A MATTER OF HORSE

Looking to horse ride in Italy? Then saddle up, as John Bensalhia trots on over with a selection of treks and excursions for all ages and abilities to enjoy...

From time to time, the TV channels will broadcast one of those classic Western movies. As feuds and grumbles escalate out of control, those horses really have their work cut out, ferrying scowling cowboys between locations.

But in Italy, these days, horse riding is a lot more sedate. One kind of holiday that continues to grow in popularity today is that of the horse riding holiday. What better way to see the sights of Italy then on horseback? Whether you're a shaky first-time learner or experienced rider, all kinds of packages are available to you

that cater for your own specific requirements.

In fact, Italy is well known for its cowboy – or the Buttero. The Buttero is said to be traced back to the 14th and 15th centuries. Back in these times, military mercenaries could not find the work, so instead they elected to put their skills to good use as cowboys who would control both the local land and livestock (such as cattle and sheep). One notable breed of cattle was Maremmana, notable for their large tummies and wide, long horns.

The Buttero would commonly be clad in corduroy trousers, velvet jacket and a distinctive black hat. These cowboys, over time, would also appear at events and festivals, competing in games of skill. Today, cowboys can still sometimes be seen at events such as the Procession of the Resurrected Christ in Tarquinia, and Sant'Antonio Abate Day.

So why choose Italy as one of the perfect destinations for horse riding? Well, what better way to explore the natural beauty that Italy has to offer? Whether you're exploring the beautiful countryside, the cultural heritage or the beaches, then horse riding allows you to do so at a relaxed, leisurely pace.

For example, if you're looking to go horse riding in Puglia, this is a perfect choice. Not only does it boast some spectacular scenery to check out (including rolling hills, cool coastlines and intriguing medieval villages), it's notable for its narrow streets which make it less likely for cars to pass you by.

The Tuscan countryside is another popular choice. It's a good destination on a number of counts. It's relatively peaceful in the country, with less people around. The splendour of the countryside is definitely worth checking out from horseback. What better way to appreciate the beauty of the landscape in front of you? Tuscany is also well known for its medieval era buildings such as castles and fortresses, which are also worth a look.

With that in mind, there are also some superb horse riding trip packages available. So saddle up, and let's trot on over to find five of the runaway successes!

SANTA CRISTINA CASTLE, Tuscany

19 horses are ready and waiting at Santa Cristina Castle. Each with their own unique personality, the horses are selected for each guest in accordance with their ability from novice to expert.

Santa Cristina Castle provides a good number of horse riding treks that take you to a wealth of local sight treasures. One of the most notable examples is the trek to Mezzano Lake, an area of natural beauty and history. In fact, the Lake used to be a volcanic crater that was formed 400,000 years ago. This trip will take you and the horses through farmland into a series of wooded hills that surround Onano. From there, it's off to a natural passage surrounded by trees, past the local farms into an old wood that then leads to the flat open plain of Mezzano Crater. After this, it's then off to the marshlands and vineyards surrounding the Lake, and then of course, the Lake itself!

Alternatively, you can plump for the Medieval Tour that takes you on a route including the famous Brigands' Path, a St Prospero farmhouse, cultivated fields and chestnut woods. The old outlaw track of Brigands' Path is also on the route for the Nocchieto trek. Nocchieto itself is a house made from local tufo rock. This is one of the most pastoral routes on offer, taking you on a panoramic trail past flocks of sheep, down the hills to the old abandoned farmers' settlement. A similar farm experience, and a popular choice at that, is the route to San Luigi Farm, which is where the local shepherds make ricotta cheese.

An excellent choice that offers horse riding opportunities for all abilities, Santa Cristina Castle also offers you the chance to stay in comfortable and warm accommodation.

IL PARETAIO, Tuscany

Owned and managed by Giovanni and Cristina De Marchi, Il Paretaio is a Tuscan country house that includes special riding classes and treks.

Boasting 20 horses bred and trained to ensure a gentle, easy-going personality, Il Paretaio allows for some amazing opportunities to go riding in the local countryside. Giovanni and Cristina personally train the horses themselves, and Il Paretaio is well known for its dedicated staff who are also highly knowledgeable and trained to the highest standard.

Two people riding horses tuscany countrysidePhoto By: Il Paretaio

As a result, anyone coming to Il Paretaio will be made to feel at ease. Catering for all abilities, including children, riders are taught in a calm and sensitive fashion to ensure that everyone has a relaxing and also enjoyable time.

The Tuscan hills make for a suitably lush backdrop for a trek – either for half or all of a day. During these treks, you have the option to also enjoy a trattoria visit or a wine tasting at lunchtime.

PIPPA'S PADDOCK, Sicily

Pippa's Paddock offers a series of all-inclusive horse riding holidays and excursions. The horses for these excursions are well trained, cared and loved, and will be your faithful companions for a series of trips that usually run for around three hours in the morning after breakfast.

Take your pick from all kinds of wonderful excursions available at Pippa's Paddock. You can take a trot into a medieval town, snap up the delights of Corleone (including its photo museum), or visit a 2500 year old Arab fortified town in the mountains of central Sicily. It's also possible to spend a whole day enjoying a ride to and from a local country house or enjoy a day and a night in the lovely region of Palermo.

Guest rooms are available at the converted 150 year old barns, and have been furnished to a high level in a comfortable antique style. Rooms include en-suite bathroom.

ALTAVIA HORSE RIDING HOLIDAYS, Molise

If you're looking to get away from the hurly burly of life, then Altavia Horse Riding Holidays will not disappoint.

If you're a horse rider par excellence, don't expect to break into a gallop on any of the rides and trails available. The emphasis is on enjoying a chilled out, relaxing experience – allowing you to soak in the local sights at your own pace rather than a blurry flash.

The horses are friendly, responsive and highly reliable. Treks are available for all levels of horse riding ability, with visits to local mountains, valleys, fields and hills. Those with horse riding experience will still be able to enjoy some of the more advanced rides on offer, including rocky trails and steeper slopes.

People riding horses in the countrysidePhoto By: Altavia Horse Riding Holidays

Your trusty guide is called Carmine, who has plenty of experience as well as being a member of FISE (Federation of Italian Equestrian Sports) and vice president for the Molise region. Carmine also used to be a chef, so you can be sure to enjoy some first class cooking!

The accommodation ranges from hotels to mountain lodges, and ensure a comfy and peaceful retreat after your trek.

MANDRA EDERA, Sardinia

Mandra Edera is a lovely, relaxing country hotel. It offers horse riding lessons for all levels and abilities. Championship winning horses are bred by the hotel's owners. These beautiful, friendly and well trained horses definitely live up to their reputation.

There are two excellent riding packages available at Mandra Edera. The first is Stella di Mare (or Starfish Ride At The Coast) which involves three blissful days at the sea. You will be based at the Mandra Edera Club House on the beach, and you'll get to horse ride to your heart's content. After lunch at the stables, you will then have the afternoons free to do a spot of sunbathing or have a swim in the cool blue sea.

The other package is called Monti e Mare (Mountains and Sea). This is an ideal way of discovering the joys of the Sardinian sights. You will spend five days riding through a selection of beautiful landscapes in quiet areas free of tourists. Again, the afternoons will be free for you to relax – either in the pool or in the garden of Mandra Edera.