Normally it’s Julie Skinner who writes most of our blogs, but this one is different. As you’ll know if you’re one of the regular readers of this page, we’re keen to demonstrate the wide range of interests of members of staff at RGU – so after Julie returned from her riding holiday in Spain, full of stories about how great it was, I thought, why not write this up to show what we get up to! We appreciate it’s some time since the summer, but, as the weather gets colder and autumn approaches, hopefully this will make everyone start to think about what they might do on their next holiday.
As well as being our Resourcing Specialist, Julie is also a keen scuba diver and rider. It’s this last skill that took her and her daughter to Andalucia this summer for a holiday with a difference.
After arriving at Malaga (and a disastrous trip to a popular fast food outlet, though that’s another story), they headed two hours north, to the village of Bubion. Julie takes up the story…
“We were there for four nights. We did one ride out from Bubion and back with spectacular views of the renowned ‘Veleta’ mountain/ski resort. On the second day we rode to the highest village in mainland Spain, Trevelez, staying overnight to sample its infamous mouthwatering cured ham, Jamon Serrano. Most of the houses in Trevelez are built on top of stables so we were able to rent some spaced and stable the horses overnight. In the morning, when we were leading our horses through the village, you’d see people just taking their horses out to work.
It certainly wasn’t for the faint-hearted – we were up and away to the stables at 8.00 am, packing delicious lunches full of fresh local produce into our saddle bags. We generally returning to our guest house around 6.00 in the evening, reaching promptly for an ice cold beer to wash down the dust from the mountain trails. From the moment you set off, the sure footed Andalucian ponies are picking their way up stony tracks – starting at 3,000 feet and up to heights of 5,000 feet. The large flat Spanish saddles were adorned with extra padding, but that didn’t stop us getting sore!
“In places, we couldn’t safely ride the tracks as they were either too steep or rocky and many paths had been washed away in floods several years ago, so we got off to lead the horses. It was then you noticed how thin the air was at altitude as we huffed and puffed our way up tracks Obviously, the horses (and riders) needed rest and re-hydration so we stopped regularly, often drinking from clear mountain streams and water outlets.
The irrigation system in the mountains has been there for hundreds of years. It was fascinating to see how the communities and individual farms get a slot each day when the water gets diverted to them – then to the next and so on. They grow olives, almonds, peaches, mulberries and other fruits and one of the highlights was eating the super sweet wild mulberries direct from the trees. As the mountainsides are so steep, landowners create terraces for their crops and livestock and the majority of the land is farmed by horses and by hand. Everyone rides and the men are frequently on stallions, although I was sorry to see some using the ‘serrata’ – a metal spiked noseband and no bit – to control their horses.
“In the mountains it was about 29C-30C but quite cool in the mornings. If that’s too hot for you, we were told that May and September are the best times to go, when the temperatures are a bit cooler.
“After long days in the saddle we were exhausted, dusty and ‘glowing’, but it was brilliant. We took lots of photos, but it was difficult to capture the beauty and sheer scale of the mountains. The variety of scenery was spectacular, deeply cool pine forests to scorching mountain summits, long winding walks up steep rocky tracks to thundering hooves over grassy plains. And best of all, delicious pack lunches taken by clear mountain streams. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”
Of course, there are other riding holidays available but if you’d like a similar experience to Julie, visit: www.spain-horse-riding.com
Interview with Julie Skinner by Erin Williams, RGU HR Administrator