Riding in Alto Ongamira Valley

One of the most common bucket-list trips for horse riders to want to take is Argentina. Whether its Patagonia or Mendoza, its not hard to sell your rider friends to make the trip to South America, as long as its for the love of horses.

cowboys and cowgirls

I had 4 such friends, and we went from gushing about all the places and ideas we had for an Argentina trip 2 or 3 years ago, to finally making it a reality and all meeting in Buenos Aires.

riders all aboard!

From there, we flew to Cordoba, and drove another 120kms to Alto Ongamira Valley, where our gauchos and caballos were waiting. We stayed in an estancia built over 100 years ago, by Eastern European immigrants, where rooms were still heated by wooden fire places and the buffet breakfasts and coffee hour every afternoon would have been enough food for the whole day, but 3 course meals, with Argentinian wine, at lunch and dinner were also swindled into every corner of our full tummies.

asado picnic

Somedays we had barbecues outside, roasted over open fires, and the food quality was impeccable. Red meats and red wines flowed equally generously, and one day we had a sommelier come in to teach us about wines from the region, with more than half a dozen wines to sample – sparkling, white and red, and 2 bottles of each. We were meant to take home a third bottle, but none of us had space in our suitcases after buying so many gaucho hats and gaucho shoes. Instead, we left it for the cook and hospitality staff, who never ceased to be amazed at how much 5 adults could drink.

sunset dips were the best

There was a pool to swim in at the Estancia, but the weather was quite cool, perfect riding temperature which had a freshness to the mountain plains I would never have traded out for more heat. We went down to Ascochinga one day for a polo lesson, and we had plenty of sunshine there, sweating under our colourful polo hats as we tried our best to swing those heavy polo sticks to actually hit a polo ball from the back of a cantering horse.

polo coaching at Pompeya

We spent most of our days on horseback, with a gaucho or two, and atleast 5 dogs. One dog was slightly smaller than the rest, and he would barely see over the tall grass or worn trails at time, but always insisted on coming with us, climbing even to the highest point at Condor Mountain.

Monty, the little-big dog

I felt pity for him, especially when he’d get a burr in his paw or pant up hills trying to keep up with galloping horses, so I made the excuse my legs were cold and held him on my lap for parts of the ride.

riding to the mountain

The riding was never the same, the scenery or the weather, but the horses were consistent – always excellent. Everytime I rode a new horse, I swore he or she was the fastest, and they always were. We raced moth days, and my horse always won, but maybe it was the foxtail on my cowboy hat that made us run faster – noone wants to lose their role as the fox.

this one was, really, the fastest

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Cowgirls in Camargue

In Iceland, I have mostly German, British, and Scandinavian riders who come on horse tour, but the few Frenchies that drop in are usually the most memorable. Either they don’t speak a word of English, have no idea to ride or ride better than everyone else, and often drink wine like water. I met a Mr. Berquin this summer, one of the founding creators of the Henson horse breed – a cross between a French riding horse and Norwegian fjord horse. He invited me to ride at his farm, their origin in the Baie de Somme, but as fate would have it, I couldn’t make the trip dates.

the Pont du Gard near Nimes

Instead, I had the weekend before free, and thought I should go riding in France anyway, and after finding a Wow Air return flight for barely more than 100 euros to Paris and a bus ticket from there to Lyon for 9 euros each way, I just went. The south of France sounded much warmer anyway, and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend such little money in Reykjavik.

Alicia and I on the beach in the south of France

I have this other fun French friend I met last year on the Golden Circle, Alicia who also rode with me earlier this year in Kyrgyzstan. She lives in Lyon and decided we should go to Camargue and ride their big white beach horses. After a night in Paris (you always have to stay the night in Paris when you get the chance!) and a few hours in the bus, we were in Lyon drinking wine.

wine tasting at Chateau La Borie

The journey from Lyon to Camargue takes you through the heart of Côtes du Rhône, home to some of the best red wines in France. We stopped at a few vineyards (, and one in Chateuneuf-du-Pape, and ended our day trip at the Pont du Gard, that bridge and ancient Roman aqueduct that you’ve seen a hundred times in videos but never realized how to get there. That night we had dinner at the beach town Saintes-Maries-de-la-mer (why is the town name so long and how many St. Mary’s are there?), which, very appropriately, was a huge portion of moules et frites with white wine from the region.

horses on the ferry -transporting our transport across the little Rhone

We rode Camargue horses for the weekend, and thought we were special, but there were 5 others riding with us the first day (all but 1 were beginners).We galloped on the beach and rode past herds of flamingos, and had picnic lunches that always included rosé wine. I had a cool Camargue cowboy hat and traditional Camargue saddle, which turned out to be terribly uncomfortable, but at least I looked and felt like a real French cowgirl.

approaching another group of Camargue horses

We were one group of many, and only by the end of the weekend did we realize just how many other Camargue horse farms there were in the area. One one random trail crossing in the wetlands, there were 4 groups that actually intersected, causing enough of a traffic jam that maybe yield signs or traffic lights might need to be put up there one day. We had to cross one river, an offshoot of the Rhone, on a barge, and we took our horses on board just as easily as the cars were allowed to be ferried across. Its the first, and probably the last time, I´ve ever ridden a horse on a boat.