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Beach riding trail in Essauoira, Morocco

MOROCCAN BEACH SURPRISE

By Sue Maling


View at lunch stopWay back in 2005 I was offered the chance to escort a group riding in Morocco, I really can’t remember why I turned it down, I just felt it wasn’t ‘my bag’ as a bit of a mountain-girl. Having just had a fantastic time there I really wonder what exactly I thought wasn’t my bag about a remote adventure with culture, dramatic scenery, mountains (yes how did I forget the High Atlas?), beaches and great horses- it’s all the things I love most!

I think my perception was desert- sand and more sand …what’s to see with no mountains? (No mountains?!) Well I guess this country surprised me quite a bit, in fact the whole trip was full of surprises- starting with how nice EasyJet were compared to my recent experiences with budget airlines, although Gatwick was gruesome as ever.

Riding in the seaI was escorting the Essaouira Beach Trail which started with an overnight in Marrakech. Here I found out that the Moroccan wine is really nice. The transfer the next day was ‘bright and early’, my knee injury was aggravating me from the flight so stretching it out over the handbrake I exchanged a few jokes with the driver. This reminded me that I really didn’t remember much of my school-girl French and, having spent the last 4 holidays in Spanish speaking countries, I couldn’t stop myself  saying ‘Si’ and ‘Gracias’ at every opportunity. But then I’m not famous for my language skills. Fortunately language proved no barrier to the good natured communication skills of the Moroccans.

When we met the horses there was another surprise. I was aware it’s customary to ride Stallions in Morocco. Moroccans don’t like to castrate horses and believe the mares are too precious to ride, rather a nice philosophy I think. The few stallions I have had exposure to in the past have been big brutes with classic thick necks and happy to use you as a snack between meals if you get too close to the stable door.

Eder my black stallionOur steeds awaiting us were Arab x Barb. I have a Welsh Cob gelding myself and admittedly he might be on the porky side, holding a fair bit of the size in his crest to try and fool me into feeding him more. Naturally I expected a thick crest but these lovely 15hh stallions looked very slim compared to my fat boy. Where was this chunky neck I remembered being so shocked at in the past? And more to the point this lovely little stallion was really beautifully tempered and easy for me to groom and tack up. Rather than nipping or biting he nuzzled rather sweetly and rubbed his head on me…and also to our guide who I caught giving him an affectionate scratch.  That was a surprise.

My beautiful black mount was called Eder, the name of an Albanian artist.  When we led all our allocated horses into a makeshift ‘test arena’ I suddenly felt quite nervous that my ability was in question and unlike other occasions when I could remind myself how many years I had been riding I really hadn’t ridden a stallion before and didn’t know what would happen.  I’d heard riding stallions was quite different, you have to be aware of the potential of kicking matches.

Steep tracksThe guide took great care to be sure we were all happy with our mounts and able control them- which I have to say wasn’t hard- also a surprise at this stage! We happily set out expecting to head onto the beach right next to us…but we headed up a really steep rocky track showing what AMAZINGLY good footing these horses have. This type of incline on most European riding holidays would have meant us dismounting and leading the horses. Only in the Americas have I ridden over ground this rough and steep actually on horseback. Th is was a lovely surprise and a relief!

We all rode carefully in single file with good distance on the first day as instructed, the day of rock climbing ended with the arrival to a deserted beach cove where our horses paddled before we had a lovely canter. These horses were extremely fit - were they ever going to break into a sweat even in this heat? By now I’d booked Eder’s ticket home with me as he was just what I love to ride: quick and sparkly but safe and affectionate.

Interesting donkeys!I had an entertaining horse in front of me, Aniqa. He rather fancied a donkey as a girlfriend, any donkey would do and he expressed himself quite clearly at every available opportunity- quite a showman. He was keen to be in the lead so our guide left him and his rider to it one day. An unsuspecting local was passing on her donkey and Aniqa’s well meaning rider gestured for her to move over as a preventative measure. Unfortunately the hand signals she used locally mean ‘go away’. The poor woman sheepishly said in Berber ‘But I live here’. Oh we were mortified.

Another long beach...Most of the days started with rocky tracks with cliff top views finishing on a beach… no desert at all (it does seem I had misjudged Morocco or at least this trail). Each day was more walking than I had expected but for the views and the village tracks well worth it. The beach canters got longer and faster each day until we were all galloping alongside each other like Fantasia by end of the week- wow that was really fun, really, really fun in fact. I truly am a child when it comes to adrenaline.

Lunch with dining tent and loo tentI guess one thing that would have ‘put me off’ back in 2005 is the camping, I do seem to be a recent convert to canvas. I gave it a go once just to be able to be somewhere that I really wanted to be. Much to my surprise it wasn’t bad at all, in fact really quite fun and, oh boy, you could get to places you wouldn’t have seen any other way. And on this coastal trail too we really did reach some beautiful spots that were so worth camping for. In addition there was all the fun of camping and the close friendships you make so quickly when there’s no hotel room to retire to. In Morocco the back up team made camping as comfortable as it could possibly be (toilet tents at lunchtime are a big hit for me to put it bluntly).

Sue and EderI miss the Tagines almost as much as my black stallion Eder, and I truly hope I can ride him again, perhaps maybe he can teach me about desert  one day, I may be surprised who knows… although I really am a mountain person at heart . I do hear even the desert is different every day in Morocco.


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