I have never formally been horseback riding, yet that didn’t stop me from enjoying it for my first time in Southern Spain recently. Not only does travel bring together new friends, but now I believe that horses do too. Through my mother’s good friend Anna, we were introduced to Chari, owner of Chaparral Equestrian located in the Nature Reserve of Aracena and Picos de Aroche, just a short drive from the beautiful town of Aracena. She expertly picked the best match of her horses for each of us and led us on a gloriously beautiful ride in this majestic forest of Andalucia.
As I looked at the handful of horses that were saddled and waiting for us, I wondered which would be mine for the journey. Chari had already been told that my horseback riding skills were beginner, so she had picked the perfect horse for me. To my surprise and delight, it was Fantana, the largest horse of our group and one of the older ones. He was gentle and sweet and a good leader who would easily follow the other horses on our ride.
My mother was given Chocolate to ride, who as you can surmise from the name was a dark chocolatey-brown. Eric was paired with Perla, a blonde beauty of feisty nature; that is until Eric, with his lifelong experience of riding horses, established for her who was leader – him. Chari and Anna, the expert horse-riders, had their particular horses according to their extensive skill level. We all mounted after I got some great tips and practice rounds from Chari and Anna, and off we went on a pristine trail of natural beauty.
Even though it was middle of January (and in case you don’t already know, Spain gets cold in the winter) it was a warm day with clear blue sky and bright sunshine dazzling everything in sight. As we made our way out, we passed by the fenced pastures of Chari’s land where her other horses were peacefully grazing and watching us pass by. In all, she owns 20 horses, 2 of which are ponies! The diversity of their gorgeous colors and breeds is stunning – from painted horses of white and black to dark brown, to grey and striking hues of blonde and caramel. It was beautiful to see and be around.
We wound our way under the thick green canopies of the Alcornoque trees. They are the Oak Cork trees that are used for making cork from their thick bark. During part of the year, you can easily identify them from the distinct rusty-red of their trunks where their bark has been removed and harvested. The mystical feeling of our natural environment only deepened as we rode further, passing ruins of old stone buildings and traveling alongside a creek that flowed and tumbled along the path with us.
As we rode, I became more and more comfortable on Fantana. The slight sway of my body with his steps was like a lovely rhythm. I came to understand how holding my back straight, shoulders back, eyes up and looking ahead, enabled me to communicate to my horse that I was not scared and to travel pleasantly with him on our excursion. I can also see how handling the reins takes practice and time, for the slightest movement and direction of pulling the reins, is felt by the horse. Most of the time it doesn’t have to be intense hard pulls and only takes a slight tug straight back with my elbows kept in.
Chari provides excellent guided tours of horseback riding that are customized for half-day, full-day, or several day trips through this enchanted natural area of Andalucia in Southern Spain. She also provides horseback riding lessons for children and adults. Along with her friend and fellow horseback riding guide, Anna, they facilitate excursions on a variety of trails and in various areas. Now I know firsthand, that the guiding provided by Chari and Anna on these trips is wonderful – they are attentive and personable, providing a wealth of knowledge about the lovely horses and the surrounding forests and areas, while also leading the group in a safe and fun manner. Whether you’re traveling alone or with family or friends, it is a wonderful way to experience the magnificent countryside of Spain with such amazing and kind people and animals. Bienvenido al Chaparral!