I’m sitting astride a noble Andalusian horse overlooking the highest peaks in the Spanish Pyrenees. Below us is the verdant Valle de Benasque, a collection of tiny medieval villages along the Esera River. It’s not even halfway through the day, and already horse riding in the Pyrenees has exceeded my expectations.
But let’s back up to the morning and my arrival at Anima Equi. It is the area’s premier equestrian tourism center, offering everything from pony rides and beginner lessons to week-long horse treks across the border into France (next time!)
I’m warmly greeted by the owner, Alvar, and his trusty trail dog, Simba. Then I’m introduced to the gray lead horse, Luna, and my own mount for the day, a bay Andalusian named Anzu.
I’ve been on many epic rides around the world — galloping around the Pyramids in Egypt, riding through rice paddies in Bali, an authentic cattle drive in Wyoming — but I’ve never been horseback riding in Europe. I’m excited to try it, on a beautiful Andalusian, at that!
“Andalusian” is a bit of a misnomer now, as the breed is now called Pura Raza Espanola (Pure Spanish Horse). Whatever you call it, the horse developed over centuries of careful breeding on the Iberian Peninsula. Once used as war horses and then present in every royal court in Europe, today’s Andalusians are every bit as elegant, powerful, and proud as their predecessors.
I quickly discover this as I climb into the saddle and detect Anzu’s eager but gentle temperament. The sun has barely peeked above the mountaintops as we set out down the cobblestone path towards the valley forest.
Our first stop while horse riding in the Pyrenees was the tiny village of Anciles. Its 183 residents live in stunning stone houses, some of which date back to the 12th century!
After clip-clopping down the ancient streets of Anciles, we started our ascent towards Cerler ski resort. The stony path that meandered through the forest was the only “road” through the area until the 1970s!
Just as we reached the chair lift (not operational, of course), we heard the unmistakable tinkling of a million bells. It was the same herd of sheep Jeremy and I passed on the road further up the valley the previous day.
Once the “traffic jam” of sheep passed, we continued past the ski resort towards Las Tres Casacadas — the Three Waterfalls. The trees thinned here, revealing broad grassy hillsides and 360-degree views of Pyrenees peaks.
Does horse riding in the Pyrenees disappoint? Not hardly! The scenery is stunning — my neck is stiff today from craning my head around so often to take it all in.
We follow Alvar and Luna up a steep hillside and dismount to enjoy a late breakfast and more killer views.
Refreshed and recharged, it was time to keep climbing. A narrow trail along the hillside brought us to the highest point of our trek, overlooking the entire Valle de Benasque.
After admiring the scenery (there was a lot of that going on!), it was time to begin our descent back to the valley floor.
The journey down began with the village of Cerler and its tiny, winding, breathtaking stone streets. It was such a cool experience to ride a horse through the alleyways, as people have been doing for centuries!
Once through the town, we took another stone path down the side of the mountain to the valley floor. It was the most technical part of the ride, squeezing between huge boulders and under low-hanging branches.
I was amazed at how well Anzu and Luna handled the trek, as the smooth stone surfaces can be slippery for horseshoes! A true testament to their fine breeding and excellent training, as I felt safe and secure through the entire descent.
At last, we arrived back on the valley floor, right in the lovely town of Benasque. Jeremy and I spent two nights here soaking up the medieval stone architecture and the 8,000-foot vertical rise of the peaks around us!
I quickly learned that horses are “vehicles” in a town this size, as we entered the roundabout and followed the flow of traffic down the main street. Another new experience for me while horse riding in the Pyrenees!
Up until this point, the terrain dictated that we move at a slow pace. Once we turned onto the riverside path, though, there was only one thing left to do.
Time to let the horses fly!
Anzu and Luna did not disappoint. Even after hours of climbing and descending the steep hillsides, they had no problem cantering for several miles along the riverfront.
We arrived back at Anima Equi tired, sore, sweaty, and smiling from ear to ear. I cannot wait until my next chance to go horse riding in the Pyrenees again!