Youth Exchange Blog: Equestrian Tourism in Spain by Iris

This was my very first Erasmus project. I learned about this opportunity from a close friend of mine. She asked me if I would like to join her on this trip and spend almost two weeks traveling around Spain basically for free, riding horses and learning a lot about them. I love traveling, used to go to horseback-riding lessons as a child, and have wanted to improve my riding skills for years, so of course, I was excited to go with her! The trip ended up being amazing and very well-organized. The accommodation was comfortable and well-located in the picturesque village of Pasarón de la Vera. The quality of food there was good (including vegetarian options’), and I'm especially glad that we got to enjoy the cherry season to the fullest in a region famous for growing these berries.

We got to visit various places during this project, see how locals live in the Extremadura region, and discuss how developing equestrian tourism opportunities in the area might help it economically and put it on the map for international tourists. I learned a lot. For example, I have to admit that before taking part in this project, I did not know anything about Emperor Charles V and his travels in Spain, which have now become important cultural routes of the Council of Europe. It was interesting to hear about him and visit the places he had been to, including the gorgeous Monastery of Yuste, where he spent the last years of his life.

However, the best part of this trip, in my opinion, was the people – participants, organizers, and locals alike. I quickly became good friends with other participants from Italy, Slovakia, Croatia, and Spain and have already made plans to visit some of them in their home countries. I think all of us participants made this trip especially memorable with our positive energy, open-mindedness, and the amazing cultural nights that we organized. I loved learning about other participants' home countries, tasting traditional foods, and learning folk dances. It was definitely one of my favorite parts of the project. The organizers were also friendly, respectful, and always willing to help. They really cared about our well-being and gave their all to make this a great experience for us. I love that they organized the project so that we also got to interact with the locals in Pasarón de la Vera. The sweet elderly ladies with whom we had a chance to cook a traditional meal called migas, while also singing and dancing, left an especially heartwarming and unforgettable memory. In my opinion, this lunch-prepping activity was the highlight of the whole trip.

Another great day was when we visited various places where horses are bred and ridden. In the afternoon, we went to one of the Spanish participants' homes where she greeted us with such generosity I had never encountered before. It was amazing how many different snacks and drinks she had prepared for us. Later, we all went to swim and kayak in the river behind her house, petted her donkeys, and had a lot of fun. Later that day, we finally went horseback riding in the beautiful Spanish countryside. It was undoubtedly one of the most exciting moments of this trip.

However, the only really negative aspect of this trip was related to the horseback-riding part, specifically how little of it there was. The Horse4Growth project was advertised as a great opportunity to improve horseback-riding skills and interact with horses. In reality, we only rode horses for about 30 minutes, and we only walked with them, so I can certainly say that my horseback-riding skills did not improve. I understand that horseback riding is expensive, but if it was not possible to provide a proper horseback-riding experience, then the project should not have been advertised that way. Additionally, the farm where we went riding lacked organization, and their equipment was not proper and not very horse-friendly. For example, old carpets were used as saddle blankets, and no instructions on how to ride a horse were given to those participants who had never ridden a horse before. Overall, I still enjoyed riding the horse and seeing the beautiful nature from horseback, but it could have been organized and advertised better. I hope this will be improved for future projects, and no false advertising will occur.

Besides that, everything else was truly great. I would definitely participate in this kind of Erasmus+ project again and also encourage my friends to do the same. The trip was a lot of fun, I learned a lot, and met some amazing people. Besides the bigger highlights like all the culture nights, the cooking and dancing with locals, and the field trip day with a great afternoon spent snacking and swimming, there were also many smaller moments that were so cool and that I will always recall with a smile on my face. For example, dancing in the warm rain in front of Pasarón de la Vera's town hall before our graduation ceremony, teaching the other participants and organizers Estonian folk dance, and drinking limoncello and chatting with the Italian and Spanish participants on a terrace until late at night, were great little moments. I loved this trip, will remember it fondly and hope to take part in future Erasmus+ projects, too.

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