Posted on Tuesday, November 18th, 2014
Riding and Exploring during this unique riding vacation in Italy
I was struck by the charm of the inn the moment I stepped from the car near Abbessanta, Sardinia. Granted, my lack of Italian might have made it easier for the “Scuderia” sign at the stable to impress me with its exotic nature, but there was an authentic feeling of this place’s heritage. This was combined immediately with comfort and hospitality as I was greeted by the manager, Betty, and promptly offered a welcome drink. After dropping off my bags in my garden bungalow I opted to join dinner that was just about to start, rather than to take up the offer to settle into my room, as I knew jet lag was lapping at the edges of my consciousness. Although Sardinia had not been particularly difficult to reach, being only a short plane ride from the main Fiumincino airport in Rome, it had been my fourth plane coming from Equitours’ headquarters in the very remote Dubois, WY, so I knew exhaustion was likely to claim me if I paused too long.
Luckily, the food and company at dinner were restorative, and although I had lost track of all the meals I had eaten that long day, I fully enjoyed each bite of the generous four courses, including melon and prosciutto, minestrone, sausage, and red wine from the property’s own grapes. Betty, a perceptive woman who seems to be able to foresee guests’ needs and desires before they do themselves, is Dutch, and fluent not only in English and Italian, but also many other languages, allowing her to communicate well with all guests for this riding vacation in Italy, as they originate predominantly from Germany, Switzerland, Holland and England. She served as translator as Daniele, the owner, discussed with me the riding programs that they offer, and his family’s long history on the property. The horses came before the hotel, and the horses were part of the farm’s existence from the beginning, about five generations earlier. Eventually they became its focus when the family began concentrating its efforts on breeding, training and competing Anglo-Arabians. The owner himself was a serious jumping competitor, and has recently turned his focus to endurance racing, for which his horses are particularly well-adapted.
These horses used for competition are also used for the guest rides, and so have very good condition and training. He told me how he developed all of the trails from the stables, finding the best route to offer to guests, and has since turned over leading the majority of the rides to a few long-term guides. As I was arriving before the Monti & Mare itinerary was set to begin, we made a plan for my upcoming days, including a lesson and a trail ride around the property.
I slept well in my peaceful and comfortable room, and awoke to the sound of hooves as a rider cooled out her horse after an early morning lesson. I selected my breakfast from the full buffet, including the typical European fare of meats and cheeses and also offering eggs made to order. In the lovely weather of early October, other guests were scattered at tables on the terraces and lawn. I had already heard a lot about the wild Sardinian horse that had been adopted and domesticated, and saw a full performance of his charm while enjoying breakfast. All horses graze on the lawn and grounds during the day, and when he was released he went directly to the lawn’s apple tree and stomped the ground impatiently, tossing his head and throwing his pretty black mane in to the air. He has worked out this routine, because he knows that if he insists Betty will climb a chair and shake down apples for his own personal enjoyment. The wild Sardinian horse is small but strong, and its band is the largest in Europe. While certainly enjoying the comfortable life here, this horse was not typically used for guests, but only for a few talented young riders.
And riders there are! With two instructors the arena was doing brisk business, mostly beginner riders who were well-taken care of, and a few jumping lessons.
Stable staff or riders were often seen crossing the lawn, bucket of grain and halter in hand to catch the next mount. That morning I helped catch and tack my horse, an Anglo-Arabian called Nepita, who couldn’t be bothered to put too much effort into the arena riding, but was willing to go on the trail! Our afternoon trail ride started benignly enough, but the weather soon turned inclement, and we were treated to a two hour ride in a down pouring rain and thunder. “This never happens!” Illa, my guide, told me. “It hasn’t rained in two months!” It was apparently just my lucky day. The ride was still enjoyable, despite the weather’s best attempts to dampen our enthusiasm, as we made our way down ancient shepherds’ paths and past their pastures of sheep. The narrow dirt track provided the perfect opportunity for a long, fast canter, and the rain and puddles added to the drama and fun of it all. Illa told me that I was smiling ear to ear while following her at a brisk canter, and I don’t doubt at all that my enjoyment was that obvious.
When it wasn’t raining and I wasn’t riding, I had time to enjoy the sunshine beside the pool or outside my room. Numerous comfortable chairs are well positioned to enjoy both sun and shade, and the pool is pretty and inviting. I paused in my reading to watch a few horses wandering around the pool area, serenely eating and shaking away the flies.
The next day was the start of the Monti & Mare itinerary, and I met the other participants, two women from the Netherlands who compete in dressage at home, and a couple from England who had been to the inn many times before. They had actually done this itinerary earlier the same year, and so we were doing it backwards to provide some variety for them, and starting at the coast rather than at the main stables. Before riding, we stopped by an endurance competition that was taking place near the paddocks on the coast, and in which Daniele and a few of his horses were participating. Daniele was riding a young horse to get him qualified for the shorter distances, and a young rider was racing one of the most experienced horses, and a popular guest horse, so that the rider could become qualified. Daniele’s Anglo-Arabians were in good company of other fit Arabian horses, and we watched with interest the process of cooling, watering, and vet checking the horses as they came into the check point. Daniele and his horses all competed admirably, and then it was our turn to be the jockeys.
First though, we had to eat. This is Italy after all. We drove to the coast line and Illa led us to a hidden stony beach where she spread out a lavish picnic of bread, meat, cheese, tomatoes from the garden, and white wine. The beach was beautiful and we enjoyed a leisurely meal while contemplating the vast blue-green of the ocean before us.
Then we packed up and headed out to the paddocks, where we Illa pointed out our mounts to catch, groom, and tack. I used Daniele’s new saddle that he had just raced in, but the other tack was well-worn. The island lifestyle often calls for the inhabitants to use what is available to them, and all fitted the horses well and safely. After Illa had made sure we were all tacked and mounted appropriately, we headed out for a few hours’ ride. We followed the sandy tracks with the tall bamboo on either side, went through fields and past brackish lagoons, before coming upon the beach itself. The coastline reminded me of Ireland with its cliffs and crags, as well as the pastures of sheep beside. We passed a Spanish tower built in the 1500s when the island was under the control of that country to ward off Moorish attacks, and enjoyed fast canters. My horse seemed rather put out to not be in the lead, and keen to go for as long as the day’s trek called for, but the other horses seemed to content at an easy canter behind us. Our path took us on the sandy beach only briefly, and the horses were happy to walk in the waves’ surf. The other participants teasingly reminded me that I would be missing the next day, when they would spend more time on the beach and canter along the shoreline – I would just have to come back!
By the time we returned to the paddocks twilight was falling and the mosquitoes were emerging. The returning guests sagely extracted bug repellent wipes from their packs as we quickly took care of the horses and returned them to their grassy paddocks. We got back to the inn just in time for dinner, after a satisfying day.
I was sorry to leave before dawn the next morning, but was sent off with the same hospitality with which I was welcomed; with a car organized for me and Betty seeing me off with two sandwiches to sustain me through my flights. My glimpse into Sardinia was brief, and enough to leave me impressed with the island’s diversity of landscapes and its unique and fascinating history and culture – full of surprises like the wild horses and the Stone Age nuraghi towers. The fun riding and hospitable hosts made this Sardinian sampling particularly memorable.