Horse Riding in Tuscany – Indulging all senses!
Breathtaking landscapes bathed in the glow of sunset, the warm and friendly company, the beautiful horses and magnificent scenery. These are the things that are a part of the perfect holiday horse riding in Tuscany
Horse Riding in Tuscany – An Indulgence on ALL Levels!
“You can ride any horse, no?” Michele, our Italian guide, pointed me in the direction of a solid Appaloosa gelding. I gulped and made some noises about not having been near a horse for months. I had always dreamed of horse riding in Tuscany, but what exactly was this horse going to do to me?
I was in the heart of the countryside south of Pisa having escaped England’s gloomy autumn chill for a much-needed break, horse riding in Tuscany. The setting sun was streaking the sky in ribbons of hot pink and steel grey and casting an amber glow over the forested hills as I arrived at my destination for the night. “Podere San Guiseppe” is a traditional Italian farmhouse perched on the crest of a hill, and a welcoming sight.
The rest of the group were already seated at a picnic table indulging in jugs of red wine. Ali and Bill, two dark heavyset men, who looked Hispanic from Miami, but were, in fact, Iranian, stood up to greet us and pressed glasses of wine into our hands. Two cheerful English women waved. A jolly red-haired woman from Canada introduced herself, explaining that her daughter would appear in a minute. A quiet young German woman on a week’s holiday nodded a greeting and then the last member of our group, the daughter, Penny (“but Pen for short”), arrived greeting everyone with puppy-like enthusiasm.
A picnic in Montioni
We rode single-file up into the Mediterranean evergreen forest of Montioni, through the “colline metallifere” or metal hills, which were mined for their iron, silver, lignite and bauxite. We followed meandering paths of rust coloured earth past bushes covered with blue and red berries and tiny flame coloured fruits. The scent of wild thyme filled the air and far in the distance I caught the odd glimpse of sunlight sparkling on the sea. It was perfect!
After a sedate morning’s ride we arrived at the village of Montioni. Michele’s wife, Nicola, arrived with huge quantities of picnic provisions: pasta salad with local sun-ripened tomatoes, homegrown olives, Pecorino sheep cheese, salami, platters of grapes and peaches, fresh ciabatta bread and, of course, more red wine. Thank goodness that horse riding in Tuscany developed a healthy appetite in us all
In the afternoon Michele increased the pace and the fun began. Ali warned all of us that any mishaps would incur a debt of a round of drinks for the whole group. Within seconds of starting to canter his horse, Figaro, launched into a giant buck and he hit the ground with a resounding thud. He remounted his horse stiffly and, amidst much laughter, we were soon cantering again. This time Helga, the German girl, sailed gracefully through the air. Her horse had a definite naughty streak and had been dancing and prancing all morning. My horse, Paolo, decided this must mean it was now his turn and he bucked a couple of times, but I yelled at him so loudly that he stopped in surprise.
In the evening we dragged our tired muscles outside to watch another spectacular sunset and drink aperitifs. Ali and Bill started a double comedy act with Ali the lead and Bill the fall guy. As we turned in for the night, Ali assured us that we would not sleep a wink because Bill’s snoring was loud enough to lift the roof of the house. It had been a wonderful first day amongst fun and friendly people.
Abandoned mines and a missing link
Our route the next day followed a disused mine trail through more Tuscan evergreen forest, past honey-coloured ruins of old farmhouses and the vivid red trunks of cork trees. Hidden in these hills are the remains of ancient mines that have long since been abandoned. In recent years they have yielded a treasure of a different sort; the remains of one of man’s ancestors, a “missing link”, named Hominis bambolis for the Montebamboli region where we were.
Over a delicious dinner of pasta, red wine and wild boar we discussed horse-breaking Tuscan style. Michele explained that the horses stayed wild until they were three years old, then they were broken in. Not to be outdone, Ali launched into stories of his life. To listen to him you would imagine that in Iran he regularly hunted bears and subdued them barehanded, dived to the bottom of the sea in the Caribbean without any dive equipment, and regularly jumped five-foot fences bareback. What a man!
