I decided on my last day in Essaouira that I’d like to go horseriding. I figured it would be nice to ride along the beach, and after finding my way to the bus station to buy my ticket for the night bus to Fez, I organised a three hour ride through the hostel. At 12.00, my lift to Ranch de Diabat arrived. The old car seemed to struggle in what appeared, in parts, to be a four wheel drive track however we did eventually make it to the ranch.
I was assigned a beautiful horse named Atlas who I was told was very gentle. However, after a brief chat with Atlas I noticed that his right eye was completely white with cataracts. A few questions confirmed my concern: the lovely Atlas was blind in one eye. Now I don’t know about you, but I didn’t feel particularly safe riding a half-blind horse. I didn’t really want to have to worry about being tossed into the ocean because the horse failed to notice a rock and trip, and I wasn’t too comfortable with the thought of galloping along the beach on the back of a horse who couldn’t see. Maybe it’s just me.
Subsequently, I asked if there was another horse that I could ride and they saddled up a tall dark horse with a name I couldn’t pronounce although I believe it started with K. On went the riding helmet, up I got on K and off we went. It started well, I’ll give it that, but I soon began to suspect that I was being punished for discriminating against the disabled. I’d explained to the ranch staff that I could ride, but I wasn’t confusing ambition with ability and had classified myself a beginner to intermediate rather than an advanced rider. Two simple truths, however, were soon made apparent:
1. K was too strong [and headstrong] for me; and
2. K was pure evil.
My peaceful ride along the beach was clearly not to be. K was one giant challenge and didn’t seem to be particularly happy about having me on his back. He stamped and snorted and huffed and puffed, grudgingly following my guide Hassan and his grey mare. When we got to the beach, he decided that he didn’t like the water and kept trying to head in the opposite direction. He’d trot along relatively politely, but as soon as we’d break into a canter he would ignore all my fervent attempts to ride along the waterline and dash up into the dunes, almost ripping my arms out of my sockets as I tried to exert control. Once I’d finally manage to bring him into line, Hassan struggling to hide his amusement, K would suddenly behave perfectly for about five minutes. Alas, such model behaviour was not to last long. As soon as we passed a group of kitesurfers and the beach again opened up to us, wide and empty, a canter would break into a mad gallop and we’d be back in the dunes, me struggling to hang onto the reins with one and and my camera with the other to prevent the lens being smashed into the saddle. I must have looked like a complete idiot. It was actually a relief when we moved off the beach onto the bluff and the wide open spaces narrowed to little tracks through scrubby trees – although K did his absolute best to push me into the branches of trees bearing unfriendly inch-long spikes. The bastard seemed to take a perverse joy in making my life difficult.
My back hurt, my shoulders hurt and my legs hurt – I discovered more than a couple of bruises when I returned to the hostel. However, I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy it – it was certainly a much more challenging ride than I had anticipated. A conspiracy was virtually confirmed when I returned to the stable and the girl working in the office there saw me on K. She shook her head and laughed, telling me that K was a very difficult horse and should definitely not be ridden by anyone other than an extremely experienced rider.
A lesson learnt in Essaouira? Don’t discriminate against disabled horses.