Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Cuba: Horseriding in Vinales

It was undoubtedly the presence of 'cowboys' riding across the Vinales plains that made me feel as if I'd arrived on the set of a Western.  This fine looking horseman could have been waiting for the clapperboard before riding out in search of a sunset.  Horsepower is real here, not notional: it's used for labour around the farm, for getting around and for earning a living from tourism.

If you are a horse rider, then Vinales is a place where I'm sure you will love to jump into the saddle.
Throughout the day, we made way on the trails for small groups of pony trekkers, often families with young children.  The lack of safety hats worried me, but none of the horses looked likely to move any faster than was necessary or to have the energy to be alarmed enough to bolt.  I'm guessing that providing you don't topple yourself out of the saddle, you would be highly unlucky to get thrown off.
Many riders were clearly novices, others looked 'comfortable' though sedate, while more experienced solo riders enjoyed longer hacks with local guides.  All seemed to be enjoying themselves and were happy to be caught on camera.
Amongst the locals, riding starts young and looks fun but if traditional agriculture remains at the fore here (and the Unesco World Heritage status, premium tobacco production and tourism may help to keep it so), then this young boy will be using his horse skills to earn a living one way or another.
The horses used for tourists looked in fair health to my, admittedly, untrained eye and a good living from visitors may be an incentive to look after them well.  They waited in the shade, saddled up and ready to ride, and were rested and swapped with other horses.
Some of the horses used for other purposes looked very hard working and less well cared for.  They pulled carts and small gigs, sometimes driven in the evenings by young men who raced up and down the streets at breakneck speed, showing off as young men in cars might do in the UK.  On those occasions their treatment could be rough.  It was a reminder that behind the rural tranquility we enjoyed as visitors, there must often be very hard lives.  

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