Horseriding near Vina del Mar

Trip Start Jan 01, 2008
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Trip End Dec 29, 2008


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Saturday, October 4, 2008

For our last day in Valparaiso, we had arranged a days horse riding amongst the forests, sand dunes and beaches close to Vina del Mar, Chile's premier beach resort and playground for the rich and famous. We left the hostel and got the funicular railway down the hill to the bus stop. The bus ride, took us, at great speed, along the coastal highway, through Vina del Mar and onwards to another small town. The drive reminded us very much of the French Riviera, with lots of holiday apartments and hotels set along the coast overlooking the massive breakers rolling in from the Pacific.

We arrived at the ranch and were allocated our horses, mine was a black mare named Pantomina (they had obviously assessed my riding skills very quickly !). After some very brief instruction i.e. "this is how you get on", we set off along and across the river through some open grassland. We were accompanied by the ranch owner, Rene from our hostel and a Chileano architect called Juan. Along the way Juan the architect provided us with a lot of invaluable advice and instruction on how to ride a horse, including what to do when galloping. Galloping! Nobody had mentioned anything about galloping!

Anyway, as we rode along we gradually got used to sitting atop a four legged beast and really started to enjoy it. We even started to trot (VERY painful!), (although Carolyn didn't think so...). After an hour or so we started to come out of the grassland and after riding through a pine forest, we got to the dunes. The word dunes doesn't really describe them. These were the biggest sand hills I have ever seen and seemed to go on for miles and miles. I would guess the height of some of them at about 70-100 metres and very, very steep. Surely we were going to ride around these? No, it was straight up and over! These horses did not bat an eyelid at slopes of 45 degrees or more(it would have been impossible for a human being to walk up some of these dunes. I know, because I tried to a bit later! Four wheel drive ! Pah!! Four legs is so much better!

For the next couple of hours we rode through this surreal landscape, always within sound, if not sight of the Pacific Ocean. This really was a fantastic experience!

Through the deep sand the horses moved very deliberately but as soon as they got onto firmer ground, they liked to trot or gallop downhill so as to get speed up to get up the next dune. This process was repeated for about the next hour or so and, exciting though it undoubtedly was, it was very tiring on the legs, bottom and indeed just about every muscle in our bodies.

At this stage in our riding experience, neither Carolyn nor I, had and great influence on the matter. However, when we got into more open ground, we got to gallop, albeit not very elegantly and certainly not as flamboyantly as the Huasos (cowboys) accompanying us. Carolyn's horse seemed to love speed and was breaking into a gallop at every opportunity. Mine on the other hand was not so enthusiastic and usually after about 10-20 seconds of galloping, seemed to decide that she had had enough and slowed back down to a walk (or maybe it was that I was just a hopeless rider?)

After around 4 hours of riding we arrived at a clearing where the guys from the ranch had set up a barbecue and bonfire (being spring here, the wind blowing in from the Pacific made it pretty cold. We feasted on good Chilean wine and the most delicious pork ribs and steak cooked over an open wood fire. We were joined for lunch by "The Captain" a real cowboy character who, along with his family had dropped out of urban life and was living in a driftwood hut in the middle of the dunes. Not a bad life I guess.

Unfortunately for Carolyn she managed to get her foot caught in her stirrup whilst dismounting and her horse, at the same time decided to run for it. Luckily, a stable boy managed to grab the horse but not before she had be dragged a few yards along the ground. She was O.K. and got up only to be knocked down again by another horse that had decide to chase after her horse. A little bit of excitement which did nothing to put her off.
After lunch we rode down to the beach, a very wide stretch of sand with massive breakers rolling in from the Pacific where we rode along the beach, in and out of the surf for a mile or so. Clear blue skies and ocean, the wind in our hair (or in my case not!) galloping along . Does it get any better than this? 

(Carolyn -  galloping in the surf along a deserted beach was exhilarating and being at this stage in control of such a beast was long standing fantasy fulfilled for me, so I galloped at full speed ahead of the others and straight at a flock of birds sitting on the stand.  I loved this and the excited feeling stayed with me for days! )

Eventually we come to the point along the beach where we need to start heading back so we cross the rail road tracks and a few rivers and head on back to the ranch. We help to dismantle the horse (or whatever it is called when you take the saddle and other bits off) and then we depart for the drive along the coast road back to Valparaiso and La Nona B&B. A really excellent day out and all for less that the price of an hours riding lesson back home in the U.K. I can just about make it up the stairs to the B&B. Boy am I going to be sore in the morning! As Valparaiso is all hills, we decide not to go out for dinner that evening. We may never make it back!
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