I'm back -- revived, refreshed and reeking of horse shit, from the delightful Finca Verde ranch in the north of Tenerife.
I can't recommend it highly enough -- it's a great place to relax and improve your riding (and the travel agents -- specialist firm In The Saddle also deserve commendation). Finca Verde's owners, Swiss couple Andrea and Markus Eschbach, are delightful and worked hard to make my week on horseback a memorable one.
Their farm, up in the hills near the Teide National Park, is just a half hour's drive from the mass tourism arsehole of the world that is the resort of Puerto De La Cruz (I headed down there one evening to buy a couple of boxes of duty free Havanas and left again as quickly as possible). Even so, it's a world away from the beer-gutted, salmon pink skinned package holidaymaker hell.
Looking down on the rest of the world from their hillside ranch, amid the lemon trees and Canarian pines, I immersed myself in the natural horsemanship techniques pioneered by teachers such as the comically named
GaWaNi Pony Boy (surely a pseudonym) and German instructor, country singer and natty blazer wearer Fred Rai.
Though the Indian riding pioneers are easy to mock, their approach is sound. Indian riding, Andrea explained, is based on a compassionate understanding and handling of the horse. The key is knowing the behaviour pattern of horses and giving clear and consistent instructions. Once the horses are comfortable with you and vice versa, the idea goes, you can do away with painful bits, spurs and whips. The animals will respond to simple, firm commands alone.
It seemed to work. By the end of the week I -- a riding beginner -- was trotting, cantering and guiding my horse as if I'd been doing it for years. The small matter of my artificial leg constantly slipping out of the stirrups was an inconvenience but aside from that I made huge progress.
I'm rushing to get ready for my departure for Iran on Tuesday (of which more later) so there's no time to put together a crafted videoblog. It'll have to wait until I get back. For now, here's a very rough and ready horse's eye view of what hitting the trail in the hills of Tenerife is like. The .wmv file is just under 600Kb in size. To view, right click on the link, save the target onto your hard drive and then open it once it has downloaded:
In The Saddle Videoblog (.wmv)
And some photos:
Teide National Park
Ride 'Em Cowboy!
On The Trail