Charlie O’Malley horses around Mendoza.
“Charlie, my horse won’t let me take a selfie!”
Taking a group photo of 15 Czech chemists might not seem the most complicated of tasks. But put them all on horseback in an Andean setting and the scenario takes on a comical aspect. It soon becomes apparent that horses don’t understand photo-shoots. They do not have a good eye for light, are reluctant to strike a pose and have no empathy for displaying a rider’s best side. And they certainly do not say “cheese”.
My haphazard group are struggling just to get their horses to face the same way. They tug the reins and heel the stirrups but to no avail. Several horses offer their hinds instead of their heads and their riders twist around to pose. They appear as if they are mounted backwards. Two mares are attacking the leaves on a low bush and another disgruntled colleague has wandered down to a creek with a distressed tourist on board. And I, the photographer, am also on horseback, juggling five digital cameras and trying to control a stubborn colt. The phrase “herding cats” comes to mind.
Eventually the photos are taken. People pose with forced smiles trying to hide their frustration with a stubborn steed. The cameras are handed back to their owners.
“Sorry. Could you take it again? My eyes were closed.”
“Me too. Or rather my horse’s eyes were closed.”
This is the curse of digital. Life was so much simpler when we shot blind in analogue.
And horses were not just holiday accessories. It is hard to imagine that our streets once echoed with hooves and not engine revs. Now the horse as a mode of transport has been demoted to a once-a-year pleasure cruise. People who would never think of saddling up back home, get the instant desire to go cowboy when stepping off a plane. And there is no better place than Argentina. This country’s fascination with all things equine is well documented. The lone gaucho on horseback is a national symbol, as is the gallant polo player. Buenos Aires holds two of the finest race tracks in the World and there are abundant opportunities to saddle up all around the country. Mendoza is one such place. Pony trails here vary from two-hour jaunts through vineyards to epic 5-day treks across the mountains to Chile.
Horse & Wine
Take a ride through the vineyards of Maipu, followed by an exquisite lunch at Finca Agostino winery. The two-hour circuit starts at the stables Rancho Viejo in Lunlunta and meanders through olive groves and fields of grapes, dusty country lanes and the dry riverbed of the Rio Mendoza. Lunch is a 6-course spectacular with food and wine pairings. The excursion starts at 11am and finishes at 5pm. Perfect for beginners and wine lovers. Consult www.troutandwine.com.
Horse & Fly
Mendoza offers ample fly fishing opportunities in high mountain river creeks in Uco Valley and Uspallata. Some of the best fishing spots can only be reached by foot or truck or better still 4X4 hooves. Riding by horseback along a gushing stream teeming with rainbow trout and enjoying a classic asado in the wilderness is not a bad way to spend a day. Two excellent places to do so are Estancia El Manzanito and Estancia San Pablo. Skill level: Beginner/intermediate. Consult www.troutandwine.com for the different options.
Horse & History
There is no more memorable way to arrive in a country than on horseback with your luggage in tow. If you thought the only way to get to Chile was by car, bus or plane, check again. This 5-day excursion follows the footsteps of San Martin and his epic trek over the Andes into Chile. Don a poncho and sleep under the stars. Skill level intermediate. For more information go to the experts www.trekkingtravel.com.
Horse & Luxury
Mendoza may be desert but it is also home to lush green valleys teeming with wildlife such as guanacos, trout, foxes, puma and condor. Valle de Carreras is a slice of temperate paradise between Potrerillos lake and Uco Valley and home to some upscale estancias that offer high-end luxury outings on horseback. Rancho e Cuero is a 5000 hectare ranch in a bucolic setting. Perfect for the accomplished rider or discerning cowgirl who does not like to slum it in the mountains.
Horse & Glaciar
Los Chulengos is beautifully preserved ranch that was once home to herds of sheep, goats and cows. It is now an upscale lodge where city slickers get to indulge their every gaucho fantasy. Activities here include one-day horseback excursions with asado lunches, fly fishing expeditions, 4X4 adventures through the mountains and an epic 4-day horse trek to a Andean glaciar. For more information go to www.loschulengos.com.ar
Horse & Gaucho
In the Andean foothills, away from the vineyards, you’ll find hardy gauchos managing cattle ranches and farms. Estancia La Alejandra is at the epicentre in Valle Carreras and is an equestrian paradise with rearing stables that hold sturdy criolla horses and elegant European breeds. The 100-year old estancia house offers accommodation and activities such as hiking and riding. You can also indulge your equestrian desires further by taking horse coaching courses with the ranches very own horse whisperer.
Horse Riding Tips
Wear long pants to prevent scarring your ankles and shins for life. Those yellow holiday shorts will not do, unless you want knees the colour of beetroot and a week of pain.
Sturdy shoes are a must. Flips flops are only allowed if you can prove you were born in a saddle, are bow legged and shoot from the hip.
Don’t forget your fanny pack (or bum bag as the Brits say). This is a handy item to hold your bits and pieces when doing lengthy rides.
Get to know your horse. Offer your hand for it to smell and pet it before mounting.
Posture is important. Don´t slouch, keep your chin up and hold your hands level with your hips. Lose the death grip on the reins. Relax and enjoy.