Saddle up in Spain

October 30th, 2012

Taking a riding holiday in Spain is fast becoming ever more popular.

The country and the countryside lends itself to being seen in this way.

Those who are not troubled by the idea of becoming saddle sore love coming to Spain and getting a leg up on these unique horses.

The Andalusian thoroughbred horse is a classy creature and there are so many lovely locations in Spain that are seen best from the saddle. 

High up in the La Alpujarra mountains above the atmospheric city of Granada, and not a million miles from the holiday destinations along the Costa Tropical, I often come across holidaymakers riding out. And what a spectacular part of Spain to see from such an elevated position.

Cloud formations that you unlikely to have seen anywhere else in the world. Stupendous views of mountains. Countryside that has not changed in appearance for centuries and, on a clear day, a view of the far off sea and the even further off coast of North Africa.

There is a great view of the latter from the public car park in the village of Bubion. On a clear, sunny day, at sunset, you can make out the coastline of Morocco. Take binoculars for an even better view.

Ride high into the often snow covered mountains and admire the peaks of El Veleta and Mulhacen, the two highest points on the Spanish mainland.

View of Veleta courtesy of Cortijo Opazo

Or trot down into the Poqueira gorge and look up to admire the villages of Capileira and Pampaneira. Should you not have experienced these villages, then get off your horse and stride around the shops and bars on offer. In Capileira there is even a leather shop in which you could fit yourself out in western style clothing. By the time you get back on your hired horse, you will feel like you have been riding out for many years.

Experienced horsemen and women take you out into the countryside and the riding schools based in La Alpujarra cater for all ages, for the experienced and for those who – like me- have never sat on a horse.

I think that once you have ridden in this countryside, you will have caught the bug for all things Equestrian related. Though be sure to admire the Andalusian horses themselves. You are riding some special animals.

Riding out in La Alpujarra

There are places you can go to watch horse racing. True, nothing the likes of Royal Ascot is available, but those who like a flutter on the horses are drawn to the racecourse at Mijas on the Costa del Sol, and to Sanlúcar de Barrameda in the province of Cadiz.

For a couple of weeks during summer Sanlúcar is the venue for some fun horse races on the beach. The jockeys take it seriously and the crowds of holidaymakers flock to the coastline to watch the racing. You can bet but, if your horse comes first, you’ll only win sweets. You pay your stake money to children in their little made up bookmaker shops. If your horse wins, go collect your winnings. A lollipop or some candies. Bookmakers are mean the world over! At least these are winnings you will not blow on the next race.

I doubt this event would be allowed to take part on a beach in a more health and safety orientated country. But all is well. The horses race where the sand meets the waves, while the masses on the beach sit or stand behind a rope and cheer on their selection.

Across the water from this event is the national park of Doñana. You can take a ferry across to the park. You will not find any horses there but, if you are lucky, you will witness resident and migratory birds and a wide range of four legged animals that live in this excellent natural park.

Racing on sand at Sanlúcar

Not a million miles away in Jerez de la Frontera, horses are a big tourist attraction.

There is the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art, a must see building. They put on a regular show in the indoor arena where some of the finest Andalusian horses show off their skills and those of the horsemen and women of the region.

The grounds of the school are also glorious and worth wandering around. You will see horses strutting their stuff in the paddock and you can get so close to the animals and appreciate all the more the beauty of these beasts.

Those who truly appreciate the magnificence of horses will love to spend a few hours here. Imagine you are on holiday with your pony loving son or daughter. Well he or she will become instant fans of Spanish horses.

And they are sure to want to buy some merchandise from the shop and take it back to the holiday accommodation you have rented in or near Jerez de la Frontera. There are plenty of top quality places to choose from.

Royal Andalusian Equestrian School, Jerez

The Sandeman bodega backs on to the grounds of the school so you can taste sherry, brandy or port after you have been to the horse show. I was unaware that the Sandeman company was actually founded by a Scotsman. George Sandeman gave birth to the company in 1790.

The two businesses meet as, before the spellbinding show at the Royal Equestrian School, you have the option to taste a sample of locally produced sherry. But don’t be tempted to have too many glasses.

The horses should only have four legs. If you are seeing more than that, then you have clearly been on too many bodega tours in Jerez de la Frontera.

If going riding then you should be sober. Although parking up at a bar or two is considered a traditional way of taking a break from riding. I have seen many a horse parked outside a bar, tied up just like in the western films.


Of course for those who would rather be the passenger than the jockey, numerous Spanish cities offer you the chance to jump in the back of a horse and carriage and be driven sedately around the streets of wonderful locations such as Córdoba, or to see the sights in picture perfect places such as the aforementioned Jerez de la Frontera.

This way you get close to the horse, but you don’t have the responsibility of making sure it goes in the intended direction. How often have you driven around your holiday home destination in Spain and had only a fleeting look at some memorable sight out of car the window? Or got frustrated at trying to find somewhere to park in a busy town or city?

I heartily recommend you see the best points of a Spanish destination not from the top of a bus, but from a horse drawn carriage.

And for those of you who are willing to go that extra mile, so to speak, then there are several horse riding schools and tour companies offering you the chance to ride around and across this vast, varied and magnificent country.

So what is stopping you?

Come on holiday to Spain and saddle up.

Posted by vernon
Vernon is a London born, former Fleet Street journalist and, for 25 years, a television producer for ITV, BBC, SKY & C4. In 2002 he began travelling the length and breadth of Spain. In 2005 he settled south of Granada, and is co-author of a guidebook to the 100 best tapas bars in the city and province of Granada.