Cowboy time, horse trails in – El Rocio, Andalusia. Spain

Today I was booked in for a 2 hour trail around El Rocio and Doñana National Park. The time had thankfully been forward an hour to 11am so less time in the height of the sunshine. Thankfully the stables were only a 15 minute walk from the campsite so we all walked round to the gates alongside an enormous field of poly tunnels growing fruit, sadly very common in this area of Spain.

The stables and grounds were well set up, apparently only four years ago. Including a traditional hacidenda which is used for riding school guests to stay in for riding holidays. I was shown into there for a glass of water when I arrived and the double height living space and cool air was bliss on another hot day. It had mezzanine floors for bedrooms and huge wooden chandelier style light fittings. The two Irish ladies I met on the ride had stay the night before and said it was great with our riding instructor and ranch owner Jose also providing some good Spanish cooking.

Hacienda at Doñana Dressage

We were also joined by two Polish ladies here for the second time in a month they had enjoyed it so much. In fact one of them was in the process of buying the horse she was riding there to ship back to Poland.

We eventually set off for our trail ride I think about 11.30, the atmosphere in the hot sun being more mañana style. I was given a lovely bay to ride called Malmo. I understand he was the elder professor of the yard probably because they did not know my riding capabilities. It is I am sure a nightmare of unpredictability putting tourists on horses.

Happily these were beautifully schooled horses who seemed to take everything in their stride. We went past large loose plastic strips at the side of the road, men throwing metal poles into a metal trailer and loose fields of horses, cows and sheep without so much as them turning their heads. Certainly the trailer alone would have resulted in me being unexpectedly parted with my horse at home.

The trail took us through El Rocio were Jose recommended that we stop off for a drink. Given the heat that seemed a splendid idea and I had my first and only beer to date on horseback, pulled up at the tying up bar. It was just the refreshment needed.

Beers on horseback 😀

Jose was showing us the vast areas where people would be camped out for the upcoming pilgrimage, reputedly the greatest in Spain where one million people and 35,000 horses as that is apparently the traditional way complete the pilgrimage, converge for three weeks of partying. Jose as a local man gets to take part in the carrying of the Virgin Mary. I understood that is the reason for the sandy roads to accommodate the horses. Most of the houses around the town appeared to be shuttered up but apparently they will all be in use for the pilgrimage.

We then headed out of town along the river across a field of sheep, cows and horses grazing loose with bells round their necks. Then into the National Park area amongst the trees. Sadly the whole ride was at a walking pace as I think one of the riders was less experienced. We were riding in traditional Andalusian saddles with a very high cantle (back) and huge stirrups with a full footplate which was really comfortable and gave a good deep seat for riding. They were beautifully schooled and automatically seem to ride in an outline.

We finally got back to the stables at about 3pm from our 2 hour ride which I guess was good value! We took turns to get the horses a well deserved hoses down and we got to enjoy a cool drink in the hacienda too. A great experience which has left me wanting to do more if possible along our trip.

When I got back Kevin had made me a nice salad and we took to the pool again for a refreshing cool-down and another half mile swim whilst the washing was on at the facilities block. On the road again tomorrow so making the most of the facilities.

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