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Trail-riding in Almeria was a humbling experience. I realised very early into my holiday that there are no health and safety precautions in rural Spain; riding was simply a case of picking a horse out of the forty kept at the ranch, heading for the mountains and hoping for the best. As for the landscape, it was so alike the Wild West in appearance that it was the location of famous Western movies such as ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ and ‘A Fistful of Dollars’. For me, the possibility of slipping off the one-horse-wide trails which were thousands of feet high, (the fate of many a western rival in the movies) seemed to be a danger very close at hand.
Not possible to climb by foot, the horse must have been a lifeline to the many Spanish farmers of the past who had worn these trails into the mountain faces by riding them day after day to cultivate crops or to transport goods to the other side. Me, I had chosen to ride hot-blooded horses for six hours a day and marvel at the testing drops and steep climbs ahead of me, but for the Spanish farmer and his horse, it was a chore, a responsibility, the only way to feed a family.
There is no other earthly sensation comparable to that of horse riding: the freedom, the speed, the adrenaline, the tightly wound power and quivering energy of the horse beneath you. There is a depth to the partnership between man and his steed which must be felt to ever be truly understood. Never have I been closer to nature than when riding for hours on end through nothing but mile upon mile of desolate desert land and peak upon jagged peak of mountain, seemingly evil under the scorching sun.
My favourite horse was a proud grey gelding. He was Spanish bred and pure white from head to tail, with constantly pricked ears and a haughty step. He was headstrong and fast, bred for outrunning bulls in some of Spain’s most questionable cultural activities. Older than me at the estimated age of 23, I couldn’t help wondering of the many things Buli had witnessed in his lifetime. The ranch owner, who had rescued all of her horses from different, but equally horrific conditions, pointed out the marks of cruelty that permanently scarred him. Just above his hooves were deep gashes that showed Buli had been hobbled. A cruel way of teaching a horse to stand still for hours on end, the horse’s legs are bound together with hard leather which cuts through the skin each time they try to take a step. His nose was also marked with black and pink creases caused by a wire noseband and a heavy hand that had pulled back until his velvet nose had bled, teaching him to slow down when asked. He was tail-less as a result of his bull-fighting experiences and had a black ‘X’ frieze marked into his left shoulder, branding him a survivor of a deadly illness which had wiped out a vast quantity of Spanish livestock around fifteen years ago. My horse was a warrior. A true fighter. And not an evil bone did he have in his body despite the cruelty he had endured at the hands of men. And not once did he trip or hesitate on those dangerous mountain trails.
Since the first time horses were ridden, the animals have been taught a lot by humans in many varying and damaging ways, but what Almeria taught me is that people should have learnt a hell of a lot more from horses. Loyalty, steadfastness and forgiveness combined with the ability to endure suffering are all innate traits possessed by every horse, but unfortunately by only a handful of men.
‘My horse’s feet are as swift as rolling thunder,
He carries me away from all my fears,
And when the world threatens to fall asunder,
His mane is there to wipe my tears.’ -Bonnie Lewis
Words: Sarah Dipchan
The UoB Linguist Magazine
Guild of Students,
University of Birmingham