Along unspoilt beaches and through the mangrove swamps....
edited: Saturday, February 23, 2002
By janna Wilson
Posted: Saturday, February 23, 2002
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A day spent horse riding in the Gambia, West Africa
The ‘riders’ were a well-mixed group of Brits aged from 12 to 50+ years of age, with varying riding skills from complete beginners to experienced riders. With a few who thought they could ride as their sister had a horse, and they had sat on it occasionally!! (you’ve met the type). Altogether about 20 or so riders.
The horses were a mixture of Arab type horses, mares and stallions (normally I would have considered this a recipe for disaster). One mare still had a foal with her. The horses in the Gambia are extremely thin and bony; like a lot of 3rd world countries, they barely live beyond 15 years. When children are dying, as their parents cannot afford quinine, it is small wonder that there is no money for horse medications.
With a lot of heaving and pushing and shuvving, most riders were now on their allocated horses. I had spotted Ali earlier on – a very bad-tempered little chestnut Arab stallion, about 15 hands high, snorting, pawing the sand with his hoof, bucking and rearing and trying to bite everyone in sight. I am still waiting for a horse to be allocated to me. There was now only two left – I walk towards a tall grey horse standing quietly. This was bound to be mine. Suddenly a voice booms out “ This is Ali, you will be riding him”.
Poor isn’t the word for the condition of the tack. The saddle was beyond repair and would have been thrown out years ago in England. It was torn, stitching was falling apart and it was full of holes. For the uninitiated (i.e. non-riders), it is usual to ride with level stirrups. However, one of the stirrup leathers was broken, so I either had to ride with very short stirrups perched up on top of this very small horse looking like Lester Piggott (but feeling more like Jo Brand (she is an English comedienne of rather round proportions – although I am not as large, I just felt it!)), very uneven stirrups, or none at all.
We rode over long stretches of sandy beach, mostly at a leisurely pace. Ali was quite happy as long as the mare with the foal was behind him (obviously his mare and foal). We spent the first couple of hours in warm sunshine walking across golden sand lapped by the sea. Horses and riders and not another soul in sight for miles and miles; apart from an odd fisherman standing up to his waist in the sea, casting his net and putting the fish he catches into deep pockets in his trousers. Little lizards scurried away at the sound of the hooves. Bliss…..
By mid morning, we had left the beaches and according to our Guide would now be riding through agricultural land. Despite the growth and importance of tourism, the economy of the Gambia is still predominantly agricultural, with the majority of Gambians earning their living from the land and the sea. Groundnuts are the traditional crop, together with mangoes and other fruit and vegetables. Land was irrigated and people were hard at work.
It was early afternoon, and now getting very hot. I had bought a pair of suede half chaps, which I was wearing for the first time over my jodphurs. With the heat, it was now very hot, sticky and sweaty (and that was just the riders). Ali stepped into the mangroves and suddenly I was up to my knees in water and just hoping there were no leeches (he was quite happy to plough through the swamps, but had real problems stepping through a puddle!) Suede chaps were now full of water and squelched every time I moved and were most uncomfortable indeed. Dense forestry surrounded the swamps and you could see monkeys swinging from tree to tree. The Gambia is a paradise for birdwatchers, lots and lots of beautiful brightly coloured birds. We also spotted several big monitor lizards sunning themselves on the mud banks, completely oblivious to us.
I had spent the entire ride fiddling with the stirrups, now with squelchy chaps; I was very uncomfortable indeed, so decided to ride without stirrups. One of the other riders, also on a stallion, decided in her wisdom to overtake Ali. The two stallions squared up to each other, turned and kicked out and Ali spun round and reared up. There is one advantage in falling off a small horse – it is not too far to fall to the ground. I did manage to hang on to the reins; otherwise I am sure he would have bolted never to be seen again. Not to be outdone, I have fallen off bigger horses than this (I own and ride a very large English Shire horse) I manage to scramble on him again despite the fact that he is now jumping about all over the place.
We completed the ride without further mishap; although crossing a main road with 20 or so horses was a very scary business. The Gambians drive their cars like lunatics regardless of man or beast.
I really enjoyed the day’s ride. A different perspective on the Gambian countryside, and much better than viewing it from a jeep. There were a few stiff backs and legs the next day and at least one sore bum… I would ride in the Gambia again, I would even ride Ali again, but next time I shall take my own stirrup leathers.
I gave Ali some polo mints for transporting me around all day.
And the Guide got my (now dried out) suede half chaps…..
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|Reviewed by Andy Sanson (Reader)
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