Grinning like a kid whilst being totally out of control on something moving very fast is good for you.
This blog has had a little Summer break of late, as my family and I are travelling, coming to the end of a month long trip in Argentina. Its been a ball, but a big highlight has been our family ranch experience at Estancia Dos Hermanos, a hour and a bit outside of Buenos Airies, and I couldn’t resist writing about this place!
The ranch is owned and hosted by the utterly lovely Ana Pena, who greats you like a long lost friend and doesn’t stop smiling and taking care of you till the moment you leave. Her husband Pancho doesn’t speak so much English, but quite frankly with a handsome rugged perma-smile as big as the Pampas, a bear hug of a welcome and an easy hand with the ever flowing Malbec, who needs actual words?
This is a ranch holiday for people who want to ride – I went on every ride offered and averaged 5 hours a day in the saddle – but you don’t have to – you can sit the odd one out and chill in a hammock with a book, or swim in the pool, or eat and drink…
I was quite the little pony girl as a kid, but my husband was a nervous beginner, and my kids, (6 and 7) have never ridden. So we were quite a mixture. Our fellow CowGirl was a great lady from London called Abi who brought her own chaps (I mean who has their own chaps? Hardcore).
Our mixed-ability horsemanship was no problem – they matched us up with some horses, thankfully ignoring my children’s requests for the ‘fastest biggest horse you’ve got please’ (real shy, my kids) + off we set on our first ride.
Ana’s daughter Rosario was in charge of most of our rides, along with Friendliest- Gaucho-in-the-World Andreas. We soon found that our 6-year old legs didn’t reach the bottom of the saddle let alone the stirrups, so despite his fearlessness and best efforts, the poor horse had no idea he was even there. So he rode from then on in the saddle with one of the Gauchos – which he much preferred as he ‘got to gallop all the time’. More of THAT in a minute. My 7 year old gained confidence within the first ride and was trotting happily alone, whilst still preferring to ride upfront on the gaucho’s saddle for the gallop-py bits.
Ana has raised 5 kids on this ranch, and I couldn’t have been happier to let her and her gauchos go galloping off over the plains with one arm around my kid and the other controlling a speeding horse. OK so maybe I’m just a horrifically irresponsible parent, but you know… some people just make you feel safe.
We pottered along + got comfy in our big sheepskin Western saddles. The key is to lean back, relax, and well, slouch. In fact, it seems that to ride like a Gaucho, the faster the horse goes, the more you lean back and relax and all is well it seems. We walked, chatted and looked at the amazing views, galloped some (a sort of lollopy canter), trotted (kinda fast running… – actually, anything you learned about riding, forget it and go with the flow).
The routine each day was a breakfast in the barn of coffee, fresh juice and eggs followed by a ride for a couple of hours. Then back for the best empanadas in Argentina made by awesome Cook Veronica. No, I haven’t tasted all the empanadas in Argentina. And quite frankly, having tasted Veronica’s, I have no desire to. Then lunch – enormous salads and parillas (grills) of meat. Paleo might be ‘new’ to some of us – these guys have had this down for years. There are actually different courses of meat… there’s a whole lot of meat… and it is GOOD. A glass of wine, a little siesta – then back in the saddle for the long afternoon ride. The kids usually sat this one out, playing in the hammocks and basically hanging like the Ingles in their own little world of dogs, wagons and horses. Then it was tea time (Veronica had knocked up a cake), then those that were up for it…horse rounding up time.
Now I don’t know where you get your silly exhilarated grins from – I get mine when I catch a wave on my bellyboard at the beach, when I ski down a slope only sort of in control, or when I’m rowing on the ocean + everything is just perfect. But Man do you get one rounding up horses. Abi and I trotted up to some peacefully grazing horses out in the middle of nowhere (trying unsuccessfully to look like we knew what the Hell we were doing) with Eduardo, then he did some Yips and some very special Gaucho whistles, and equine heads go up all over the pampas. Then they just start running. And our horses (with I might add, absolutely no control or instruction from us – you’re in this one literally for the ride) start running after them.
The sight of 20 horses galloping into the sunset back to the ranch in the distance, with you hanging on for dear life and galloping through the dust they throw up, remains one of the most beautiful, exhilarating memories I’ve ever experienced.
After that first evening’s final ride you couldn’t wipe the stupid grins off our faces all night.
The heart of the ranch is the big central Barn with a massive fireplace where we all met to eat, drink, chat and compare sore bits every evening. Dinner was delicious, the wine and steak flowed and the company was always a pleasure. We stayed in a cottage on the ranch with another roaring open fire (that just seemed to get lit and stoked at all hours), comfy beds and hot showers.
If you ever have the slightest notion that you might want channel your inner Gaucho then I urge you to talk to Ana at Dos Hermanos. I’ll know you did when I next see you cos you’ll still be grinning.
Just for the record, this was a fully paid holiday with no affiliation or freebies – I’m just telling it like it was. You can check them out on TripAdvisor too – Veronica’s empanadas are really rather famous.