Our final day in Madeira was to be spent in the company of two cheeky fellows – Vivaldi and Apollo – horses carefully selected for us by Paula of the Quinta do Riacho riding stables.
I have never ridden a horse before but John, who had ridden just once before in Mexico, had found it enjoyable and was keen to repeat the experience.
Paula collected us from our hotel and took us to the stables high up in the small village of Santa do Serra. Using details already supplied about our ages, weight and previous experience, she had selected her tallest horse, grey Apollo standing 1.68m, for John and smaller piebald Vivaldi, 1.33m, for me. Both were rescue horses but had, she assured us, learnt to trust people again.
After fitting us out with delightful hairnets and riding hats Paula showed us how to hold and use the reins and riding crop to control our horses. She thwacked her leg several times with her crop to demonstrate that it did not hurt. Sensibly, she told me to leave my heavy camera behind as I would need to have all my focus on the ride. Then we were up on the saddles and walking around the paddock to ensure we felt confident enough to set off on our 2 hour walk through the forest. It is at this point, she later informed us, that some first timers say “No” and decide they simply can’t do it. I, who had ridden a camel across the plains of Giza, had no such fears. I have lovely photos of my great grandfather on his horse, Tommy Lad, on the battlefields of World War 1 and of my father on a horse in front of the Great Pyramid during World War 2. I must surely have riding in my blood?
We set off behind Paula and two other more experienced riders. Assuming my horse would know the way, I was looking forward to sitting back and enjoying the ride and passing scenery. Vivaldi, however, had other ideas. After a few minutes of steady pace along the path he halted, then veered off to the right and ducked his head down to grab some tasty stems of Rhododendron. The rest of the group disappeared around the bend. Paula rapidly reappeared, admonishing me gently: “Carole! You must show him who is boss! Use your crop! Show him you are angry!” I managed a few feeble taps and spoke gently to him, encouraging to get a move on. He eventually sauntered out of the bushes, chewing like a sulky teenager. I had a sinking feeling I had already lost the battle for supremacy.
And so we journeyed on: Vivaldi stopping every hundred metres or so to veer off into the bushes and me feebly tapping him and coaxing him out again. I simply could not bring myself to shout at this noble creature, though by the fifth stop I was ready to talk fairly sternly.
Meanwhile Apollo, who had been a model of good behaviour, began taking paths that seemed deliberately designed to take John into overhanging branches and knock him off! The horse was, of course, just trying to take the safest path but John was not always agile enough to duck in time.
When Paula wasn’t advising us on controlling our mounts, she provided plenty of interesting information about the surrounding Laurissiva forest and the water irrigation system. I was just starting to relax as we came to the spectacular viewing point which marked the midway point of our walk. The views over the Eagle’s Nest to the North East of the Island and over the Atlantic were stunning. I was frustrated at only having my Blackberry phone camera to capture the image but acknowledged that my heavy SLR would have been more of a hindrance.
Our return journey was slightly trickier as we were now descending the fairly steep path we had previously climbed. This meant a change of riding position, which John found difficult, and was tough for me whenever Vivaldi ducked down for a nibble. We were pleased to make it back to the stables without falling off.
It had certainly been an experience! Despite a few anxious moments I had maintained every confidence that under Paula’s patient guidance, we two novices would come to no harm. My faith rewarded, I dismounted from Vivaldi with a tremendous sense of achievement and a renewed respect for the young horse riders who regularly ride down the steep and narrow lanes back home coping with cars, tractors, peacocks and ramblers. However, I did not think I would ever be joining them: once was enough for me.
By the time we were returned to our hotel, it was too late for us to get down to Funchal to take the Yellow Bus Open Top tour around the island and across to Camara de Lobos where Sir Winston Churchill took time out to relax in the 1950s, painting water colours of the scenery around this pretty fishing village. Instead I had to get on with the packing as we would be leaving straight after breakfast the following morning for our return flight to Manchester.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time on Madeira. This sub-tropical Island with its towering cliffs and mountains, verdant valleys, cultural, horticultural, historical and gastronomic delights had plenty to keep me entertained during my week’s stay. I look forward to returning some time soon to continue my adventures.
- Madeira Island – Day 1 – Casa Velha do Palheiro
- Madeira Island – Day 2 – Walking along the Levada
- Madeira Island – Day 3 – Exploring Funchal – Part 1
- Madeira Island – Day 3 – Exploring Funchal – Part 2
- Madeira Island – Day 3 – Exploring Funchal – Part 3
- Madeira Island – Day 4 – Exploring Funchal – Part 4
- Madeira Island – Day 5 – Jeep tour into the mountains
- Madeira Island – Day 6 – Tasty food, fireworks and rock music