Horse riding in the Freiberg Mountains

It has been a quiet start to the year. Days have been spent in the office watching grey skies turn into even darker skies, and snow fall in pretty balls outside the windows. However last weekend, Tim and I finally escaped Zurich for a pretty corner of Switzerland: the Freiberg Mountains in Canton Jura. It was to be an exciting visit for two reasons. The first, that I was finally going to be getting in the saddle again after months and months. The second, that it was to be my first experience driving 'on the wrong side of the road'. Tim and I made use of a great car rental scheme here called Mobility. The premise is similar to car sharing, and you pick up and drop off cars at various stations around the country. And so we were off.

I found it surprisingly natural to sit on the opposite side of the car to normal and quickly got used to the roads - I did keep reaching for the gear stick at the wrong side though. Every driving challenge was thrown at me - motorway traffic jam, rain, snow ... But finally we pulled into the very picturesque countryside of the Freiberg Mountains region in Canton Jura. It is a landscape of rolling, forested pastures dotted with hamlets and characterised by whitewashed barns with huge sloped roofs, designed to home families and their livestock.

And it is the home of Swiss horse riding, the birth place of the only indigenous horse breed Freiberger, or Franches-Montagnes. Actually, the horses Tim and I rode on our two hour trek with the Manège Franches-Montagnes were Demi-sang, or half-blood. They were stunning, both over 16 hands high and one, Image, the most beautiful shade of chestnut; the other, Carpe Diem, a stunning bay. Tim and I were both a little aghast at their size to begin with - these aren't the kind of horses you get to go trekking on! The area is laced with 250 km of bridle paths, specially prepared by the AREF association, who have put in place automatic gates that are easy for riders to use without dismounting.

Our route took us along cosy forest trails - so narrow I kept having to duck under low-hanging branches, occasionally receiving a dusting of snow down my neck. Image was frisky, trying to escape the reins as we trotted, but it was thrilling. On horseback in the winter you can enter the scenery unnoticed. All around us a voluptuous carpet of snow; nothing but the sound of the horses disturbing the silence. At one point, two deer danced across the path in front of us. We felt a wonderful sense of freedom and, although the cold nipped our fingertips and froze our toes, we returned to Zurich with a glow of the outdoors about us - and wonderfully high spirits after escaping the city for the day!
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