Fancy a canter through the Chianti?
Or maybe a relaxing hack on a trusty steed while you admire the beauty of the Tuscan countryside? As one of my passions is horse riding and basically anything to do with these majestic creatures, I quickly did my research upon arriving in Florence to find a good place where I could ride. I was looking for riding lessons and also somewhere that could offer good trail rides.
My family are probably rolling their eyes as they read the subject of this post as they get very bored with my talk of all things equine! As a little girl, I constantly begged my parents for a pony and I am still waiting for the birthday or Christmas when that wish becomes a reality. I have read countless horsey books, had too many lessons to count and have even completed a course in Colorado in equine massage.
My first Italian equine indulgence was in 2006 when I spent a week at a riding school which specialized in dressage situated in Southern Tuscany. Here you could learn basic riding, dressage, go for trail rides out into the neighboring countryside or a mix of all three options. I chose to have lessons one day and then ride out on the alternate days. The first lesson is to determine your level of experience and I, always erring on the side of caution described my ability as beginner/intermediate.
My instructor for the first lesson was a solid German girl who barked orders at us from the middle of the arena. To say I was feeling a little nervous is an understatement. Her yelling at me to Velax Velax, Velax was not helping me to actually relax at all and my nerves did not improve when the horse I was riding decided to spook at some imaginary monster at the side of the arena and in three quick side passes (didn’t realize I was so advanced at dressage!!) arrived at the center line of the arena. Luckily I stayed on and managed to finish the lesson even though my confidence had taken a little battering.
I gave myself a little pep talk reminding myself I had come here to have fun and not to be stressed so decided to not take everything so personally and just enjoy myself, which is what I then did for the remainder of the week. I not only enjoyed my following lessons but had the most lovely picnic lunch during our last ride out. We sat under the shade of the chestnut trees while indulging in prosciutto, frittata, vino (Chianti of course) and then finished the meal with vin santo and cantuccini. Needless to say, the ride home was very relaxed and enjoyable!
It’s funny how you meet people in your life that might seem to just be a casual encounter but they then become a very close friend. One such person is Jessica Morton, who I met at the riding school where she was working at the time as a groom. One morning I heard the familiar tunes of Australian singer, Bernard Fanning floating through the stables. Upon investigation, I found my southern hemisphere neighbour, Jessica from New Zealand and we were soon chatting up a storm.
Six months later when I found myself living in Florence, I sent her an email to see where she was. To my surprise, she had moved closer to Florence and was getting married in two weeks to her Sardinian beau, Paolo. I was also very pleased to hear that Jess and Paolo had started their own business, Chianti Trails taking tourists and locals on trail rides through Tuscany. I have since been very fortunate to have been invited on many a ride with Jessica and I cannot recommend her and Paolo enough for their professionalism, expertise and also the standard of horses they own. All of their horses live a very happy life frolicking out in the Tuscan fields. They have horses for all riding abilities and their locations for lunch, whether a picnic or a local trattoria are always delicious.
Incredible value, wonderful food, beautiful horses and scenery as pretty as a postcard. What more could you want? As you can see by the photos, the scenery is so varied and beautiful no matter what time of the year you choose to ride. For more details on Chianti Trails or to contact Jess and Paolo, please click this link.
Getting back to equine indulgences, I did actually find somewhere to have lessons and the bonus for me what that is was just a stone’s throw from the historical center of Florence. A fifteen minute ride on my bicycle through the Cascine took me to the Centro Ippico Toscano. This riding school specializes in show jumping and they are very proud of their students’ success at the local competitions. The facilities are incredible with two indoor arenas, one sand arena, grass jumping course, dressage area and round pen. There is a café and function area too should you wish to have an event here but this is also used as a restaurant for weekend lunches.
The stables house some of the most beautiful horses and all tack is kept in incredible condition. I enjoyed many lessons here and learnt an awful lot. My confidence soared when I jumped my highest ever one night (1.10mt and didn’t fall off!) CIT is not cheap though and you do pay for the convenience of the location. Due to me now being a sensible girl with a budget, I no longer go there. Lessons cost €300 for ten and you must use them within thirty days. If you would prefer to spread your lessons over 60 days then you must pay €350. On top of this is the annual fee for your license – yes you actually need a riding license here in Italy and it must be renewed each year. This costs around €25-€30 and at CIT you also have the pleasure of paying an additional €500 +for the annual membership which also covers insurance.
I have since found somewhere else to take lessons and even though it is further away, it not only costs one third the price of CIT but is also a beautiful facility with very happy and healthy horses. This Centro Ippico is called Agrifoglio and is located in Staggia Senese, about 50 minutes from central Florence towards Siena.
A little word of caution. Please ensure you always wear a helmet when you ride as it is not obligatory here in Italy if you are over 18 years old but I feel it is always much safer when you are riding. All of the above places do provide helmets so don’t feel like you have to bring one with you if you are just visiting for a holiday.
Also please ensure your tetanus shots are up to date. One never knows as I discovered literally! The day after I had commented that I actually didn’t recall the last time I had received a tetanus, I was kicked in the leg mid canter and ended up in the local hospital having seven stitches and two very painful tetanus injections in my bottom. And finding an emergency open in Italy on a Sunday in August is not as easy as one may think!
Following is a photo of one of my injuries suffered while riding.
There is no better or more memorable way to see the Tuscan country side than on the back of a horse.
Imagine being so close to the vines that you can actually grab a bunch of grapes, or weaving through the silver green olive groves and if you are very lucky, you may even see a wild boar or deer in the distance.