Les 2 gazelles
Day 1: I fell off!
The day started too early, with a shuttle to Terminal 5 and flight from London to Agadir, and then a 90 minute drive along roads of variable quality to the ranch called Les 2 Gazelles. The driver didn’t speak much English, so we spent the time watching the dry landscape and half built towns.
On our arrival we were met by Leila, who spoke a little bit English, and showed us around and offered lunch. After lunch we already had our first ride, a short lesson in the school and then an hour riding out. I got a big mare called Tamazirt that was really lazy in the walk, fine with trotting and full speed in canter and gallop. Tollef got a smaller mare called Tizlit who were more forward going in all paces. We rode down to the beach and along it, and it was obvious that the horses normally run a lot there. We didn’t do any trot or canter before we turned off the beach and along the tracks back to the stable. At some point the guides horse shied during a canter, and my horse followed suit. I was somewhat prepared, but didn’t manage to stay on. Well done for a first ride! The fall was not really bad, and I got up and we walked nicely back to the stables.
Dinner was nice enough, and we both withdrew early, tired from the travel and riding.
Day 2: New horse, new possibilities
The second day started with a two hour long ride along the beach and back across the dry inner land, to my disappointment still on Tamazirt. We had some long canters along the beach, and the horses really enjoyed it. I have not often become tired from cantering! Tamazirt was really strong and pulling a lot on the left rein, so I spent some time fighting her before we finally agreed.
We had lunch and a new arrival, an Englishman that had done a lot of riding holidays. It was lovely having someone to talk to that actually understood English properly. He joined our ride in the afternoon, where I was allowed to change horses for a red Arab stallion named Queiss. He was so much better than Tamazirt, following the others in a nice pace, and quite controllable in trot. We did not canter at all, as we came through a town that had some kind of festival, and we rode through crowds of people, down a narrow track, all of this with loud noise from speakers around us. Queiss got really nervous, and took a long time to calm down. Then, on crossing the road before the last stretch, he was startled by a motorbike, and almost got me off for the second time on my part. Luckily I stayed on this time.
Day 3. Storms, and yet another horse.
In the evening the wind caught up, and we had a storm during the night. I didn’t sleep much, as the dog was barking a lot in the yard, and the wind made a lot of noise. Luckily we didn’t have any water coming into our room, like some of the others had.
I asked if we would have a lesson in the morning rather than riding out, as I was very unsure how the horses would be in the strong wind. Leila said we would, but when we were to saddle the horses we were told that we were going out anyway. I agreed to take Tamazirt again, as she could be expected to be calmer with the wind. Better with lazy than jumpy. We barely got out through the gate though, before she started jumping around and making problems, and I decided to go back inside and rest for the morning. At that point I was not very happy with the horses or the guides, the main instructor being the only one able to pick out a horse for me that I could be comfortable with. I rested until the others came back, and not unexpectedly, it had been a lively ride.
Before lunch I spoke to Leila, and in the afternoon I got Tollef’s horse, Tizlit. I felt really bad about that since he was so happy with her, but apparently it was the only horse they meant would be better for me than the two I had already tried, and the alternative was to break off the whole riding thing and go to Agadir for touristing (I was that tired of everything, lack of sleep didn’t help at all). Tollef got my horse and rode out with the others, while I stayed for a lesson together with a younger girl who also stayed at the ranch. It was not very complicated instructions, mostly controlling the horse in trot and canter, but I got to know the horse and got quite comfortable with her. She is just the kind of horse that I like, small, quick and eager. I still had some problems controlling her in the school, so waiting to see how riding out will be in the coming day. Tollef was also happy with “my” horse, so in the end it was a successful switch.
Day 4. Testing, testing.
No less stormy, but at least more sleep during this night. My plan was to ride out in the morning to get to know Tizlit on the track, and a lesson in the afternoon because it is less tiring, saving my energy for the trail ride.
The English-speaking guide took us about the same route as Youssuf on Sunday, down to the beach with some canters, and back through a village and over the dry lands. We had various levels of strong wind the whole way, and on our way back we had some heavy rain showers. Today’s challenge was a gallop along the beach against wind and rain. A bit after we had to stop and turn the horses with their backs to the rain, as they are not used to this at all. All in all Tizlit proved to be a good and steady horse, though I am not sure if I could have kept her back if the French couple behind me had started racing, as they tended to come side by side during the canters.
