Last fall, months before our departure to Portugal, I did a little research and found a riding facility that looked like it would suit my needs. It was a small barn of only four horses, one of which was a pony. The owner and her boyfriend run a surf school with the horses as a bit of a side job. From our conversation, it seems that doing small trail rides just helps pay some of the horse-keeping bills.
She sighed and explained that Zafra, who is young and relatively new to her job, has figured out that non-riders are usually aboard and has decided that she can do what she likes. The owner said she would address the problem later when she could get on with a dressage whip. It did leave me feeling a bit dejected though as I assumed the owner now thought I was fibbing about being a rider.
When Mano picked up a hand gallop, I gave Zafra a canter cue (not that she needed it), but then I gave her a soft half halt and let her know that it was just a relaxed canter that I wanted. To my delight, she settled into a quiet canter while maintaining a soft connection. She stayed so quiet that I had to actually urge her forward to keep up!
After that first canter, we picked up a hand gallop whenever the trail was sandy and fairly straight. We rode through mostly open country-side, but we did pass through a small forest of trees, and then we ended up at a small lake. We gave the horses a short grass break and then headed back to the barn.
The reason I like to ride in other countries is not so much about the horses themselves, but about meeting the owners of those horses. No matter where you live, the symptoms of the horse bug are the same. We all scoop poop, use a farrier, and fret about the quality of our feed. We all pine for new tack, fancy pads (Mano's was bright orange!), and new saddles (my guide's dressage saddle was a new purchase).
During our two hour ride, I got to have a peek at what it's like to have horses in Portugal. That's not a bad way to spend a morning.
As a little post script ... I packed my breeches, boots, helmet, and gloves for that two hour ride. It all took up a lot of suitcase space, but it was worth it to feel safe and comfortable!