Horse Riding i Andalusia in southern Spain is an unique experience. Winter, summer, autumn or springtime are all ideal seasons for horse riding holidays. Spain, and specially Andalusia are strongly related to horses and horse riding as part of the Spanish culture and southern Spain is always the perfect holiday destination. So why not combine the horse riding and the holidays in Spain and by the way get to know the real Spanish countryside life on a horse ranch in Andalusia? Imagine yourself riding a beautiful Spanish horse trough the slopes of stunning Andalusian valleys and mountains!
Read below about other travellers experience of a horse riding holiday in Spain staying at a Spanish horse ranch in Granada.
Horse & Rider'agony aunts' Jane van Lennep and Fliss Gillott enjoyed some winter sunshine on an idyllic riding break in Andalusia.
Keen travelers and seasoned riders, we have explored most parts of the UK, Spain, Germany, France, Iceland, Mongolia, Egypt and Jordan on horseback. So when Horse & Rider offered us the opportunity to visit Rancho Ferrer in Andalucia, we jumped at the chance. What Alison did not tell us was that this is definitely not a package holiday.
We rang Bill Brash**, the English proprietor, in Spain (dead easy - 0034 958 349116 and you are straight through) to arrange dates round our very awkward schedules. Then it was down to the local travel agent to book the flight to Malaga, (we could, alternatively, have flown to Almeria) and the deal was done. All we had to do then was confirm the arrangements with Bill.
He arranged for us to be met at the airport from our flight, and taken directly to the ranch. This is the system he uses with all his visitors. On arrival we were shown into one of the typically Spanish style houses in the village, which was ours exclusively for our stay. There is no sharing at Rancho Ferrer - each party or individual has a whole house with no supplements for single travelers.
Bill explained that they take a maximum of only six riders out at any one time, and always with both Bill and his wife Margaret riding with the guests. The horses, all locally bred there in Andalucia, are carefully matched to the size, experience, fitness & expectations of the riders. With this in mind, a chat in the bar on that evening, after a delicious home-cooked meal, was an important prelude to our first day's riding. This could have been anything from a quiet hour to a full day trek. Although the choice is very much down to the individual, it can be difficult making decisions when you are on holiday! Bill and Margaret will have assessed your potential in the first few minutes and will help the undecided plan the most fulfilling riding experience.
What sets Rancho Ferrer apart from the rest is the stunning, timeless mountain setting. When a ruined village was advertised for sale in Exchange and Mart, Bill and Margaret's curiosity was aroused and effectively they never looked back. Stage by stage, they resurrected this tiny white village from ruins to a red-tiled, bourganvillea-decked paradise.
This is not an exaggeration. Accessed by a long winding unmade track, the peace and tranquillity of this beautiful spot has to be experienced to be appreciated. It's set amidst arid, semi-dessert terrain with a fascinating wildlife quite different from that at home. The steep, stony tracks switch-backing up the mountains looked unrideable to us at first, but the amazingly sure-footed Spanish horses treat them with disdain. If you suffer from vertigo, it is better not to look down for the first few hours, which is all it takes to become accustomed to the dramatically steep sided valleys.
The saddles are either English or Western, although the general style of riding most suited to the terrain is more Western. Margaret is concerned with the day-to-day management of the horses and stressed that the horses go best if you leave them alone. They are then free to pick their way along the stony tracks and frankly, there is nothing better than to be able to settle back with loose reigns and let the horse take responsibility. Between us, we rode four of the horses over two full days' riding from the ranch. They were all willing, comfortable and easy rides, Camanche and Fortuna being a little sharper and Terrano the youngest. He can carry an Australian drover's saddle, which is very comfy and supportive on the steep slopes.
Ascending the mountains directly from the village, we were soon at around 2,000 feet above sea level, with the Mediterranean sparkling away to the south, and the majestic, snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada soaring itno the north.
Time has stood still on these rugged slopes, inaccessible to machinery, ploughing between the pink-blossomed almond trees is done by mule. The shale tracks hosted no travelers, and in a whole day's riding, we spoke only to a hermit tending his ancient donkey. Beneath the horses' hooves, crushed thyme released its unmistakable scent. The air was always full of aromas, some familiar, most new. Above, soaring on thermals, we could occasionally spot an eagle or falcon. Lunch, taken in the shade of an old almond tree above an abandoned village while the horses contentedly grazed the dry scrub, was an oppurtunity to rest and enjoy the rare treat - for us anyway - of warm February sun and cloudless skies.
A longer day's trek took us even higher in the mountains, above 4,000 feet, we suddenly saw grass, nourished by heavy dew from the sometime present clouds. As our horses carried us even higher, the mountainside became even steeper, and at one point, we had to lead the horses for a short distance as they scrambled up on tip toes.
At this altitude, the climate is cooler and the ground is damper. Grapes grow on the ground-hugging vines, to be made into delicious rose wine (stocked in the bar at the ranch!). Boar roam wild, browsing in acorns from the cork oaks. They also contribute another local delicacy, ham dried in long, ventilated sheds by the constant breezes.
The stripped trunks of the cork oaks stood out, rusty red against the beige ground and deeply bottle green leaves. With cloud descending, it was like riding through an enchanted forest. Our mountaineering took us to a roadside café with a handy paddock to tether the horses and a water trough shared with two giant farm mules. After a delicious lunch of local specialities (ham, omelette, cheeses, bread, wine…..) the horses were glad to see us again and to be taken back down the mountain, below the cloud line and into the sun.
The horses are regarded by Bill and Margaret as their "babies", but this is not Britain and conditions are very different. The horses are rested briefly on the rides to take a breather after particularly steep slopes, and are watered along the way. They can graze when it is convenient. But they are not watered on their return, nor fed until they have cooled down. They are all very well, fit, sound, free from galls and certainly seem to enjoy their work.
To stay at Rancho Ferrer is to enjoy rural Spain. It is breathtakingly quiet and unspoiled yet with the luxury of running water and electricity. Because Bill and Margaret are prepared to be so flexible, it is possible to make this a part of a wider travel experience. Just £4 and one and half hours on a bus will take you to Granada and the Alhambra palace for the day. Bill will take you to the bus stop, or to the village or down to the beach. We walked out in the early evening to enjoy the solitude that is such a feature of this isolated spot. In a short time, we developed very strong feelings for this place.
** Bill & Margaret Brash retired in July 2001, and the ranch is now owned and operated by Mike and Annemarie Shaw Roberts.