Let’s take the horses swimming!

We are approaching the summer solstice and it is getting very hot now in Dahab. Egypt really only has two seasons, winter and summer where the temperature goes from warm most of the time to hot most of the time. It is probably a good thing i don’t have a temperature gauge because I would take one look at it and lie down feigning heat exhaustion every day. Yesterday with no breeze was probably approaching 50oC in the sun so unlike a mad Englishman I avoided doing anything in the midday but I had already organised to ride to the Lagoona to take some of the horses swimming in the afternoon.

Idyllic day at Dahab Lagoona


I got to the stables about 1.30 and the horses were hanging about in the yard with no water! Easily remedied but I don’t know how long they had been without as the stable hand was nowhere to be seen, as usual – maybe not too long as they weren’t too thirsty. Firaj the rescue colt was still in his box so I thought I would let him out to join the others; mares Sulieka and Sandy had not been in season for over a week. He jumped out and raced around with pent up energy, no problem there, but then he decided to leap on Suleika without much warning. She, of course unreceptive to that, kicked out which did little to dampen his ardor and he kept trying to jump on her. Nothing for it back back in his box which was easier said than done when he had tasted a bit of freedom. I didn’t blame him so I had to crack the whip a few times until he relented. He is really prone to turning his back and kicking out and I don’t trust to get to close behind even though he accepts I am alpha to him. I’m sure he would keep trying for the lucky shot.

I don’t want another stallion in the stable – all the others are gelded except for Shehab, who at over 25 years, can rule his roost entire until his last day. Actually entire for him is with only with one very large testicle – don’t know the story behind that – maybe born that way. So Firaj, who was originally a weak young emaciated rescue horse has developed into a challenging cheeky teenager of about 3-4 years who is kept on livery at the stable. It was understood from the beginning that the intention was to get him gelded but I suspect the owner is not in too much of a hurry and he is fast becoming a problem child….

I decided to ride Detour because he loves the water and he is smart and trustworthy. I wanted to enjoy my ride and swim, not face a ritual challenge. Susi was taking Sulieka, another livery mare owned by a girl in Germany and Miriam wanted to take Apollo who is always forward thinking – so much so that I think his head is about 10m ahead of his body and sometimes he has difficulties to keep them operating together. When riding Apollo I always feel I am watching the ground for both of us but he is improving.

So we set off down the quiet streets walking – it would take us a bit less than hour at easy walk in the heat to get to the Lagoona. Yesterday was Saturday, second day of the weekend but also the first day of Presidential election runoff and two day holidays were granted so people could travel home to vote – the streets were unusually quiet.

The Lagoona is a wide open area of sand and low spit that forms a naturally sheltered water where beginner wind surfers and kite surfers wobble their way and regularly fall into the shallow water. There are two areas suitable to take the horses swimming, one at the end of the spit inside the Lagoona and the other facing south on the outside of the spit where there is no coral and a deep drop off – close to point of “Napolean Reef” – named after the Napolean fish named after Emperor Napolean because of the bump on its head resembling Napolean’s hat. I have never dived that site but people tell me I’m not missing much.

We chose to ride to the south and on arrival to the “Easy Entrance” which means no coral reef – Easy so we don’t get cut up and easy so we don’t destroy the reef – mutual advantage. We quickly unsaddled, Detour had just his rope head collar which I prefer to ride with, I let Apollo keep his well oiled bridle and Susi changed Suleika to a normal head collar – something I hardly ever use these days.

We climbed on their backs with the help of the small rock walls (long gone are the days when I could vault on a racehorse) walked the 10 metres to the waters’ edge. Detour and Apollo were fine but suddenly Suleika decided to put on a rodeo show and sent Susi tumbliing onto the sand. Now in comparison to concrete, sand is soft but I’m sure Susi felt the sudden stop. She was Ok but will maybe feeling a few aches today. Susi tried three times over the period of the swim to get on Sulieka’s back and each time she bucked. I have no idea what the problem was – for Suleika at 20 years of age with many bareback rides and swims its not like it was anything novel. Maybe Susi’s thin frame meant her seat bones dug into Suleika’s ribs, or that she sat too far back or Sulieka was reacting like she had to Firaj – who knows?

Detour hasn’t been swimming a lot so I let him do small circles, out of his depth for short periods then back to stand on the sand. Horses swim with only their heads and some neck above the water so it does feel like riding an upright seahorse. I don’t try to stay on their backs as I think they have enough to deal with without me – I just take a good hold of the mane and float along. The trick is to make sure you are forward over their backs when their feet find land so they stand up underneath you. Detour groaned with enjoyment, happy to have water past his shoulders and dipping his nose into the water past his nostrils. He is always happy to be showered at the stables.

Through inexperience the girls let Apollo and Sulieka go out together and got a little afraid of the flailing hooves but no harm done – I’ll know next time to give a more elaborate briefing. I forget how much I know about horses and just take it for granted others will ask when they don’t!

As usual some Egyptian man came to offer his inexpert advice because of course men must know more than women because they have a penis and women don’t – nothing to do with actual knowledge on the subject or the price of eggs in China. He admonished Susi to “Take care” – one of the most offered pieces of advice offered to women in Egypt. Yea – “Take care to avoid interfering ‘helpful’ men!” At least he didn’t ask “What’s your name? Are you married?” Another one came and said he rented one of “those horses” every day for a ride, pointing to the beach boy (my nickname for the horse riders, all men of course, who prowl up and down the beaches and streets touting for riding customers). He was walking along the beach riding one horse and leading another two so the customer asked in Arabic why the beach boy didn’t take his horses swimming. The reply was “It’s too hot.” I burst out laughing! More like he couldn’t swim even if his horses could but they do have some weird ideas here about how to look after horses. At least the horses looked well cared for even if they were being ridden in the ubiquitous tight standing martingales and curb bits.

It was about an hour later that we headed back to the stables – of course the horses were hot again by the time we got back and got another shower before being put in their loose boxes. For once the stable hand was keen to shower them, but I suspect he was disapproving that I had taken them out in the heat and they had returned “hot”. They weren’t showing signs of sweat but that doesn’t mean much here as sweat dries as soon as it hits the air on skin. Not like when he brings horses back covered in dripping sweat  – that is Ok – not! I told him to put two water containers full of water in the yard as I had found them without water. He of course jumped to defensive saying they had water when he left at 1.30. I thought really? wow they drank a whole 60 litre container in less than 5 minutes as Susi and I were both here at 1.30. I didn’t comment – I just repeated to put 2 containers out now that it is really hot. I have learnt you have to “pick your fights here not pick every fight”. And there are more fights coming…


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