Riding in Cape Verde

I guess it was inevitable really, but the last few days I’ve started missing the horses. After all, by the time I get home it will basically be a month since I last rode Otis due to his well timed abscess. I think my body has rested enough and is ready to go back to work, judging by my returning thoughts to the horses at home.

Anyway, this morning I went for a ride at the only stables on the island of Sal, Cape Verde. We got picked up at 8.30 – not usually early for me but it did come as a slight shock to the system. Thankfully it was overcast so I didn’t feel too silly in jeans. It’s amazing how quickly your legs acclimatise to wearing shorts and that freedom, and how even my too-big skinny jeans feel oppressive around my calves. I didn’t have anything more than pumps though, so I had to hope for the best!

First thing you should know is that Sal is basically a desert with a beach around the perimeter. The ten horses of the island are kept in the botanical garden, so as close to greenery as possible. As far as I could see they were all fit and well – lean, but they are very fit and in this climate they won’t be carrying excess fat! The horses are all rescued; mine was from France, several were from Portugal, so are a right mix. I thought this was quite commendable; whilst the rest of the world is overbreeding, a country with no native equines is choosing to improve the wellbeing of horses rather than create their own breed. 

I’m babbling. It was interesting to see the tourism industry from the other side – but I was pleased that the tack was in good condition, fitted, was clean and the horses immaculately groomed and obviously well cared for – one had the remnants of iodine spray on his leg for an invisible cut. We also had to sign an insurance form and had hats fitted. 

As I qualified as an “expert” (2 years of riding weekly) I was given a French Warmblood called Chad, who fidgeted while I waited for my guide, Elton, to mount. The two of us went alone, as the other tourists were beginners. The first thing we did was cross the dual carriageway. In fact, the only road in Sal (others are dirt tracks meandering through the desert). Then we rode through the desert, passing the salt mines, which is Sal’s only export.

Then we reached the best bit! The beach! So Elton could check that I wasn’t bluffing about my riding ability we had a steady canter in deep sand. The horses were used to it, but it was definitely hard work for them. I obviously passed as we had a faster canter back before heading to the shoreline. 

By this time both horses were dancing about, knowing what was coming next. Elton gave the word and we were off! A flat out gallop, head low to avoid the salty splashes of sand kicked up by Elton’s horse. Chad really went for it, splashing across the waves! We pulled up near some kids flying kites and because we had some difficulty getting the excited horses past them Elton suggested just galloping past! So off we went at breakneck speed. 

At the end of the beach we turned round and I led the way back in a steadier gallop before we walked back across the desert with our prancing horses. Chad jiggled and bounced on the spot, trying to find the next place to gallop. I think Elton enjoyed our fast ride as much as I did – he had a lucky escape as I saw one guide traipsing through the desert on foot leading one pony and child.

One thing I took away from today was the age old problem that I used to encounter on a daily basis, of people overestimating their ability on horse back. I would not have liked to have been someone of much less confidence than me riding the excitable Chad home, and when you factor in the language barriers, bigging yourself up before you mount leads to an unenjoyable  and potentially dangerous ride.


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