Vacationing in Spain, Equestrian Style!

I finally found some time to sit down and write a recap of the recent trip that my mother and I took to Spain. We had been planning to go horseback riding in Europe ever since I was a little kid and finally decided when I graduated college back in ’07 that we would do it. A few weeks ago, we made it happen. If you want to skip the text and go straight to the photos, you can check out the ones I’ve posted on Facebook by clicking HERE.

Day 1: Saturday
Not a very exciting day; I woke up, finished packing and drove to the airport with Erik and EJ. After a slightly tearful goodbye, I caught a flight from ATL to JFK to pick up my mom. I met a nice guy on the flight up who was a naval officer from Ecuador and we kept each other company for the duration of the trip. Landed at JFK, met up with mom at the gate and re-boarded our flight bound for Madrid.

Day 2: Sunday
We landed safe and sound in Madrid at 7:30am local time. Thanks to the 6-hour time difference, we weren’t too tired yet (I didn’t manage to get any sleep on the plane) and wandered outside to find a taxi to catch our train for the next leg of the trip. I don’t speak a word of Spanish and thought it’d be more “interesting” if I kept it that way throughout the trip. We found a very nice cab driver who happened to not speak a word of English and through my awesome pointing and pantomiming skills I managed to get him to understand that we needed to go to the Madrid train station (Estacion de Atocha, as he taught me it was called). Atocha Station itself is beautiful. It’s an old building (mid-1800s) with neat architecture and a pond-forest-garden-y thing in the center which is home to hundreds of turtles. Seriously. We sat around for a couple hours and let the exhaustion settle in before catching our train to Seville and promptly falling asleep for the entire 3-hour ride. So much for seeing the countryside!

We arrived in Seville and had another few hours to kill before we were met by the owner of where we would be staying. While waiting, we also met two of the other guests for the week. Patty, a lovely dressage rider from South Dakota, and her father Doug who would not be riding but instead provided us with entertainment and hilarious jokes throughout the week. Eventually Fernando showed up and drove us all back to the Epona Equestrian Center to give us the welcome tour and show us to our rooms. The main building is a 500+ year old hacienda that has been converted into guest rooms, the owners home, a lounge, tack room and more. To say it is absolutely gorgeous is not doing justice; Epona’s facilities are stunningly beautiful, immaculately maintained and staffed by some truly wonderful people.

Dinner that night as spent at a small, local restaurant in the town of Carmona (where Epona is located). The remaining two guests, Gillian and Ross, a great couple from the UK, met us at the restaurant. The food was excellent and Fernando taught us about the local culture, customs and industry.

Day 3: Monday
Woke up for our first “real” day nice and early and surprisingly wasn’t jet-lagged at all. We nibbled some breakfast (all of our meals on-site were cooked by the owner’s wife and were fabulous) and wandered out into the stable yard to meet the horses that would be ours for trail riding for the week. There was one big, tall, incredibly gorgeous bay Andalusian gelding that I immediately noticed and figured he was one of the guide’s horses since he was so impressive. I even commented to another woman about how handsome he was. One of the staff then walked over to me, pointed to the horse and said “That’s Handsome. He’s yours for the week.” What an appropriate name!

We rode through olive orchards and across fields, viewing old olive press buildings and other interesting scenic things. Unfortunately the fields we rode through had already been harvested, but early in the year they are full of sunflowers as far as the eye can see. I think I need to visit again in the springtime!

Three hours later we returned to Epona for lunch and a quick siesta before our first lesson of the week. I’d never really ridden dressage before, nor had I even ridden in a dressage saddle. I was a little worried that it’d be strangely different from the usual huntseat riding that I do, but thanks to Miriam’s awesome lessons I had a strong foundation in dressage flatwork and basics and was amazed at how easy it was for me to make the transition. I was paired with another unbelievably gorgeous bay Andalusian gelding named Corsario (means “Pirate”, cute!) and instantly fell in love. I’ve never ridden a horse that supple before; never had a horse that responded so well and easily to my leg and seat aids. It was incredible. It made me (almost) want to give up jumping and study dressage…


Me on Handsome in Carmona, Spain. Look at that neck!! πŸ™‚

Day 4: Tuesday
Instead of a trail ride in the morning we all jumped in the car for a drive up to Jerez where we would attend a show at the Real Escuela Andaluza del Arte Ecuestre (Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art) which is comparable to the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. We got to watch some of the students warming up the horses and then saw an amazing show of their “Dancing Stallions”. The school itself is incredible; the grounds are immaculately maintained and the architecture is stunning. Afterwards we had a quick pit stop at a local sherry shop for some tastings and headed back to Epona for lunch.

We ended the day with another lesson with Karin (our instructor for the week) before heading off to dinner and bed for some much-needed sleep.

