There are many reasons to visit the Spanish island of Menorca: unspoiled beaches, ancient villages, pastoral countryside and dramatic seaside cliffs. For me, there was an even more compelling motivation to visit Menorca. I wanted to see the legendary Menorcan horse.
The Menorcan horse is, quite simply, a beautiful creature. Even if you don’t know horses, when you see a Menorcan horse, you just know it is something special. With the best characteristics of its Andalusian, Arab and Thoroughbred heritage, the Menorcan horse has a proud arching neck, a thick, unruly mane, and a powerful, but graceful manner of movement. Consider the Menorcan horse the Ferrari of the equine world.
The horse is an integral part of Menorcan life, and the star of the island’s annual summer festivals. During the festivals, horses are ridden into surging crowds of spectators, where, on cue, they perform a maneuver called the ‘bot’. In a bot, the horse rises up on its hindquarters, almost to the vertical. While the horse is elevated, throngs of celebrants rush forward, reaching up to touch the animal’s breastplate. Touching the chest of a rearing horse is a foolhardy act, but one thought to bestow good luck on those who succeed. For the horse, performing the bot in a crush of lunging people is an incredible display of athleticism, control and trust in its rider.
During our wanderings in Menorca, we visited a little pub called the Lennon Bar in the town of Ferreries. Despite the fact that Menorcans speak MenorquÍn, a dialect of Catalan, and we speak Texan, a tragic bastardization of English, we were able to engage in light conversation with the locals. During the course of one exchange, I spotted a picture of a Menorcan horse on the bar’s computer screen saver. When I expressed my admiration for the animal, I was promptly introduced to the colt’s owner. The man beamed with pride as I praised his yearling, and then squired me around the tavern to introduce me to his fellow horsemen. The night ended with an invitation to visit the stable the following day to see the horses. I was beyond excited.
The next morning, our new friends were waiting for us in the village square at the agreed upon time. They led us up the hill to the stable and showed us around. In each stall was a glorious black stallion, at least a dozen in total. One of the horses was saddled, and we were given an impressive show of the animal’s talents.
I was so enthralled watching the stallion’s moves, I didn’t notice that a sizeable crowd had gathered around the arena rail. Apparently word was out that there was a mouthy Texan in town who claimed she could ride. What they knew, and I was soon to find out, was that I was going to get my chance.
The stallion’s rider approached, dismounted, and handed me the reins. With my heart racing, I climbed into the saddle and put the horse through his paces. The stallion’s gaits were fluid and animated, almost dance-like. As a rider, I was totally outclassed by the horse, but when I requested permission to bot, the owner smiled and nodded. With little more than the thought of the cue, the stallion responded, effortlessly rising up in the air. It was a joyous, exhilarating moment.