We went to Jordan for a short one-week vacation. And apart from the standard tourist attractions, such as Petra, Jerash, Aqabah and Dead Sea, we also decided to go on a 2-day trail ride in Wadi Rum. There are plenty of stables providing riding activities there, but we chose Rum Horses stables and never regretted it. Our messages were replied to immediately, and the whole 2-day riding trip was tailored for only the two of us.
We were accompanied by Atallah Swillheen, the founder and owner of the Rum Horses stable. He has about 20 horses, all of which were initially trained for endurance racing. One of his horses, Sasha, is a five-time winner of the FEI endurance race in Jordan. In fact, Attalah was trained and qualified in equestrian management and endurance racing in Europe.
When his animals get too old for competition, Atallah converts them for trail riding and hacking. My mount, 14-year-old grey Najeem, was a former endurance racer, and my husband got—well, we forgot the Arabic name of his horse as we renamed her Foxy almost immediately. This new name perfectly suited her reddish coat and cunning eyes.
Normally, rented horses are quite tricky. I think this is because they understand human psychology better than psychologists. But Atallah’s animals were extremely friendly, well-schooled and forgiving, which was extremely important for us as this was the first horse riding experience for my husband. Yeah, you know if you marry a horse-mad person, you eventually start riding as well—so mind this when you choose your other half. :-)
We were riding for about 6–7 hours a day. We would start early morning at about 8:00 a.m., take a break for lunch and midday nap and continue for 3 more hours from about 4:00 p.m. till sunset. We didn’t have to carry any food or other supplies with us, as everything was organised by Atallah’s son, who brought all the necessary staff right to our camps using his vintage truck. So we could travel faster and even canter for quite long distances on the deep sand of Wadi Rum.
Atallah told us that Wadi Rum literally means the “River of the Giants.” However, we didn’t see any river, let alone giants. :-) Thousands of years ago, however, the whole area was a seabed. That’s why the mountains engraved by water, wind and sun look like they are from another planet. By the way, because rocks contain different chemical elements, you can find sands of any colour: dark-brown, ochre, yellow, red, greenish and even bluish.
The entire desert looks extraterrestrial and Hollywoodish. Unsurprisingly, some scenes from the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade were shot here.
And if your imagination is good, you will see all kinds of wonder creatures carved in the rocks. Alien troopers, skulls of enormous animals, secret signs—you name it. As for me, I swear I saw a perfectly shaped petrified alien in one of the rocks. :-)
On the first day, right before stopping for the night rest, we had quite a scary riding experience as we had to ride down some rocks. I’m sure you’ve seen how mountain goats do it on the National Geographic Channel, which looks fun. It’s not so fun if you do it while sitting in the saddle. Although I perfectly understood that our horses managed to walk here with all kinds of tourists on their backs for dozens if not hundreds of times, seeing how the horse in front of you was carving sparks from stones with her shoed hooves still felt disquieting. So the only thing we could do was hope that we did not make our horses even more unbalanced. But everything went fine.
That night, we stayed at “Under the Thousand Stars Hotel” in the middle of the desert, which basically meant sleeping in sleeping bags under a huge overhanging rock. :-)
What was especially surprising for me during this trip was that the hardworking horses were getting all the energy they needed from 4–5 kilos of strangely looking grass mix and a bucket or two of water a day. They looked very well nourished, climbed mountains and eagerly galloped in the deep sands of the desert without any signs of tiredness. Well, Arabians are truly an amazing breed—no wonder they were used to improve so many other breeds during the past thousands of years. Just think of it—their blood now runs in so many different horse breeds all over the world: the fastest thoroughbreds and the puppy-friendly Ardennais, the smart-looking Orlov trotters and the thick-boned Percherons—you name it.
But let me go back to Najeem and Foxy. In addition to their healthy eating habits, they conveyed all kinds of messages to you telepathically while being very sensitive to what you felt and thought.
I know I sound cuckoo, and I wouldn’t believe it if I didn’t experience it myself—everything is true. It all started when I noticed how Najeem would move back his ears every time I saw a view I admired. Every time I felt dazzled by a wonder at Wadi Rum, he would pull his ears back as if to tell me, “Glad you liked! It’s very beautiful, isn’t it?”
He was perfectly attuned to my emotions from the very beginning of our trip, but then he decided to go further. At the end of the first day, when the unsaddled horses were given their dinner, we climbed to some rocks to take better pictures of the valley. Suddenly, I felt that someone was looking at me. I glanced down and saw Najeem, who was patiently waiting for me to notice him. As soon as I saw his facial expression, I understood that he was thirsty. So I had no choice but to climb down and water him. :-)
And it wasn’t only Najeem. Foxy was pretty much a human whisperer too. After our first-day lunch break, before saddling the horses, we were asked to brush them. Atallah told us that brushing Foxy takes at least two people because she absolutely hates it and tries everything to escape the unpleasant procedure. One person would brush her, while the other would keep the rope and try not to let her use her teeth and hooves against us. Encouraged by my successful telepathic communication :-) with Najeem, I decided to negotiate with Foxy. I came to her with a brush, and she immediately turned her back on me. Then I started thinking to her, “telling her” that I wasn’t going to hurt her, that I would brush slowly and gently, that it was better to clean her back before saddling and so on. She turned her ears to me, listened for a while and then allowed me to brush her without any signs of resistance. Even Atallah was surprised.
As I write this, I am missing those horses, and I feel the strong bond we managed to establish in just two short days. I don’t think I have ever experienced the same bond even, sadly, with my own horse.
And that was one of the best horse riding experiences I ever had. I know, I know I keep saying it all the time, :-) but trust me, I’m not lying!