Adventures on Horse-Back.

Riding Arabians and Sleeping with Dogs………Sable d’Or Ride, Morocco.

“The Earth is a peacock and its glorious tail Morocco” is an old saying that alludes to Morocco’s exoticism and colourful allure.

Morocco….the gateway to Africa and a land patterned rich in diversity and splendour, akin to the famous colourful tapestries and rugs that adorn this North African country’s souks and medinas. From the golden sands of the mighty Sahara with its rich undulating sand dunes to the rocky majestic peaks of the Atlas mountain range, from the craggy Atlantic coastline with its ferocious waves caressing the deserted sands to the velvety lushness of the agricultural lands, Morocco’s assortment of landscapes paint a beautiful intricate mural for all to revel in.

Horses have long been a part of the culture of Morocco, images of sprightly Arabians, nostrils flared and tails carried high galloping across glittering golden sands, leaving only a trace of soft hoof prints in their wake consistently conjure in my mind. Berber horses bejewelled in traditional decoration displaying their speed, agility and bravery jousting in an elaborate demonstration of the deep connection between horse and rider reminiscent of a scene from Arabian Nights cavort across my dreams.

It had been eight years since I galloped across the expanses of Jordan’s Wadi Rum Desert atop Zerga my Arabian silver bullet and surrendered my soul to the lure of the exotic culture of the Middle East………… the alluring mystique and hypnotic charm of a land so steeped in captivating romanticism called to me once again. On a recommendation from friends I had met on previous riding holidays I was enticed by the promise of lengthy, exhilarating canters on fit, fearless horses and so I found myself in Morocco to partake in the Sable d’Or Ride with Club Farah.

I boarded the flight on a cold and wintry Saturday morning, leaving a soft flurry of snow spiralling towards the ground in Dublin, four hours later I was basking in 30 degree heat in Agadir in Southern Morocco……………and what more to do than hit the beach and warm my frozen bones!! Agadir is situated along Morocco’s southern Atlantic Coast in the foot hills of the Anti- Atlas Mountains……and has everything synonymous with a resort town sprawling beneath the watchful gaze of the city’s Kasbah. The haunting sound of the Muezzin’s call to prayer echoes across the marina, fusing almost seamlessly with modern music beats emitting from the beachfront bars and cafes……a city of fusion, blending the ancient and traditional with the contemporary and modern. With approx. 300 days of sun every year, Agadir has become Morocco’s sunshine capital, and its close proximity to Europe draws many seeking sunshine and respite from the biting Northern winters, however for the independent traveller it is quiet sterile and a little too touristy, hawkers and tour guides roam the beach trying to sell you everything from sunglasses, sarongs, and watches to tours of the area and sweet mint tea……….resembling any typical Mediterranean resort you could imagine. Whilst tourism accounts for a large proportion of Morocco’s industry and offers a very valuable source of employment for the local community, it also brings with it a loss of the local flavour and culture, a semblance of the conventional and mundane and for me, the soul of the place becomes its casualty. I eagerly awaited the adventure into the wild, to trod along the road least taken, to wander freely on four hooves amongst the wide open spaces devoid of masses of  people and most importantly to feel alive.

Club Farah is owned and operated by Rena Erroudani and her husband. There are not enough descriptive words of appreciation and acclamation to describe the pint sized powerhouse that is Rena, she is an amazing woman with a tremendous passion and deep love for her horses and is happiest thundering across Morocco astride her beloved Arabian mare Ameera. She single-handedly leads each of her expeditions, show casing the land that has been her home for about thirty years. In fact she had just spend 4 weeks leading a 1030kms Trans Morocco Riding Trip prior to our Sable d’Or Trail, tireless, fearless and enthusiastic, she is a truly inspirational and empowering woman, an adventure riding icon!!

Visit her website to learn more about her Moroccan Riding Adventures @ www.clubfarah.com

Also @ www.rideworldwide.com and @ www.equitours.com market Rena’s Moroccan Adventures.

