After spending our first night in a local guesthouse, we met up with our mounts early on day two. I was introduced to my partner for the week, GeeGee, a small but mighty chestnut mare, who proved more than up to the challenges that lay ahead of us. Despite her advancing years, every morning she stepped out with gusto, eyes bright, ears pricked, taking in everything around us. She was as sure-footed as a mountain goat, always eager to be up with the action, but polite enough to take rear file within the group of eight when asked.
The horses wore Western-style saddles adapted to Nico’s preferred design, with generously sized saddlebags that allowed us to wear multiple layers in the morning then shed them as temperatures rose, or to carry a waterproof coat to put on when needed.
Once we had prepared our horses, we headed out on foot for the first 10 to 15 minutes to allow them to warm up, before checking our girths and mounting up. We followed this pattern at the start of each ride, then repeated it in reverse later to allow the horses time to warm up before and cool down after their exertions. It also helped us riders to walk off any stiffness that had built up from the long hours in the saddle.
Most of the riding was at a fast walk, or a forward but consistent rolling canter, with an occasional trot. As riders, we were expected to remain on the ball at all times, so we could pick up canter or return to walk without advance warning as and when a change of pace was required.
On the first riding day, we were introduced to the eye-opening, beautiful terrain we would be covering, which ranged from wide, hard, stone and dirt tracks to rocky, dry, riverbeds, fording rivers and negotiating steep and narrow hiking trails with sheer drops alongside. Anyone with a fear of heights would be strongly recommended to keep their eyes front and centre, but to do so would mean you’d miss out on the incredible views, of which there were plenty.
Given a loose rein, the horses were incredibly skilled at negotiating the tricky, often very rocky terrain with little or no assistance from their riders. Each day, the challenging route required us to dismount and trek on foot, leading our equine partners for periods, while there were times when part of me would have preferred to do so, rather than continuing mounted. In fact, the horses were more than up to the task and my confidence in their ability grew as the week progressed. It felt like we were rarely riding on the flat, with hills being the constant order of the day.
We typically rode for around three hours in the morning, followed by a break of an hour or slightly more for lunch, then another three hours on the trail before reaching our destination for the night.
During the week, we also rode on the ,beach, through the sea and crossed a deep river, through which some of the horses had to swim a few strides, while we removed our boots and socks and tied them around our neck to keep them dry-all great fun while pushing our comfort boundaries, giving a real sense of achievement to each ride.
The initial plan had been to spend four nights camping along the route, which took us from the north of Lake Köyceğiz down to Dalyan, over the mountains to Gökbel, then on to the beach near Dalaman airport before heading across more mountains to a sheltered coastline, where we enjoyed a lovely swim in the sea, before heading to our final destination in Göcek.
However, the storm on the first night, combined with other inclement weather warnings, meant alternative accommodation had to be found for us at short notice while the tents dried out, so we only camped once at the start of the week then again at the end of the week. I was grateful the team managed to find us dry places to sleep, even if some of the accommodation was basic. And it was lovely to spend a night under the stars at the end of the week – with very little light pollution, it really was a beautiful spectacle.
The inclement weather at the start of the week curtailed our daytime activities for a couple of days, as we urgently needed to get to the ferry to cross the Dalyan river before a storm arrived that could prevent it from running. This meant we bypassed a beach ride that would usually form part of the route. Typically the horses would stand on the open deck of the car ferry for the short journey, but the wet weather made it slippery, so they were loaded in pairs into a horse trailer and made the journey in this way instead.
Once the horses were all safely on the correct side of the river, we enjoyed lunch at a local restaurant before heading out on a boat ride on the lagoon. We briefly visited the beach as the forecast storm hit, before heading back to base. The plan had been to stop off and visit the Roman ruins, but as the rain lashed down, the group agreed to give it a miss. We returned to the restaurant that evening to enjoy a fresh fish supper sourced from the lagoon.
Happily, the weather improved as the week progressed, so we enjoyed visiting Turtle Beach, which is home to a sanctuary where we saw injured turtles recovering before they return to the sea, rode in some beautiful Mediterranean weather and took the chance to swim in the calm, warm sea before lunch on the final day – which was much more what I had been expecting.