TWELVE years ago I was in full preparation for the Andalucian Endurance Raid Riding Championships.
Artensana, the Arabian purebred mare I’d been training for almost two years claimed the silver medal at the prestigious event.
However, I wasn’t the jock and the week prior to the championships was the last time I sat in a saddle. A blue line on a home pregnancy test ended that dream, launching me instead into the adventure of a lifetime. Motherhood.
However before I knew it my baby boy was blowing out candles for his 11th birthday. Not such a baby anymore, I felt the urge to pick up the reigns of my former passion.
I started by writing about horse riding holidays in Andalucia, home of the Spanish purebred, for the Olive Press. It opened unexpected new doors.
Paddock Paradise, one of the riding centres I contacted for the feature, generously invited me to spend a day with them and go riding.
I’ve always been horse-mad. Just ask my parents who had to deal with me asking for a pony for Christmas ever since I was about three. So the only one feasible answer was YES PLEASE!
And so I found myself making my way to Ronda, best-known for its spectacular setting atop a deep gorge spanned by a stone bridge.
What I didn’t count on was my GPS signal disappearing as I arrived in the atmospheric mountain town.
After a 10-minute panic driving around in circles, streaming with sweat (I do more than glow) at the thought I wouldn’t make it to the riding centre on time, I did it the old-fashioned way and asked a complete stranger for directions…
I picked my target with calculation, an old man who no doubt knew the town like the back of his hand and would indicate more precisely than any top-of-the-range Sat Nav, with a bit of town history thrown in for good measure.
And he didn’t disappoint!
Thanks to my new friend, I learned that English painter David Bomberg lived and worked in Ronda in the 1950s, producing some of the finest landscapes of Spain; that the 5,000-year-old cave paintings near Ronda are an absolute must-see; and that the mountains around Ronda were a popular hide-out for 19th century bandits.
I also got excellent directions to the Ronda- Algeciras road (A-369) and my exit to gallop galore, keeping a keen lookout for modern-day bandits, just in case.
I soon found myself amid a Mediterranean forest, with spectacular views of the Tajo river and romantic Ronda beyond. I had reached my destination and it was instantly clear why Paddock Paradise is so-named.
A place where horses live in freedom, unencumbered by horseshoes, and are ridden without bits, spurs or whips, it’s also Utopia for equines.
Fernando Roman and his brother Juan, the humans behind this animal haven where most of the horses have been rescued from the slaughterhouse, took me for a tour of the extensive grounds.
At the paddock, the horses are allowed to reconnect with their natural habitat, in an environment where calm and silence reign.
However I started to seriously regret boasting about my Raid Riding credentials, because after 12 years out of the saddle, there was every chance I would lose my seat … especially as a rip across the backside of my super tight riding jocks, purchased pre-maternity figure, was also on the cards…
Thankfully, pants and seat remained intact. It turns out that horse riding is just like riding a bike – something you never forget.
The two-hour trek through dense Mediterranean forest, the silence barely broken by the sound of horses hooves, will also stay with me forever.