Leaving the tourist Mecca of Agadir behind myself and my eight other riding comrades entered the dusty and arid abyss to meet our horses. Four of my fellow riders are avid return guests to Rena’s rides, a testament of how incredible her adventures are. Despite having completed the mammoth trek of 1030kms, the horses looked incredibly well rested and once again eager to go. A mixture of Arabian and Berber descent, they are perfectly adapted to the dry conditions of Morocco with incredible stamina and a real enthusiasm for work and an eagerness to please. During the six days of riding we swapped horses regularly to ensure that the same horses were not consistently carrying the “heavier” riders and also to allow them rest days as we had two spare horses either running with us or meeting us at camp after a luxury ride in the trailer!! I had the pleasure of riding four different horses, Icklil (Bouquet of flowers), Dahlia (flower, strength), Samra (the brown) and Quashmash (name of a plant), each one as amazing as the last, each with their own special qualities, personalities and stories to tell and each of whom I will talk more about in my Meet the Horses section.

 

Our 234kms journey took us from the beach resort of Agadir through the lush fertile plains of the Souss, where we galloped along sandy roads meandering through an abundance of agricultural green houses plentiful with succulent ripe tomatoes, sumptuous verdant carrots and delicious courgettes, the occasional sprinkle of the watering systems dotted cooling labyrinthine patterns across our dust covered steeds.

We snaked and traipsed through the parched bushes of the open plains following dust strewn streets from one Berber village of red clay to the next, curious eyes peering shyly and curiously from behind patterned windows.  We whizzed past argan trees and laughed in wonder at the agility of the goats as they balanced expertly on the highest branches to avail of the most mouth-watering leaves, the shepherds taking a minute from herding their sheep to wave and smile in encouragement as our horses thundered past.

We trailed through the rocky mountain paths of the Anti Atlas, our horses nimble and surefooted as we clambered ever higher catching glimpses of the azure hues of Lake Youssef Ibn Tachafine before being delivered safely to the famous silver town of Tiznit where we explored the ancient city walls and became enthralled by the ancient game of Fantasia.

Fantasia is a performance inspired from historical wartime attacks of Berber and desert kings and consists of two groups of horse riders wearing traditional clothing charging in synchronisation towards one another. The added complexity is the firing of the old gunpowder guns which must be done in harmony so that only one gunshot is heard. Each region in Morocco has one or several fantasia groups called Serba, totalling thousands of horse riders nationwide.  Performances are usually during local, seasonal, cultural or religious festivals, as it was the birthday of the Prophet the following day it was the perfect time to play.

Unfortunately however we did not get to experience the true game as one of the riders was not present and thus they decided to postpone, but we did manage to enter the ring and become hypnotised (and almost run over!) by the prancing, posturing Barb stallions bedecked in adornments and traditional embellishments. There is a Berber saying that “only men and virgin women are allowed to ride these magnificent muscular animals” because non-virgins may cause the stallion to lose its power and speed!

 

The final leg of the journey was definitely my favourite as we emerged from the mountains and galloped with abandonment until the vast turquoise expanse of the Atlantic Ocean greeted us. Sandy coastal tracks and miles and miles of deserted beach stretched before us as we looped back to Agadir by the coastal route, our tireless horses dancing across the sand and flying on the wind, neighing and squealing with pure joy and exhilaration, jubilant with freedom, frolicking with glee to the crash of the waves and the wind grazing my face.

 

Every lunch break and arrival to night camp was heralded by an army of tail wags and a chorus of excited barks as Rena’s five dogs bounded to meet us and escort us home. The horses enjoyed long luxurious rolls, letting the coarse grains of sand massage their sweaty bodies, the team of grooms busy watering and feeding. From the back of the truck emerged magical aromas mingled in the air, the final product a never ending supply of flavoursome food and refreshing mint tea to quench our sand parched throats. No matter how many of these trips I go on it never ceases to amaze me how such a variety of delicious food is produced by such modest means……..a portable gas ring or a fire to grill……..further proof that simplicity is the key to greatness. As darkness fell and the stars twinkled brightly in the sky we slept surrounded by the beauty of nature, the silence pierced only by the occasional bray of a donkey or the furtive shuffle of one of the dogs sneaking clandestinely into my tent for a night time cuddle.

As the adventure drew to a close after six days and 234kms of riding, my only complaint is that it was too short………..but the memories created will last forever.

“WE RIDE TO FLY, TO FEEL, TO LAUGH, TO PROVE THEM WRONG, TO FEEL STRONG, TO LOVE AND TO BE LOVED BACK. WE RIDE TO LIVE.”

 

For fast paced adventure in Morocco check out www.clubfarah.com

Sable d’Or Ride, November 2017.

Author: Janine Whyte (Indiananeeners Globetrotting Cowgirl.)

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