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Horse riding in Spain

Horse riding is the perfect way to explore “hidden Spain” for beginners, intermediates and experts alike. Whether you opt for a gentle two-hour hack through the countryside or a challenging two-week holiday on horseback, you’re almost certain to uncover a wealth of natural treasures unseen and unimagined by the tourist hordes who cling steadfastly to the Spanish costas.

The Spanish are mad about horses and there are riding schools, clubs, equestrian centres and ranches offering horse riding holidays throughout the country.

During the 16th century Spanish horsemen were admired as the finest riders in Europe and those who have been lucky enough to see them perform in street fiestas and equestrian displays might argue they still are. The Spanish word caballero, meaning horseman, is still used today to refer to a gentleman.

At the time of the voyages of discovery to the New World the cattle ranchers of Andalucia were the only people in Europe using horses to round up their herds. These were the original cowboys (vaqueros) who exported their riding techniques and saddles (adapted from those used by the Moors) to the Americas.

And of course the Andalusian horse is one of the world’s most famous and coveted horse breeds – admired since ancient times for its beauty, agility and intelligence.

Horse riding enthusiasts from all world come to Andalucia to achieve their dream of riding a pure bred Andalusian through some of the most stunning and varied scenery in Spain.

Horse riding tours and holidays

Ranches, converted cortijos (farmhouses) and rural hotels throughout this southern swathe of Spain – the country’s largest autonomous region – offer tailor-made riding holidays to suit all abilities and requirements. Some involve hard riding of up to seven hours a day in the saddle while others take a more relaxed approach, combining a riding holiday with other less strenuous activities such as yoga, painting or learning Spanish.

In the case of holidays which involve riding from one destination to another with overnight stays at different bases, the organisers may insist on a basic level of riding ability and sometimes weight restrictions apply. Usually there’ll be a back-up vehicle delivering the riders’ luggage in advance of their arrival. Lunches may be riverside picnics with the chance to revive aching muscles with a cooling dip. And dinners are likely to be long-drawn out and relaxed affairs in far flung rural hotels or restaurants offering riders the chance to savour the local cuisine and wines.

Most riding schools and holiday centres in Andalucia rely on either pure bred Andalusian horses or Andalusian-Arab cross breeds. The better centres make sure that the horses are carefully matched with their riders according to the rider’s ability and expectations and the horse’s temperament.

Equestrian displays

Horse lovers visiting Andalucia will undoubtedly want to see one of the breath taking equestrian displays which take place at illustrious centres of horsemanship such as the Real Escuela del Arts in Jerez.

Wonderful riding country can be found all over Spain but if you’re after a real wilderness experience you’d be hard pushed to beat the Sierra de Gredos which lies in the heart of Castile and is one of the least populated and wildest areas of the Iberian Peninsula. Here you can camp out under the stars, gallop through flower filled meadows, stay overnight in walled medieval villages and trek along ancient cattle trails and Roman roads.

In the Catalonian Pyrenees some of the trails are so steep that you’ll have to lead your mount for part of the way but the spectacular views and the eagles soaring above make the effort worthwhile.

A variety of riding courses and holidays are also available in the Spanish Balearic and Canary islands. On the largest Balearic island of Mallorca saddle-weary riders are welcomed at a 13th century mountain monastery where the former monks’ cells have been converted into comfortable rooms.