On a glorious, pastel-colored morning on a farm outside Almaden de la Plata, in southern Spain’s Sierra Norte, I was introduced to my vacation horse. Originally, I had been allocated Shorty, but he had been ill and was not yet well.“So,” said Natalie, my hostess, “I’ll put you on Biko. He’s my five year old ― gelded six months’ ago…”Eh?! My stomach somersaulted as I wrestled with the anxiety lodged in my throat.
Riding young horses, particularly ones that were stallions only six months ago, is not something I like. I am an intermediate rider, but had spent most of last year out of the saddle whilst I recovered from major cancer surgery. I really wasn’t at my most confident.
I had traveled to this remote part of the Andalusia region (about an hour’s drive north of the regional capital Seville) for a five-day horseback riding vacation with Spirit of Andalusia, run by British couple Natalie Blake and Richard Askew. I had always wanted to visit the medieval city of Seville and to combine that trip with another of my passions ― horseback riding. Spirit of Andalusia offered just that: A week riding and a weekend in magnificent Seville.
Natalie and Richard had started their operation in the beautiful and protected part of rural Seville province only 18 months prior to my visit. They offer riding vacations from their farm for most of the year except the summer months, when it is far too hot for man or beast. Natalie is a highly qualified, experienced horsewoman who clearly adores her eight Iberian horses.
Iberians are the indigenous horses of the Iberian Peninsula, bred for strength, courage, intelligence, power and fine temperament. They are often used to fight bulls and to work with cattle. Historically they were the battle horse of choice. I had not booked any riding lessons, but Natalie is open to arranging personalized itineraries for clients, if discussed in advance.
Richard, amongst many other talents, makes the fantastic picnic lunches we gorged ourselves on each day. Their farmhouse accommodation hadn’t yet been built, so we stayed in a traditional casa rural, a small family-owned hotel in the heart of the village of Almaden.
Our accommodation was lovely. Very simple, homey and very Spanish, with a courtyard, olive trees, terracotta tiles and whitewashed walls. Each morning, Richard picked my friend Ann and me up in a four-wheel-drive vehicle. He took us for breakfast in one of the village bars, and then drove us down the dusty tracks to the farm.
And so, I had to face Biko. But my anxiety was short-lived. Biko is an Andalusian. There is some dispute about the definition of an Andalusian horse, but the term is usually used to refer to an Iberian horse that was bred in Andalusia.
Their qualities are comparable to the Iberians ― strong, gentle, intelligent, fast and powerful. Biko had slender limbs and a strong muscled body as one would expect from his breed. He was delightful and kind; so I fell in love with him immediately.
The daily treks were varied and interesting, some challenging, some leisurely. We crossed rivers, rode farm tracks, old mule tracks, rocky tracks, dusty tracks, woods, gorges, mountain tracks, and part of the Camino Santiago de Compostela ― an important pilgrim’s way.
Our routes took us through the shady cork-oak forests of the Sierra Norte, part of Spain’s longest mountain range (Sierra Morena), which separates Andalusia from the rest of Spain. Here we saw the prized black Iberian pigs that feast solely on acorns, to olive groves where sun-beaten farmers were tending their crop the traditional way ― with a spade and scythe.
Continued on next page