Sierra de Mijas, 2009
Emma & Holly, Far and Ride
Early September, we decided to pay a visit to our Sierra de Mijas ride in Spain to trial not only the riding but the destination as an entire package. The sun was shining as we arrived on Saturday lunchtime, having driven a short journey (around 30 minutes) from Malaga airport, just in time to enjoy a meal with the other guests. The lunches here tend to be simple salads, complemented with bread, aioli (which becomes oddly addictive) and olives. To each table there is a jug of water and some sweet sangria to accompany your meal and this went well with the hearty, delicious dinners which often feature a Spanish flair. Meals are taken in an open but roofed dining area which is decorated in a pretty way and where there is often music playing. Tables here are large, great for socialising with fellow guests, but due to the openness of the room you should be prepared to see flies around and the odd little lizard poking his head out of the ceiling rafters at you. The majority of guests here are German, as this is a German owned and run establishment, but their English is wonderful and they were friendly and talkative with both of us. The guides here are also German and you are given a great chance to get to know them as they act as hostesses throughout your stay – they care for and prepare the horses, lead the rides and even act as waitresses during your mealtimes.
There are 26 rooms on the Finca and although they are quite simplistic, all have a daily maid service and are clean, pleasant and good value when considering the cost of the packages. We shared a large room with a patio overlooking the horses. Our room had air conditioning, a welcome addition for those who cannot take the heat (ie. Holly), and the adjoining shower room was clean with a good sized shower and plenty of hot water. All the tap water here is safe to drink and we’d advise that you take a bottle to keep in your room and carry around with you. During the rides the guides take water bottles in their saddle bags and will pause now and then for everyone to have some.
The ranch currently has 230 Andalucian horses who live as herds in corrals on the complex. It was interesting to watch the horses living in this natural way and to see the stallion with his broodmares and the beautiful foals they had produced. Due to this herd lifestyle, you will find that the horses here bear the marks associated with a herd hierarchy but they are healthy, well-fed and carefully trained. Although we have ridden throughout our lives, we were feeling rusty due to our horses’ retirement (Holly) and their injury (Emma) and were apprehensive of the Doma Vaquera style of riding that they use. The Spanish saddles are large with a high back and long stirrups but we eventually found this a comfortable way of riding through the rocky and often very steep terrain of the Mijas mountains. Hackamore bridles (no bit) fit in with the ‘neck-reining’ method used on the trail rides and the guides here give careful instruction, even showing you how to put the hackamore onto your own horse before each ride.
Guests are expected to prepare their horse, following the safety guidelines provided, but the guides always fit the saddles and follow strict safety precautions before every ride. No guest mounts a horse here before the girth has been tightened, the tack checked and there is a guide holding your horse and stirrup. You will find that the guides here are approachable but know their job well and are not afraid to correct your methods, something important both from a safety point of view and to allow you to understand this way of riding.
Although the horses here vary, all are brave and sure-footed. Holly – “On our third ride, I found the perfect horse for me – a lovely 5 year old named Pisco who, although only having been in work a short while, was careful over the hard, uneven ground. He was forward-going but not too lively and if in doubt of the best path, he watched and followed the horse in front.”
Even the livelier horses here could be controlled and had great brakes during the fast, exhilarating canters which at first seemed nerve-wracking in this different style of riding (very loose reins!) but soon became thoroughly enjoyable.
Emma – “ I had a mix of horses, they tend to put you on a steady horse to start with so they can assess you and correct your style of riding. My first horse Mesterioso was a likable chap, honest and safe. However, as with Holly, I was soon matched to a great horse called Montero. He was a larger type of horse than I usually ride but he was safe and sure footed but with a fun and controllable ‘buzzy’ side. I thought he was great!”
Due to the terrain, rides consist of long walks and a few short, fast canters. There is no trotting here and to be honest, we did not really miss it. All the horses coped well in the hot weather which was particularly dry but excellent for topping up your tan whilst enjoying a more active holiday. Every horse was thoroughly hosed down after the rides and each guest scraped the water from the horse they’d ridden before turning them back out into the corral.
The complex is well laid out but quite remote – we would recommend that guests looking to experience more of the area should rent a car and take the time to explore (this can be done directly from the ranch). For those preferring to relax when not in the saddle there is a lovely pool area and although the pool is on the smaller side, we watched it being carefully cleaned and maintained and the area around the pool is green and lush with sun loungers and a shaded patio.
This is a great holiday for those looking to try out some challenging terrain whilst enjoying some sunshine and a dip in the pool. The riding is not fast overall but the canters are still thrilling on these fabulous horses and climbing through the mountains adds interest to the rides. For the based stays the rides are generally 2 and a half to 3 hours long and occur at 9.30am and 5pm in the evening, allowing for a long lunch and siesta time to avoid the worst of the heat. Guests should be open to socialising with the other nationalities here and should be prepared for the hot, dry weather. For those not planning to hire a car, a good book is in order to fill in the time between rides during the Spanish siesta time where you can laze in the sunshine or, if you prefer, you can walk the area even taking a short uphill hike to Mijas itself.
Overall it was interesting to try their Spanish style of riding which is very well suited and comfortable for this type a trail riding and the demands of the mountainous terrain. It is like a cross between English and Western style, but you are not to sit like a cowboy, you are to sit very upright and keep your legs away from the horse. It’s a fairly easy style but takes some adjusting to. Safety and clear instruction is consistent here – they have their specific procedures and methods that you must follow in order to have a safe and enjoyable experience. You must be open to taking the guides’ advice and not be unnerved if they shout back for you to adjust your position. They are attentive and it really will improve your technique.
Although the Finca itself is remote, it is close to the fabulous and lively area of the Costa del Sol coastline where there many activities and restaurants for all to enjoy. If you wished to explore you would need to hire a car, but you can arrange this at the Finca.
Read more about the ride here: Sierra de Mijas.