We met at midnight in the dark cobbled streets of Pollensa, during the winter fair last November; 5 lost horsemen looking for their horse camp and me, on my bike, on my way home.
I was nearly at my front door when they stopped me for directions.
But my directions were awful, so I gave up and took them to the vast open football ground on the edge of town, where they had left their 40 horses, tied around the field and camping tents and trailers scattered in the centre, everyone sleeping. They were on a horse riding route to the monastery at Lluc, in the Tramuntana Mountains, where they would camp the following night.
But not this band of merry cowboys.
They had more partying left in them.
And so we stayed up telling stories and making friends, while they took turns on my bicycle and asked me to go horse riding with them in Cala Mesquida, on Mallorca's wild eastern coast, on any Sunday I wanted to, sometime soon.
My Sundays slipped past without any chance of going horse riding until finally, in January, after the three kings, I drove down to the other point of the island and arrived at Rancho Cala Mesquida, just before nine thirty am; a small and unassuming stable yard near the Cala Mesquida beach with several horses in the paddock and a few loose ponies wandering around the terrace. The table had been set and a chatty rabble of men and women of varying ages, a couple of teenagers and a 7 year old boy in breeches, were tucking into a breakfast of Mallorcan bread, olive oil, ripe tomatoes, sausage, pastries and wine. I was offered cava and thought it would be rude to decline.
At around 11 and several glasses of cava later we started to get moving, saddling up the horses and getting set to go. I was given Sito’s own horse, Alzona, a beautiful white gelding with a Spanish saddle and lots of leather tassels, while Sito rode a huge bay and Amalia, rode the third of Sito’s horses, a trio that would stick together for the entire day. The rest of the pack is left to graze in the mountains all winter, getting fat and resting after a long summer of horse riding tours with tourists.
The others all went off to get their horses from trailers and tied to trees, and there we were, a group of over 20 horses ridden by whole families, couples and childhood friends.
The Serra de Llevant is Mallorca’s smaller mountain range, in the Arta area, on the island’s eastern coast. Rolling and sparse after a recent forest fire though now being meticulously replanted, it is a glorious landscape of craggy rock faces and hills dropping down into a chilling blue sea.
We started the horse riding tour on the Cala Mesquida beach, were Alzona decided to gallop along the sand while I held on for my life, later being congratulated by several people for my great horse riding skills, though I suspect they were all just pleased I hadn’t fallen off.
Alzona was clearly primed for freaking out the tourists just enough to make them think they were riding a real horse while being the most gentle and sweet natured beast, careful on her feet, wonderfully graceful and generally kind to an amateur like me.
For 3 hours we rode in file down steep rocky ravines and galloped up the side of mountains, the teenagers shrieking, the elders barking instructions and reassurance and adrenalin coursing through our veins. Once in a while I would remember to look away from the path and the views would just blow me away. A vast open sea stretching as far as the eye can see… green hills and white rock, against a startling blue January sky, and a line of horses trailing up the mountain side.
We walked, trotted and galloped over the vast Llevant Mountains, encountering a pair of hunters at one point, but no one else, ducking from low branches, trying to avoid the horse that kicked, laughing at the feisty black stallion too bold to stick to the path, and in 3 short hours of horse riding in Mallorca that literally just flew by, I had the time of my life.
Suddenly the three hours of horse riding were up and we were back at the beach, our horses sweaty and eager to get back, our bottoms numb and muscles aching.
I was starving!
We rode back to the stables, some heading to nearby ranches to drop the horses back in their paddocks, and hose them down.
My host could not have been more welcoming or generous. The breakfast table was now laden with more wine, bread and olives, set for 40, an enormous pot bubbling at the side.
We ate the Mallorcan country dish known as Dirty Rice: “Arroz Brut”, a delicious soupy rice with artichokes, rabbit, pork, mushrooms and peas, spiced with chilli, garlic, saffron, parsley and a bit of thyme. The kind of food that is a reward in itself and that allows for lots of wine drinking, almost demands it.
For horse riding in Mallorca on Cala Mesquida beach transportation can be arranged by your boutique hotel in Puerto Pollensa, and bookings made directly with Lorenzo at Rancho Cala Mesquida.