My Horseback Ride in Turkey!

by Anne Heyns

In 1999,I had my first visit to Turkey for the Equitours´ Cappadocia Ride. I always imagined the country would be somewhat mysterious,perhaps a little exotic, and rich in culture. But I never imagined that it would be so exquisitely beautiful!

Our horseback riding trip began in a beautiful setting of a different kind – that of Istanbul, the ancient meeting point of all things East and West. Istanbul is a fascinating jumble of many civilizations and cultures and certainly deserves far more exploration than the one day of enjoyable but intensive site-seeing and shopping.

On the morning of the 3rd day we took a 1 and 1/2 -hour flight to Kayseri, right in the middle of Turkey. We were joined at lunch by our horse guide, Murat and our cultural guide Saban. Communication was definitely no problem, like I thought it would be, as Murat and Saban both spoke good English and were eager to share their knowledge of this fascinating region known for centuries as "the Land of Beautiful Horses".

After lunch we made the short drive out to Murat´s stables. We met our horses and headed up the massive mountain behind the farm. The horses were mixed-breeds of Arabian and Turkish stock. I must admit that I´ve never been too keen on Arabians – flighty, coy, unreliable, was what I thought. Thus I was a little dissapointed that first afternoon with my horse, Aisha, a lanky chestnut mare who seemed to me to be very Arabian indeed. She did a little dancing, a little head-tossing, and ran like the wind on our first gallops.

Not having ridden much in the past, I did panic a little, my heart did a little racing, and I wondered just how much of this trip I'm really going to enjoy. After the afternoon´s ride, which, despite my alarm about being able to handle Aisha, was absolutely wonderful with fabulous views of the whole river valley, I spoke with Murat about the possibility of changing horses the next day. He said that would be fine but urged me to give Aisha another try. Of course, he was right. By the end of the next morning, I realized that Aisha had just been checking me out on the mountain ride, and throughout my week with her she amazed me with her nimble-footedness over some very tricky trails, her stamina and her endless enthusiasm for a good, hearty run.

Our days went at a wonderfully relaxed pace, and I thoroughly enjoyed living a rush-less life. We started each morning around 8:30, stopped for a leisurely lunch, rode part of the afternoon and then generally visited a cultural site, one of the numerous handicraft establishments in the area or the glorious Turkish bath. There was plenty of time at the end of the day to relax and clean up before dinner around 7:30 and the evening´s activities.

Our group of six riders turned out to be quite compatible with well-matched horsemanship skills. I laughed at the over-confident bravado of Turkish males with the New York banker, and we all belted out old show tunes as led by the Californian lawyer. Everyone enjoyed copious amounts of Turkish food, ravenous after the days´ long gallops. Many nights at our hotel in Avanos we dined in a lovely scent-filled garden where a huge buffet of meze was laid out for us. Smoky eggplant pureed with yogurt and garlic, the tastiest of tomatoes, tangy salads, hearty, fresh-baked bread were followed by grilled meats or fish and then finally fresh fruit and homemade tarts. On the night we stayed in a beautifully-restored Greek house in Mustafapasa, we dined in a candlelit courtyard on a wonderful specialty dish, the name of which translates to "the Imam fainted."

The riding couldn´t have been better, and Murat proved a seasoned, patient and amazingly resourceful guide. Each day brought us to a new valley, and every day I declared a new favorite. Along the trails Murat stopped frequently – often not bothering to dismount – to pick fresh fruit and vegetables from the farmers´ fields. He shared grapes and apricots, tomatoes and peppers, mulberries and melons. A rider who doesn´t see much value in the trot gait, Murat led us at a peaceful walk and invigorating gallops, but gladly complied when we requested some healthy, collected canters. On a few occasions we had to get off the horses and walk in order to cross a ravine or other such obstacle.

While the horses and landscape soothed our souls, the historic sites – massive underground cities, countless ancient churches carved deep within caves and an exquisite Ottoman caravanserai's – not only took our breath away but also provoked great intellectual curiosity. We had lengthy and heated discussions about how the early Christians (the builders of the underground cities and cave churches) could have lived so long undetected by their pursuers. We also hashed through the Ottoman Empire, the continuing battle of secular and religious interests in the Turkish Republic, the Sultans and their harems, cultural traditions of marriage, death and worship. Even shopping was an intense learning experience for the group as we gained insight into the rich artistic traditions behind the beautiful carpets, textiles and pottery available for sale.

For me the Cappadocia Ride was an unforgettable mixture of rejuvenating riding, breathtaking natural beauty and cultural learning. I had booked the trip very hastily due to an unexpected opening in my calendar, so its over-the-top success was more than a pleasant surprise. When I got my photos developed, I was dismayed to find odd streaks of light throughout. But on reflection I decided those brilliant light streaks brought out the perfect touch of other-worldliness needed to portray the spirit of my Cappadocian journey.

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