish horses, and an absolute must for anyone who either loves dressage or appreciates the athletism of horses. These horses are very unique in the control of all of their paces and the movements such as passage, and half pass held such cadence and timing it was a sight to behold. I left feeling very impressed at what I had just seen.
After the show, we had lunch at a local bar. Choices of dishes were available to choose from the menu and we were all very full by the time we left! A quick visit to a saddlery store for any purchases, and also to a sherry retailer who allowed you to try some samples of their locally produced sherry.
We arrived back at Los Alamos about 4:30pm and supper later was carrot and coriander soup, followed by spicy pork cooked in a rich wine sauce with chopped peppers, onions, courgettes and served with cous cous, and apple crumble served with cream.
Today we returned to the beach. Due to the tide we could only have a shorter slower canter at the waters edge, but we also amused ourselves by cantering along the windy tracks through the sand dunes. Vinnie was on hand to take a lot of action shots of everyone riding their horses. We stopped for lunch at a beach bar – a choice of sandwiches – then rode back through the forest for the afternoon. We experienced the “black run” of the “rollercoaster” which is a sandy firebreak with a good drop downhill at the end of it! The rollercoaster has a few different routes depending on your ability (i.e. to the left, middle or right of the firebreak), the level of the severity of the drop is different depending on which route is taken. Be prepared to canter downhill – it is great fun as all of the horses are so sure-footed.
I was on Taranto again today who seemed particularly lively with the sand under his feet, and everyone else rode the same horses. Anna was on Sarita and Vikki rode Bonito. Sarita is a 16hh bay mare, home bred cob cross Spanish horse, and although she is only 5 years old, was extremely well behaved and very suitable for a novice or nervous rider. Bonito is approx 15.2hh grey gelding, who was also a quiet ride and was steadier in his gallops.
We then returned to Los Alamos about 16:00, had a quick turnaround of about an hour before we all left to go to Antonio Corales' yard, a top Doma Vaquero and Doma classical trainer, to watch my classical Spanish riding lesson. Antonio’s yard consists of mainly stallions, with a few horses that are a mixture of geldings and mares (in training).
I was given an hour’s lesson on a 16hh black 3 year old stallion called Burbalisco.
There had been a huge rain storm the night before my visit and his outdoor arena was quite wet/boggy in places, so faster paces were not included within my lesson (however I am assured that usually the arena is soft sand). My lesson consisted of shoulder-in, travers, half pass, passage and spanish walk. These stallions are so well schooled, that even the slightest of movement in your contact on the reins or in your leg would result in the horse either obeying you or not. It certainly showed up the flaws in my riding ability! Antonio would conduct the lesson in Spanish and Rachel would translate his instructions. He is a very passionate teacher, who was very demonstrative in his verbal instructions, and would be very expressive both when you got it right and wrong!
At the end of my lesson Antonio gave me the opportunity to experience some classical spanish movements. The only way I personally could achieve this was with him on the ground beside my stallion (like the show in Jerez) giving the verbal commands, and I had some wonderful moments sitting aboard this stallion and experiencing these amazing movements, such as piaffe on the spot and spanish walk, something I feel I would never have achieved on my own!
If you have a good understanding of high-level dressage then you would get the most out these sessions, they are by no means a typical British riding lesson with dressage movements. However Antonio will tailor the lesson for the individual and will often just help them with leg yield and circles. Obviously even if you are not proficient at dressage, you will at least like me have the experience of riding one of these amazing horses (something that most people never have the opportunity to do).
After my lesson Antonio then brought out his other stallions in hand for us all to look at. They were all extremely well cared for and incredibly fit. Supper was at a local bar near the stud and was a selection of spanish tapas dishes.
Our ride today was a quieter ride (which suited all of us as some were tired and aching). I rode a 15.2hh grey mare called Saraya who was rescued by Los Alamos a couple of years ago, having been abandoned with her foot tethered. She was my favourite ride of the week, and she gave me a wonderful fast final gallop and she also seemed to be the only horse that could keep up with Jose.
We rode through the forest to the Moorish look-out tower of “El Tajo”. Here we had some great viewpoints of the cliffs and coastline.
A leisurely lunch followed at a local bar, and was a repeat of the vast mixture of dishes we had all eaten on Wednesday. After one final gallop we returned to Los Alamos just before 3pm. Upon return all of the horses were washed down, the saddles and bridles all cleaned and you can help with this if you choose to.
There was great excitement within the group as everyone had a good look at Vinnie’s photos capturing the weeks riding, and many a conversation this evening was re-living these captured moments in time!
There was a farewell dinner in the evening. This was fresh prawns in garlic (stuffed mushrooms for myself), followed by sliced beef cooked in a tomato based sauce and served with a potato and vegetable ratatouille. Sweet was pears poached in red wine with cream.
We all rose early today and left Los Alamos at 07:30 for the airport. We went via Gibraltar, and then onto Malaga. After a quick goodbye to everyone we all dashed for our various check-in queues.
Andrew kindly checked that we were all ok in our various queues, and then made his way to the meeting point to greet his next lucky group of guests who would be enjoying themselves on his horses, in the forest and on the beaches of Andalucia.
Sarah Dale, 7th March, 2011
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