Recently I’ve taken it upon myself to go horseback riding in every country I visit. As an avid equestrian back home, I miss being around horses when I travel. Since there are horses literally all over the world this task shouldn’t be too hard to accomplish.
Horseback riding abroad not only allows me to spend time with horses but I’ve found it’s also a great way to explore and learn more about the nation I’m visiting. Many countries have their own unique breed such as the Icelandic Horses of Iceland and the Peruvian Paso of Peru. Often times these horses are woven deep into the countries history.
On my recent trip to Morocco with Intrepid Travel, I was delighted to see that horseback riding was listed as one of their optional activities in the ocean side city of Essaouira. I was eager to met the breeds specific to Northern Africa, most notably the Arabian and Barb horse.
Horses of Morocco
Arabians are well known in this region of the world and the Barb, or Berber horse, has its origins in North Africa. Though the Arabian is favored over the Barb, there is speculation that the Barb horse is a more ancient breed than the Arabian. The two breeds may even share some ancestry. Both are well known for being desert horses who are rustic with great stamina. Many of the horses in Morocco are a cross between the Arabian and Barb, giving you the Arab-Barb horse.
Finding The Right Stable
Usually when I ride abroad I go to great lengths to search out an ethical riding operation that takes good care of their horses. There are so many riding companies that miss-treat and over work their animals and I want no part of that.
Since Intrepid was offering the ride I had to put my trust in them and their choice of riding operation. When my fellow equestrians and I arrived at the barn I was thrilled to see a Intrepid had indeed picked one of the good ones.
Ranch de Diabat
It was just myself and 2 other ladies from my group (Pippa & Anna) who opted to do this ride on our first afternoon in Essaouira. After being picked up at our Riad we were driven a short distance to the outskirts of the city to Ranch de Diabat. As we pulled into the stable I saw a large open courtyard surrounded by large box stalls, each containing a beautiful Arab-Barb horse. The yard was spotless and the horses groomed showing off their shinny coats in the sun.
We met with the owner and our guide for the day, Mohammad, who explained that all the horses at his stable are mares (female). There were even a few foals (baby horses) hanging out in the large box stalls with their mothers.
Mohammad asked about our previous riding experience and then chose a horse for each of us to match our skill level. I was the most experienced of the group, though Pipa owned a ranch and was quit comfortable in the saddle as well. Anna was the least experienced but had ridden many times throughout her life.
While the horses were being tacked up we were taken into the tack room (where you store the saddles, bridles and other riding equipment) and asked to find a helmet that fit.
Back in the courtyard we were each introduced to our mounts for the afternoon. I would be riding a beautiful, petite grey mare named Sandra. I was told she has looks of energy and really enjoys her canters on the beach.
We were each assisted onto our horses and final saddle adjustments were made. For safety, we had a second guide riding with us. He would stay at the back of the pack to help my friends and I if we had any difficulty with our horses.
Following Mohammad out of the courtyard, we walked across the road and made a beeline for the ocean.
En route to the beach we encountered 3 camels (and a cow!) who were resting by a stream. This made the perfect photo opt as I’ve never come across camels during any rides back home! Mohammad was a wonderful photographer having the 3 of us line up behind the resting camels.
As we made our way onto the beach the wind became stronger, taking away the heat of the sun and fanning us with cool ocean air. The sun was shinning and I couldn’t have asked for a better day to go for a ride.
Once we were about a kilometer down the beach Mohammad asked if we’d like to go for a short canter. I was more than ready and Pippa said she was up for it as well. Anna was a bit more reluctant, having had a bad fall from a horse a few years prior. With 2 guides this wasn’t a problem as Mohammad would canter with myself and Pippa while our second guide remained behind with Anna (they ended up going for a nice trot down the beach instead).
Riding the Sand Dunes
After our trot and canter down the beach we regrouped, continuing a bit further down the beach. Soon we veered away from the sparkling ocean and climbed some sand dunes over looking the water. We had great views from up here, with the ocean on one side and a eucalyptus forest on the other.
As we walked along we took note of a man with a camel off to our left. The horses didn’t seem to mind the camel, who looked on quietly. Just as we passed them a baby camel came charging at us from the other side of the sand dune. All the horses spooked at this sudden new arrival, their strong flight instincts kicking in. We were all able to calm our horses without much incident and our two guides were on hand to assist. Throughout my 30+ years of horseback riding I’ve never had my horse spook over a camel before!
Eucalyptus Forest Trail
Making our way down off the sand dune we ended a beautiful eucalyptus forest that offered us some shade from the hot sun. With the ocean wind being blocked by the sand dunes things were starting to heat up under the Morocco sun.
Following a trail we made our way back to the stable without further incident. Dismounting in the stable courtyard I gave Sandra a huge pat and thanked her for the wonderful ride. Horseback riding on a Moroccan beach was truly a dream come true and a unique experience to have in this North African nation.