In the afternoon I was having a lesson with the girl from yesterday and the French guy from the earlier mentioned couple. Luckily I was in the school before any of the others and got some time all to myself to work on the trot and halts that I struggled with yesterday. When the other two came the lesson more or less consisted of the three of us riding around trying to avoid each other, the French guy changing directions a bit randomly, and the other two of us trying to control our horses to pass him and each other without causing any trouble. My horse appeared quite tired and protested quite heavily against the trot and canters in the end, so we made it a short lesson (if it counts as a lesson without any instruction?).
After a shower (including various water temperatures) I had my appointed massage, which at least was very good. Hopefully a full body massage will help me relax my muscles and sleep better the last night before the trail ride. Apparently we are going about 30 kilometers every day, by 5-7 hours of riding. I expect that we are not doing much trotting or canter as the horses will be having long enough days anyway. Looking forward to see how this will be! For dinner we also had the company of Rene’s daughter and her friend, who will be joining us on the flight back to London.
Day 5. To ride or not to ride (in the rain).
Against all expectations, Wednesday started out with strong winds. The rain came just as we took the horses out to get up, and within the first hour horses and riders were soaked. We discussed whether to turn back, as it was supposed to rain all day, but when it cleared up (just as we decided to return, of course) we decided to go on for lunch and then consider the course.
We walked beside the horses up a steep rocky mountain part, before we mounted again and rode along country roads in the hillsides. Nice view, with threatening clouds from all sides. We rode through a couple of towns with a lot of attention from the inhabitants, and crossed a mostly dry river. The rain didn’t come again until we had lunch in the middle of an open field, but it wasn’t too bad and we continued the trip. The car with our luggage and equipment had gone before us and set up tables and prepared lunch for us.
After lunch we rode in a dry riverbed for some time, before we got back up on the road and had a good long canter before we started to ascend the steep mountainside. From the top of the mountain we had a terrific view of the Moroccan savannah and other mountains, even one that looked like Lonely Mountain! During the descent the horses got really tired, and we walked them the last bit to the camp that was almost ready set up. Everything was a bit damp from the rain, but the skies had cleared up and we could change to quite dry clothes and get some rest.
We woke up to the prayers in the nearest village, rain on the tent, and luckily a swiftly clearing sky. The second day of the ride we rode through hilly landscape, and a long rocky stretch from the camp and up on another mountain. We walked the horses again quite far downhill, and it was good for the horses to get some rest. In a town we ended up chasing a cow away, and then we came down on the earlier viewed savannah, rocky fields with bushes and trees, where we had lunch.
After lunch we rode mostly on flat land, with some nice canters and trots along the roads. My horse was quite tired, and on the last few canters she refused to do anything but trot (possibly partly to do with the horse in front that had really uneven speed because the rider was fighting the reins all the time).
Even though the second day had been easier, I was really tired in the evening. I had a “wet wipe shower” and a fresh change of clothes, which felt incredibly good. We had some cooked chicken and mint-tea (served after most meals), and then flat out in the tent.
Day 7, there and back again.
The last day of the trail ride. The morning was a bit cloudy and chilly, but it soon cleared up and we had a really nice and warm sun that easily uncovered the spots we missed with the sunscreen... Not unexpectedly, we headed towards the coast still across the flat land. A lot of the parts were rocky, so there was little speed the first half of the ride. Some parts had large puddles from the rain, and some of the horses were really uncomfortable with the slippery ground. The advantage of the rain for our part was probably that there was no dust at all! A dog followed us for a long time, but stayed behind in a town we went through. After riding through a tourist area we came down to the beach, where the car waited with lunch, including strawberries for dessert! We untacked the horses and let them have a good roll in the sand, which was really appreciated.
After a long nice picnic on the beach, we headed towards the ranch. Both horses and riders were tired and eager to get home, and expected to have some good gallops along the beach. For my part the gallops were slightly spoiled because the rider in front of me still didn’t have control of his horse, but it was very nice anyway. I also managed to take some nice photos beach between the speedy parts. At the very end of the trip it started raining again, so much that we had to stop and turn the horses against the wind, as they were not used to the rain and quite nervous about it.
Back at the ranch we washed down the horses and equipment before taking a long awaited shower. In the evening there was a big dinner, with some other guests, and a lot of food and new dishes. Still, I was happy when we finished and could go to bed and have a good night's sleep before going home the next day. At the end of the week I was not sure if I was happy with the holiday or not. Some time later, having digested it all, I think I might have gone somewhere else, and made some other choices, but I also got some experiences that I am happy to take with me.