What comes up most often when people ask me about Sifnos Horseriding is what about beginners? Others put it differently: I’ve never ridden a horse before. I know nothing. Can I do it? You can! Whether you know nothing or you know a lot, equally. Anyone can, as long as they want to!
Seasoned riders and beginners, reluctant and determined alike. That’s the difference between trail riding, the way we do it, here, on the hiking trails of Sifnos, and classical horse riding or, even, horse riding anywhere else. It demands neither knowledge nor experience. It asks nothing of you except that you want to do it, and that you listen to the handful of instructions that we’ll give you. From there on, nothing: the knowledge and the experience are supplied by us and the horses. You only need to bring yourself and a mind that’s open to take everything in. And leave your preconceptions behind, because nothing you’ll see on this ride will match them.
Yiannis, who started Sifnos Horseriding purely for the love of it, for the love of horses and trails and the island he calls home, often tells people as we’re about to set off for a ride: this something completely different to what you know and what you might expect. Or, as I like to put it: it’s Sifnos, reimagined.
Reimagined: like seeing it anew. Even if you know it. Even if you’ve seen it a thousand times before. You can build a picture by tracing your finger along the routes on a map; you can read about it in the guidebooks and the articles. It’s one thing to cross the island by car, from village to village and from beach to beach, and another to walk it. And even for us, who live here, who you’d expect would grow a bit blasé with time, with repetition, and everything would start to look the same: no. Each time, every time, every ride we take along the same old trail, we see it anew. Just to get on your horse and let it take you where it will. To let go of knowledge and experience and expectations; to let yourself go. That’s all it takes.
What comes up less frequently, and it makes me happy, is where. Where will we go? Which trail, which route? It makes me happy, because it doesn’t matter. It will be amazing, wherever you go. You’ll find yourself in one of the most beautiful places on earth. You’ll find yourself among people who love it, and you’ll see it through their eyes. We won’t tell you the stuff that’s in the guidebooks, the stuff they tell the tourists. That’s the paradox, perhaps, of trail riding the way we do it, here: a quintessential tourist activity, but it isn’t tourism. Or, more accurately, it is, but from the inside. In the company of people who know who put the stones down to build the trail and at which exact point to lean your body to the right because the branches are overgrown, riding horses that know the way inside out and could navigate it with their eyes closed, you’ll be a tourist as much as we are. We’ll be tourists together, all of us discovering something new on every ride, every single time. Wherever we may go.
A beautiful ride to Agios Andreas
But let’s go up to Agios Andreas, anyway, just to give you an idea. This is one of our favourite routes, suitable for everyone, that takes just under three hours to complete. We’ll pick up the trail from Fyrogia, one of the central trails of Sifnos that begins by taking us through two mountains and alongside the valley carved out by the river. To our right, the imposing shape of Profitis Ilias, the island’s tallest peak. We’ll see pastures, bee farms, olive groves and goat farms, and those distinctive “shelves” cut out of the mountainside, in an attempt to tame the wild terrain and grow vegetables and grain. At some point, we’ll come across a fork in the trail and a signpost that urges us to turn right and climb up to Profitis Ilias. We’ll resist, and veer to the left, and carry on along the trail that leads to Vathy for a little while longer.
We’ll pass through the valley of Skafi, strewn with wild thyme and sage, and take the gentle slope upwards towards the little church of Ai Stathis, half-hidden in a low forest of conifers. We’ll make our first stop here, to give the horses a rest, light a candle in the church, take photographs and enjoy our coffee while gazing at the mountains all around. Next, we’ll take the trail up through the forest to reach a plateau created by a dirt road carved into the mountainside for fire safety. We’ll follow it up to the next mountaintop of Agios Andreas, which is home to both an ancient acropolis (1300 BC) and an orthodox church.
We’ll dismount and enter the archaeological site on foot, to see the museum and ancient ruins but, most of all, to take a break in the churchyard – one of the most beautiful balconies of the Aegean Sea. The view from up here is one no photograph can fully capture: all of the eastern side of Sifnos and almost all of the Cyclades islands, and a horizon of endless blue, as far as the eye can see. Eventually, reluctantly, we’ll say goodbye and get back on our horses; we’ll close the circle of our journey by taking the road that snakes around the mountain and brings us back to Fyrogia.
That’s the only experience that matters, the experience of being on your horse, riding along the trails of Sifnos. And if you’re still unsure, let me tell you this: I’ve yet to meet a single person, wherever they started from, beginner or seasoned rider, reluctant or determined, who hasn’t come to the end of their journey with a smile on their face. Having seen a side of Sifnos that’s entirely, uniquely their own.