Soft sunlight streamed down through branches gently swaying with the early afternoon breeze. Long blades of grass brushed across the broad legs of both the horse and rider as they rode through the Cappadocian landscape. Beautiful alabaster pillars rose high above them, silhouetted against a bright azure sky. The rider and horse trusting each other completely while riding in tandem to the relaxing sounds of nature…That was what I initially pictured my first horseback ride to be like. In reality, although the landscape was breathtaking, the experience was comically awkward in how ungraceful it was.
With an extra day to do as we wished, and the fact that camels weren’t available, Meagan and I decided to go horseback riding to experience this this “Famed Land of Beautiful Horses” as it should be.
The owner of Moonlight Ranch, the largest horse ranch in Cappadocia, picked up after breakfast from our hotel in Goreme. Ex-military from Pamukkale, he chose to open his own family business to work with his favorite animals.
Upon arrival, we were surprised to meet a fellow American from Oregon there for four months on a “workaway” holiday! She assured us that they had horses for all types of clients – even those with no experience and tried to give us a few pointers on riding. Many horses milled around the grounds of the ranch behind wooden fence posts. Some actively drank from troughs or ate hay. Others kicked up dust clouds and rolled in the dirt.
Despite the happy surroundings, I was pretty nervous. My insides felt like they were coiling as we waited for our horses to arrive. Honestly, the most riding I’d ever done up to this point was on a pony tied to a carousel as a kid. It didn’t help that our fellow American wasn’t very reassuring when I asked how common it was for beginners to fall off en route.
We were given some pretty unattractive white hairnets and black riding helmets to wear, along with the customary glasses of apple tea as we waited for our rides. Razan, our guide for the day brought out two horses, a beautiful white mare named Cotton and a brown one named Asiya. It was a toss up over who would get what horse. Staff assured us that both were sweet and good with new riders. I appreciated how the staff wasn’t rude about our weight – a subject that would be constantly brought up back where I live in China during any sort of activity. I was also super grateful to be able to experience this with Meagan there for support.
Meagan was hoisted up onto Cotton first. Conveniently, there was a large concrete block there to help our short legs go up and over onto the saddle. I followed soon after onto Asiya. Razan strapped us both in, making sure our stirrups fit our feet and that our toes pointed inward. Without any further ado, we were off!
We left the dirt road of the horse ranch onto a small cobblestone path, on through a small residential area and onto a riding trail. The surroundings were super picturesque. Bright sunshine created patterns on us as we rode under the branches of large trees bending overhead. A light breeze tickling our faces.
I wish I could say that my riding matched t our graceful surroundings, but I think I got better as time went on. At first, it was a bit nerve-wracking and unsettling having to find my balance on a moving horse, make a conscious effort to lean back, hold onto both reins, and remember to grip the sides of my horse with my thighs.
Razan, our rugged cowboy of a guide, made it look so easy. He rode mostly sideways on his horse, constantly turning back to watch us and make sure we were ok. Our horses, trained to walk in a line, followed behind Razan’s.
Meagan’s white horse, Cotton, lagged behind a ways. Razan would tell Meagan to kick her to get her to go, but after a while the horse seemed like it was kind of done and went at its own pace behind us. On the otherhand, my brown horse Asiya was quite gassy.
Back on the trail, I felt Asiya’s stubborn nature start to shine. She’d move closer to the trees to the side of the trail, and I would pull at her reins like they showed us to turn the horses since the tree branches would come awfully close to my head. Every time I did this, she’d snort at me and try to stubbornly challenge my directions. “Asiya!” Razan would hiss whenever he noticed. I wondered if the mare could sense my inexperience.
We followed a little stream along a dirt path and through a couple caves to have a stop on a grassy knoll. Straight away, Asiya veered off to snack on one of the brambles nearby.
Razan was gung-ho to take our pictures, and as soon as he turned a camera towards me, my horse started to take a long piss and a dump later on while we were navigating the trail. It was a strange feeling, having to just sit there while Asiya finished her business. Razan came back to move Asiya closer to Cotton, which was a bit of a struggle as Asiya really wanted to continue grazing. I was just happy Razan didn’t expect us to dismount, because I don’t think I would have been able to without that concrete block.
All in all, horseback riding through the Cappadocian valleys was pretty fun! We had one harder steep uphill section that was a little scary coming down, but it’s an awesome feeling to know that I accomplished it with minimal yelping! One just needs to remember to squeeze those thighs and keep yourself leaning back. I can only imagine the killer thighs horseback riders have! To be honest, the day after this ride really had me feeling super stiff. However, riding a horse was a great experience that I’m so happy we were able to have. I’d love to come back to Cappadocia and have another go, maybe even for a longer and slightly-more difficult stretch.