A little advert that hung on the door of Mauro’s restaurant caught my eye: Horse Riding in the Wild – that sounded like fun, especially if it meant riding through the Montesole national park! Mauro makes a phone call for me to arrange a trip for the next morning. It’s a challenging cycle ride from Poggiolo to the horse farm, going seven times up and down hills before you arrive at a farm run by a Dutch woman and her Italian ex-husband. Federico, my guide for the ride, is about my age and a no-nonsense, slightly gruff but friendly guy. He lets me get on with cleaning the horse for a good ten minutes and puts a western saddle on for me. He asks me to get on the horse and then off again, watching my movements and by that, I think, gauging what kind of a rider I might be. I know the feeling from Tango – you can gauge a dancer’s experience at the moment of the embrace, even before taking the first step. My second test with the horse is how I walk with him down the steep path. Federico is ahead of me and doesn’t really look around but I’m sure he nevertheless is aware of how I’m getting on with my slightly unruly Haflinger called Orlando.
We cross a little road, mount the horses and begin the steep ascent of the neighbouring mountain. For the next half hour, the horses almost trot up this extremely steep path, scrambling over rocky surfaces and climbing slippery slopes. I am amazed how they navigate this path and how much strength they have to pull us up with them. We climb from 600 to over 900 mtrs, Federico meanwhile explaining the beautiful vistas, which present themselves at every turn. Montesole and the landscape beyond is steeped in history; ancient merchant paths cross with Pilgrim routes, and there is the more recent history of WWII trenches. There are also still signs of commercial activities in the forest, in the form of patches of blackened earth where until 70 years ago people used to produce charcoal. We ride through the forest on the ridge of the mountain, the horses nimbly ducking overhanging branches (and me, less nimble, having a couple of painful encounters with the very same branches!). We see mountain goats in the woods, seemingly surprised to see us there and then scuttling off. Federico stops off every now and then to show me something, other than that, he is ahead of me, sometimes by 50-100 mtrs, letting me get on with the horse myself and enjoy the silence of the forest.
It is a challenging 3hour ride, going up and down a lot and in parts moving through the forest with no visible path, but we eventually find back to the house to finish the ride in good time. Frank and Mauro are awaiting me with Mauro’s 4×4, a welcome relieve that I don’t have to cycle back to Poggiolo after a very beautiful, if challenging, hack.
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