It was a fun evening. Pen discovered grappa, which she dubbed ‘nail polish remover’; supported by her blue-tinged teeth the next morning! When Ali started complaining about how little he had slept the night before because of Bill’s raucous snoring, the English women and I made our excuses and headed for bed.
Out of the Forest!
We left the forest the following afternoon and rode into the sunshine. We trotted and cantered for long stretches through green fields before picking our way along a dry riverbed. Paolo and I were definitely striking up a friendship. He had a soft mouth, was responsive to ride, and his paces were smooth and supple. He just didn’t like being ignored; if I loosed the reins and turned to talk to someone he would duck his head as if to say, if you don’t pay attention I may try and buck!
The evening shadows lengthened across ploughed fields and the setting sun bathed us in an orange glow as we arrived at Santa Constanza, our accommodation for the night. This huge restored farmhouse with its narrow staircases lined with portraits of South American Indians and Indian gurus, and crooked corridors leading into unexpected rooms full of books, was comfortable and quirky! Dinner was a fabulous five-course meal which had my English friends worrying about the extra weight their horses would have to carry the next day!
Cleopatra’s gift, and our final day
After a comfortable sleep, we started the day’s ride. Our group filed through the Monte Santa Croce forest with swathes of mist swirled around us, painting cobwebs on the bushes with tiny drops of water. Suddenly cattle with huge handle-bar horns and coats of ash coloured velvet emerged into view. These were local Maremma cattle and we were riding through a government breeding centre. When Cleopatra fell in love with Julius Caesar and came to visit him in Rome, she made him a present of these magnificent Egyptian cattle. Local farmers used them as working cattle, but with the onset of the machine age the breed started dying out; hence the government breeding program. The curious, bovine eyes of groups of youngsters gazed at us from their enclosures, while on a nearby hill stood a magnificent bull eyeing us with disdain.
We left these awesome creatures behind and entered the Mediterranean jungle. The path was slippery and very steep and almost completely overgrown by branches that leapt out to grab us as we fought our way through. We passed an old silver mine as we toiled up a huge hill. Suddenly the ground started to dip and rise and Michele was cantering ahead of us. I enjoyed the adrenaline rush of speed, sharp corners and roller coaster like ditches, as we scrabbled after him, ducking our heads to avoid low flying branches and clumps of mud.
This was the last day of our ride, and as we left the forest at a walking pace I took time to drink in the rolling fields of rich soil, rippling acres of wheat, stands of vines, olive groves, chestnut trees, and almond and fig trees. Local farmers smiled and waved as we passed, calling “Buon Giorno!” Sheep looked up from their grazing, bells chimed, and huge shaggy Maremma sheepdogs galloped towards us barking protectively.
We galloped for miles across flat fields under the watchful eye of an old castle set upon a hill. Finally, we were riding through a winding avenue of cypress trees to our last overnight stop and our final overwhelming Italian dinner. We tucked into bowls of tasty bean soup, and platters piled high with roast Guinea fowl and roast chicken, crispy potatoes, roasted radicchio and eggplant, and washed down with numerous glasses of ruby red wine.
We toasted our guide Michele, who had looked after the horses and us tirelessly all week and who had provided us with such amusing and knowledgeable company. We toasted each other, we toasted our horses, we toasted the decision to come horse riding in Tuscany, and we tottered off to bed. Despite sleeping in the room adjoining Ali’s and Bill’s, I had an undisturbed night. It occurred to me on this last day of our ride that I had never once heard Bill snore.
Photo Credits: Tania Krupitza / Unicorn Trails
For more information on Horseback Safari’s in Italy please contact:
01767 600 606
Adapted by Andrew Knapp from Tania Krupitza’s account of her horse riding holiday in Tuscany for Unicorn Trails.