Updated: April 2016
The horse stands very still as I approach it for the first time, its big black eyelashes shutting now and then as if it is dozing off. I smell its horse heat, its big body breathing calmly. Then a thick flip of leather straps as the saddle is fastened, the soft clink chink of metal against teeth as the bridle slips on, a slow grinding of tongue and teeth as the horse accepts the bit. Then a hop and dramatic leg swing and I’m in the saddle, a rousing step from my horse as she wakes up—we are off.
I like my horse’s Zen vibe; I’m already feeling happier. After a few laps of the arena to establish our competence, our group of four pushes out into the trees behind Tibidabo, the horses snorting and moving their necks. The trees are full of blossom, the air is clean and fragrant, the movement of my horse is rhythmic and calming. Three quarters of an hour ago I was sitting in my flat in central Barcelona.
I could feel the horse was calm and sensible but since this creature weighed about ten lots of me, I made sure I was in charge. Our guide, Clara, gave us some sound advice: ¨Horses are herd animals, they have leaders. Show them who is boss. When he tries to eat grass without your permission, don’t let him. He will respect you¨ she said.
Apart from being in nature, the best thing about riding is the cool energy of a good horse—they are the embodiment of ‘things are what they are, and whatever will be, will be.’ Nothing is a problem until it is a problem. Life is simple on a horse; they live entirely in the now. They have a good philosophy of life and it rubs off on you.
Riding is a great escape for us city slickers. Not only do you get into the countryside, you also go on a huge hike through local scenery without taking an actual step yourself. You inhale the fresh air, dung and pine tree smells, while a huge animal plods between your legs—you can’t get much closer to nature than that.
Barcelona is surrounded by natural parks, with Collserola behind the hills to the east, Montserrat behind Collserola, Montseny to the north and Garraf to the south. In each of these parks, good riding schools can be found nestled amongst the trees, some just 20 minutes from the city centre. The ones listed below all have someone on hand to speak English if needed. Spring is a lovely time to ride as it’s not too hot and the flowers are starting to come out. You don’t even need a car.
Best for beginners
Very close to Barcelona, enjoy a horseback excursion through rural Catalunya. The tour takes place in a beautiful part of the region, where you can enjoy the views of the mountains of Montserrat, Montseny and Sant Llorenç de Munt.
No previous riding experience is necessary, as all the horses are well prepared to carry out the routes safely and properly. Experienced horseback guides will show you the best ways to ride them.
Hípica Can Taío Horseback Tours in Santa Perpètua de Mogoda.
Best for beginners and little ones
The riding school in Sant Just Desvern is perfect for children as they have small ponies. They also specialise in teaching, so beginners can build their confidence in the arena before setting off into the hills.
Poni Club Catalunya in Sant Just Desvern.
Best for the car-less
Local tour operator Living It picks you up and drops you off at the riding school in Sant Just Desvern, organises the ride, and provides a typical Catalan lunch of truita and pa amb tomàquet. The ride takes place in Collserola park, just behind the hills at the back of the city. The routes are along dirt tracks that snake along the ridge, with views that match those at Tibidabo. Whilst being a stone’s throw from town, you can hear the birds.
Best for the intrepid explorer
Three riding centres offer multi-day excursions, from weekends to whole weeks in the saddle. They include weekends exploring the Pyrénnées, rides along the Costa Brava beaches, via vineyards, spas and restaurants. Accommodation and food is taken care of, all you need to do is ride, ride, ride.
Equitación Can Janás. For information speak to Agueda (she speaks English).
Catalonia Trails which is one hour and 20 minutes north of Barcelona near Vilopriu.
Panorama Trails. Open to riders of all abilities, experience a range of landscapes, from wine trails and Andorran adventures to beach rides and swimming in the sea. Based in Girona.
Best for remote countryside
Although the landscape around the city can be wild, if you want to ride across endless rolling hills and through little Medieval villages, you need to head further afield. Just north of the city is Can Muni, a riding centre between the Montseny mountains and the sea. You can ride across fields, in woods, and through tiny villages for hours without seeing another soul. Can Muni is located one hour and 20 minutes from Barcelona near Vilopriu.
Best for advanced riders looking for something different
Want to learn how to lasso a calf, herd cattle, or get your horse to be cool under pressure? There is a ranch in Montserrat which teaches cowboy skills. Although not strictly a riding centre, the owners welcome advanced riders to tour the local scenery and take in the ranch atmosphere. Natural Hipic is just 30 minutes from Barcelona, in Montserrat.