Horse Riding through South Western France

Equestrian holidays are an adventure like no other, with stunning scenery and unbeatable hospitality, Aquitaine Adventures has it all 

An adventure holiday was on my to-do list this summer, and as an avid horse rider, I jumped at the opportunity to join a week-long group horse-riding experience I found on the Far and Ride website. Images of riders swimming on horseback and galloping along the beach in the stunning Aquitaine region caught my attention and I knew that this was absolutely the holiday to fulfil my equestrian adventure. With my kit packed, and an open mind, I set off from Dubai to Bordeaux to begin my journey.

The relaxing town of Mimizan Plage

From Bordeaux, I rented a car and with the help of my trusty Google maps, after an hour and a half, I arrived in Mimizan Plage. I instantly fell in love with this picturesque seaside town (with only 6,000 permanent residents) with all its charm and beauty. Fleeing the concrete jungle I didn't miss all the skyscrapers and hustle and bustle I left behind. Instead, I relished being in the tranquil surroundings of this laid-back town.

     The pretty resort town of Mimizan-Plage.

During the summer season, this sleepy coastal village becomes a popular holiday spot, attracting a range of tourists who enjoy exploring the unspoilt nature it has to offer. Whether your sporting prowess is for hiking, cycling, camping, fishing, or surfing, there are endless options and activities that will suit. Expect quaint, colourful houses, boulangeries, surf shops, restaurants and endless beaches with a backdrop of endless forest along the way.

After settling into the cosy accommodation (don't expect silk pillow cases and slippers at the door), all of the riders gathered for a hearty dinner. Chatter centred around each guests' background and of course our shared passion for riding. The next day we met Michel Mille, a talented horseman who runs Le Marina Equestrian Centre as well as the trail programmes. I knew I was in good hands, with his 40 years of experience working with horses.

Meeting the horses

First things first, we were instructed by Michel to use the commands that his horses understand. What I liked and respected was that Michel was adamant that he didn't want his horses to pick up any bad habits. For example, trail horses typically follow each other in a straight line and tend to be on the verge of lazy. They become so conditioned to the same route, that they stop and start automatically, and they pick up their pace when the know they're on the road to home. Michel avoids this at all cost by encouraging everyone to ride in pairs and to gallop one at a time with a 30 – 60-second lead-time between riders.

        Woman riding a horse on a beach

Michel's horses are well-trained Anglo-Arab breeds, the majority blue ribbon winning ex-show jumpers, dressage and racing — all of which are in exceptional condition. Once he paired us with our four legged companions, and after all our skill testing was complete, we set off for a glorious four-hour ride through the woods. During the hack, we were encouraged to practice what we'd learned in the arena, and to develop a rapport with our horses. I was paired with a dashing, stocky chestnut gelding named Fanon, who had a calm demeanour but an appetite to run.

A memorable journey

We began a four-day trail ride through the beautiful Landes forest; the largest forest in Europe, spanning 10,000km2. We crossed through Tielague Marsh, around the Sintias Lagoon and the Bourg le Vieux Lake, travelling up to 40 km each day. The landscape was constantly changing, from forests full of grand pine trees, to riverbanks, open plains, sand dunes, cornfields, small sleepy villages and the open coast. Two of the nights were spent sleeping in tents under the glittering stars.

           Riding through Landes Forest

One of the highlights was visiting Étang d'Aureilhan, a large lake north of Mimizan, which is protected by the state. This lake, situated within the Landes forest, was where we played and swam with our horses. Swimming with a horse is an exhilarating experience, as the movement is nothing like riding on land. Photographer Franck Molina joined us at the lake to capture the moment. As Franck specialises in equestrian photography, the images turned out beautifully — a true keepsake.

Our morning rituals included breakfast together, talking about the plan for the day and preparing our horses to set off by 9am. Lunch was often a picnic at a tranquil spot along the trail, and dinner (in true French fashion) was held late in the evening, and washed down with a glass or two of Bordeaux wine. Meal times were an opportunity to learn about true French fare, with the majority prepared by Annette—Michel's wife. She would arrive early at each destination to prepare everything. On the menu du jour we enjoyed an impressive selection of cheeses, Foie gras, pate, quinoa, lentils, salads, chorizo, parma ham, steak, chicken, and duck. On occasion, we dined out at local restaurants that were full of character and charm.

This riding adventure was a truly memorable experience. The friends I made were super, the scenery was spectacular, and the hands-on nature of travelling with horses is something I love and the thrill I had been searching for. I will definitely be researching more riding holidays with Far and Ride in the near future.

To find out more equestrian holidays in France and other locations around the world visit: www.farandride.com

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