I haven't posted about my riding holiday to Spain because, let's be frank, can you think of anything worse than sitting down at a friend's house flipping through photos while they regale you with stories about sun and fun? Me neither. Also, I was so enjoying the peace of riding through medieval villages and Mediterranean landscapes that I didn't think to take many pictures. My camera was usually buried in my saddlebag beneath lunch supplies and spare horse shoes anyway.
Lucky you, is all I can say. You get the short synopsis instead.
What I will tell you is I would do it again in a New York minute. But instead of three days, I would opt for the whole week's ride. Three days is just enough time for your muscles to stretch and your arse to go numb in the saddle. The pain was weirdly addictive.
Anyway, Barcelona was fine. Nice city, fantastic architecture - even though most old buildings now house fast food outlets. I had a view of Gaudi's Sagrada Familia cathedral through a Starbucks window. Kind of sad. I've lost my love of cities and found myself looking for pigeons, just to see some wildlife.
After a day in Barcelona we were picked up and driven to Can Jou - a village-sized, 40-horse farm owned by the same family for centuries. Our driver spoke almost no English so, armed with my refresher phrase book, I was excited for a chance to practice my Spanish. I needed more practice. The driver asked what I do in England. I'm pretty sure I responded that my wife and I farm pheasants in church.
Can I point out that I took four years of high school Spanish, and was only 2 credits shy of a Spanish minor at university?
There were four other women on the ride, and you could not have hand-picked nicer people with whom to spend a holiday. We all got to know each other over dinner and wine in a thatched barn, with mating pigeons carrying on over our heads. The owner, who also served the dinner, informed us that 'a man with a gun would come and shoot the pigeons in the morning' (HA! I know that much Spanish anyway).
I got my opportunity to ride a PRE full Andalusian horse. This is Rey, my equine companion for the holiday.
A gentlemen, and fit enough to carry me and some fully laden saddlebags for hours over rough terrain.
We crossed a few roads like this one, but quickly found ourselves in the foothills of the Pyrenees.
I started in the traditional 'stick up one's ass' riding position, but the horse soon put me right; he needed longer reins for his balance, and I needed slightly shorter stirrups for mine. This was trekking, not dressage.
Both we and the horses stopped midday to rest and feed. After years of enduring British summers, the hot Spanish sun felt like a miracle.
The horses closed their eyes while we ate sausage and cheese and discussed our horses' good and bad points, like we were at a teacher/student conference.
The dogs who opted to come with us, ignored our gossip in favour of a power nap.
It was about 6 hours out the first day. We returned to the farm, to check over our horses and hose the sweat off their backs and bellies, and to feed them a huge high-energy supper. These are athletes, not like my lethargic pair of grass nippers at home.
We had our own comfortable stable block, with beds and showers
And we found more time for talking. Elin and I talked about the culture and politics in her native Sweden. It sounds like a fantastic place to live. I've put it at the top of my 'Places to Visit' list, based solely on our conversations.
There are no photos of our next days' riding. Halfway out on our ride, a tremendous downpour had us riding for cover, and killed at least two cameras in our leather saddlebags. The rain was so hard it hurt the thin-skinned horses who napped and trotted sideways to take the brunt of the storm with their back ends. We were all cold and wet - none of us had wet weather gear - but decided that it only made the ride more of an adventure. The ride back, whenever we trotted, all you could hear was 'Slurp-squelch' 'Slurp-squelch' as our feet shifted in our water-filled boots.
After hot showers we met in the barn for dinner again. It seemed that the man with the gun only hit one pigeon that morning - Mrs Pigeon. Her surviving male companion wasted no time grieving. He was already cooing and dancing, trying to entice a new lady friend, oblivious to the diners below him.
A final day in Barcelona visiting Park Guell, a final jug of Sangria, and we were on the plane back to England.
The next day I ordered the new brochure from the company that specialises in riding holidays. There's one in the Carmargue region of France that looks like fun. Anyone want to join me?