Day 5: Wednesday
This was one of the slower, more low-key days of the week and that certainly was appreciated as we had been busy busy busy up until then! We went for another 3-hour trail ride and along the way stopped at a 2,000+ year old Roman bridge. In Seville itself there are quite a few old aqueducts that remain standing, running along the city streets. I really enjoyed not only learning about the ancient history tied to the area but also getting a chance to see some of it for myself. In the evening we had another lesson where we worked on things such as shoulder-in and travers. I am still amazed at how much fun I had riding Corsario. I wish there were horses like him at Huntcliff!


Me riding Corsario at the Epona Equestrian Center and having so much fun!

Day 6: Thursday
This morning we did things a little differently. We still went for a trail ride except that it was on the beach in Cadiz. Fernando arranged for us to ride horses from a local stable and take them out along the shore. The views were incredible from atop the cliffs during our ride. We cantered along the beach where, unfortunately, Gill’s horse stumbled and went lame. We had to wait on the beach for a new horse to brought out to her and her injured one to be hand-walked back. Definitely a bummer, but the horse was okay and that’s all that matters. Once we got home we enjoyed lunch and another lesson with Karin.

Day 7: Friday
Sadly, this was our last day of riding. Our morning 3-hour trail ride was enjoyable but somewhat somber as we were all disappointed knowing it was almost over. Along the way we stopped at a grand hacienda that belonged to an ex-Formula 1 driver who now breeds mules for carriage driving. There were dozens of them in the pastures and they came over to say “hi” as we approached – so cute!!

In the late afternoon we had our final riding lesson. We worked on a team dressage routine (me, mom and Gill) where we would ride in unison to perform certain movements and patterns. It was very difficult because you not only had to focus on your own horse but also on the other riders’ horses, their speeds and locations relative to your own and adjust as necessary to ensure that the distances and positions remained consistent throughout. By the end of the lesson, however, we were doing great and having a wonderful time.

That evening we went into downtown Seville for a traditional flamenco show. The costumes and dancers were wonderful and the performance top-notch. Dinner afterwards was at a local, traditional style restaurant.

Day 8: Saturday
Oh hell what a day this was! We had to wake up at 4:00am in order to get to the Seville airport in time for our 7:00am flight. When we checked in for Iberia Airlines, they said they could only give us the first boarding pass even though our next connecting flight was also on Iberia. Strange. Anyway, we landed in Madrid at 8:00am and ran around frantically trying to find someone to help us in time to catch our next flight. Eventually we managed to get on our next flight at 9:30am and landed an hour later at Malaga. Now comes the fun part – since the first two flights were on Iberia and the next two flights were on Delta, we had to go back out to the ticket counter to get our new boarding passes and go through security for a second time. Surprisingly enough it was pretty easy and we had enough downtime to relax for a minute before jumping on the 12:40pm flight to New York.

This is where things got interesting. We were supposed to land at 3:25pm EST, I’d say goodbye to mom at the gate and continue on to Atlanta on my own on a 4:45pm flight. We landed on time but sat on the runway for 30 minutes before getting a gate. Now, add in the fun of standing in line to go through immigration, another line for Customs and Border Patrol and finally another line to clear security for a third time in one day and you see where I started to worry that I’d miss my flight. Oh no, I wasn’t about to let that happen considering I’d been up since (after the time conversion) 11:00pm the night before. To make a long story short, I literally sprinted through the entire airport hauling my suitcase and backpack (both of which were super heavy since I didn’t want to check anything and risk losing them on the way home), in my paddock boots (not great for running), absolutely exhausted and desperate. I also had a small bottle of water in my purse which managed to open and spill its entire contents all down my leg while I was trying to get from one end of JFK to the other. Hilarious, yes. Comfortable, no. I got to the gate just as they were closing the door and the nice man took pity on me because I was about to faint and let me on. I got to my seat and almost started crying I was so tired and happy to be on board!

The flight home was relaxing, thankfully. I sat next to this really awesome old man (in his mid 70s) who has travelled the world. We talked about every subject under the sun and I concluded that basically he was the coolest 20-something I’d ever met. He just happened to be stuck in an older body. To date, he is by far my favorite Single Serving Friend. We landed in Atlanta at 8pm (for a total of 5 airports and 22 hours of travel), Erik and EJ picked me up and I went home to collapse. Game over!!

***

All in all, it was a pretty incredible trip and I’m so happy that mom and I were able to make it happen. We’ll just have to go back again in the springtime so we can see all the pretty sunflowers!

Since I’ve been back I’ve been doing my usual routine of keeping busier than is probably healthy. We did manage to go to NetherWorld last week with some friends. Supposedly it’s rated #1 in the country right now and it’s definitely one of the best haunted houses I’ve ever been to. We did both the main house (which rocked) and the second attraction, Zombie Rampage. Thirty seconds after walking in, some zombie guy ran up to me trying to scare me but I just stood my ground (this sort of stuff I find funny, not scary) and so he stuck his face right in mine, about two inches from me nose, and I just smiled. Then he gave me a kiss. On the lips. Then he ran away. It totally caught me by surprise and I didn’t know whether to be terrified or flattered, but either way I found it absolutely hilarious. How that is the only thing from both haunted houses that actually scared me? LOL!

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