an adventure in Tuscany
The idea of horseback riding in Lucca was planted in my head as soon as I finished listening to my Sister’s plan to bring my youngest niece for a surprise visit in Tuscany. The 11 year old Ms. A was (and probably still is) just crazy about horses, and this seemed like the best way to visit Tuscany, its vineyards and landscape with the adults while entertaining the kids.
What to consider:
We loved: for the amount of time we actually spent on the horse (a full 2 hours) I felt that the price was reasonable, I appreciated that both the guides and horses were calm even when facing traffic and unseasoned riders. And there is no denying that Lucca and the surrounding area are beautiful
Not so much: I would have preferred a little more info about the area while on the trail (even if I was concentrating quite a bit on recuperating my long lost riding skills), I also would have preferred that we didn’t have to ride single file but, I realize that on the road this was necessary for safety reasons
Locating a Riding Center, not an easy job
My search brought up 4 interesting choices with websites, however you might need to be persistent if you really want an answer. They have the website, but haven’t yet figured out that you actually need to answer the emails in order to get the business. Good to remember, if you are looking for info and not getting a reply, you can call. And believe it or not, my experience is that, though the Italians may be slow on the uptake with emails, many of them speak very good English and many times another language (German & French).
So out of 4, I got 1 ... not great odds, but I only needed one place to go riding. The replying ranch was quick with a confirmation including directions, local phone number of the guide and prices. I appreciated that the email was in understandable English and it didn’t appear to be a standard form letter not to mention that they answered my subsequent emails with the same speed and always with complete responses.
Good Things to Know
1- The meeting point was fairly easy to find-with the GPS. I believe they meant well with their directions, however I don’t think I would have gotten half as close without the navigator. There was plenty of parking, the area was well tended and the horses were sheltered from the springtime sun…and calm, very calm.
2 - The owner explained they get quite a bit of business in the summer but, the comfortable temps in spring and fall are really the best times to go especially because annoying bugs (for both the horses and riders) were normally at a minimum.
3 - We all agreed that 2 hours for the semi-beginners (which two thirds of us were) was more than sufficient. Young enthusiasm aside, the adults after two hours were ready to un-saddle. The ride was pleasant, but Paco seemed to get hungrier and hungrier as we approached the end of the tour.
I could tell without even asking, Ms. A was completely charmed – she didn’t care about the scenery or if we were on road/off road, her gluteus m. took the ware and tear just fine and she seemed to have created an excellent rapport with both the guide and the horse. I think the only thing that could have made her trip better is if she could have taken her horse home with her.
When traveling with kids, think safety
Once we were suited with helmets and Ms. A with a riding vest, we were given thorough instructions, introduced to our mounts and encouraged to mount up. My “normally timid and reserved with strangers” niece was looking down from the top of her mount before my sister and I had time to size up our horses. I will admit, these were not your romantic thoroughbreds, they are probably pint size in comparison to most horses but they were gentle and appeared to understand English as well as Italian.
Gotta love a bilingual horse!
I did appreciate the fact that they were very attentive to fitting the helmet and vest. I found out (after the fact) that children under 14 years old are not permitted by law to ride a horse outside of private property - which includes crossing roads to go to an adjoining private property – even if they are accompanied by their parents or adults. You might want to keep this in mind and ask the guide about the trail you will be following.
Also note that Italian law does not specify what protective clothing (if any) is required, so if it is important to you then you should ask if they are equipped to outfit all ages at the time of reserving, this way they can be prepared for everyone.
The secret is in the name
I had selected the “La Strada del Vino” Tour because it evoked images of visiting the vineyards of Lucca and admiring the scenery. What I failed to notice was that La Strada del Vino was not the name of the tour but rather the nickname of the road that we were to be following.
As you tour Italy, you will notice that there are several regions which have Strada del Vino: a designated "wine roads," where one can appreciate the vineyards at several panoramic stops. Once we saw we were heading towards the "trail" we asked our guide (and had his assurance) that we were not going to be on the road . . . much.
Without a doubt, the time off the asphalt was much more enjoyable. It didn't take long to figure out why we had a steady mix of trails after just a few minutes into our first “off road” experience. I discovered that both Paco and I (that would be my horse) had something in common; we both enjoyed the landscape.
Except I loved looking at it and he enjoyed … eating it!
I now understand why we didn't ride through the vineyards: What intelligent wine producer would invite a 4-legged menace to eat the profits!
All in all I believed I earned my “favorite” Aunt badge, at least for the duration of this trip!