This is not about looking stylish on a horse. It's about play – for the people AND the horses.
- Lizzie Graham
- Name: Lizzie Graham
- Nationality: British (born in Oxford)
- Lives: Artà
- Profession: Apprentice Horsewoman, Writer, Retreat Manager
- Signature phrase: Naturacavall is my way of life.
Childhood in Bavaria #
I was very lucky as a child, growing up in a quaint little mountain village in Bavaria. We had a neighbour with a stable full of horses and a big heart for us kids. He would let us ride out with a gang of other youngsters as soon as our legs were long enough to get our feet firmly down into the stirrups. Our father, an old cavalry man, taught us the basics - and then we were off galloping across the rolling hills and meadows or strolling leisurely along the mountain streams. In later years, whenever I got on a horse in the various cities that I came to live in, I was disappointed – no riding stable in an urban setting could ever give me back this same feeling of pure bliss and freedom and of closeness to these animals that are, to me, among the most beautiful and intelligent creatures on this planet.
Reminiscent of old childhood memories, I take the one hour car ride from Andratx to Manacor to meet Lizzie Graham from Naturacavall, a riding stable that, judging from their website and everything I've heard, seems to have nothing much in common with those posh and polished places I have come to know. "Nature + Horses = Naturacavall" is their equation, and they promise to take you on adventure rides to the most unspoiled corners of this island. Believe me, I am curious.
The weather god is in a grumpy mood. A gusty, cold November wind is whipping trees and bushes as if to test their breaking point, and black clouds are looming overhead. A dismal day, for sure. I am glad I grabbed an old lumberjack jacket before leaving, and frankly, I am a bit reluctant to get out of my well-heated car when pulling into the little dirt lane of my target address as directed by Lady Google. But then, here she is! And her smile of welcome is so warm it easily replaces the sun…
May I introduce Lizzie Graham #
Born in Oxford to a family from the Shetland Islands and, it seems, immune to the inclemencies of weather, Lizzie rushes me off through a well-equipped tack room and past two empty stalls into what she calls "her office" cum kitchen cum storage space - a rudimentary outdoor shelter with an open fire for warmth, and a coffee machine. By the time we have settled down around the big table, cradling our cups in hands, we are almost as familiar as old friends. Lizzie is a person very easy to love.
Where are the horses, Lizzie?
On our way in, I saw just one (and what a beauty!) in the driveway where they keep their horse transporters. They are all out in the fields, explains Lizzie with a gesture encompassing, it seems, a big part of the world around. They stay outdoors unless they want to come in; which they hardly ever do. They have their own sheltered areas, that's where they go when it rains. And – she smiles – they have really good blankets, too.
If this is where the heart of your business beats … it doesn't really look like a riding stable, does it?
Lizzie laughs. No, not really. I would say, it's more of a base camp. And I wouldn't speak of a business either. We are a family project – it's Joan, and Xavi, and – here she pauses, looking for the right word – I am a kind of apprentice.
(Had I subconsciously put her into that drawer when I learnt about her Shetland Island's ancestry?)
You look totally at home – and as if you had worked with horses all your life…
I had a steep learning curve, Lizzie laughs. I found my passion for horses only about seven months ago when meeting the guys at a photo session with my sister who is a photographer. I fell in love with it all when I saw a friend of mine and Joan on their horses, galloping along the beach. It took my breath away! And I thought, if my friend can do this, I can do it, too. Lizzie pauses. You see, my mother was a fashion designer, we lived in England – close to Ascot … She laughs, holding an invisible wheel-sized hat in her hands. This here … it's not only about horses. It's a lifestyle, and I love it.
So, obviously, to be a 'horse woman' is not your first career choice. What did you do before? And what brought you to Mallorca?
I met a Mallorcan in Scotland many years ago. He brought me here, and I have been very much immersed in the Mallorcan culture ever since, working as a teacher for musical theatre for 15 years. And I am a writer, too. Right now, I am working on a book about off the beaten track places on the Balearics for the publishers of "Wild Things".
In rushes Joan, senior member of the Naturacavall family, a man who says he was born with a love for horses and who bought his first caballo when he was 20. He frowns at us sitting "indoors". We should have our interview somewhere more beautiful, he insists and off he goes to get the carriage ready.
Horseback Riding on Mallorca #
How right he was, I think when sitting in the carriage. A beautiful brown stallion pulls us up to the Sa Cova plain, trough pastures roamed by black pigs and the little dark brown local breed of cows, followed, on horseback, by Xavi, Joan's son, agricultural engineer & landscape gardener and owner of Naturacavall, and their three Border Collie mixes. Massive, towering clouds accentuate the ruggedness of the land, trying in vain to hide the sliver of slate grey sea stretching below the horizon far off in the distance. Every time we take our horses out, we are fascinated by Mallorca's magic, says Lizzie smiling. So am I.
What is Naturacavall about? What is your concept?
Xavi, Joan and Lizzie agree: To have no concept is our concept, apart from treating our horses with love and respect. To go out should be enjoyable for everyone – not only for the riders, but for the horses, too.
There are no fixed rules as to what they do. It all depends on what's possible and also what people want … whether it's short, two-hour rides or real adventures, galloping along the beaches, exploring hidden gems of nature and the cultural heritage of the island, spending three or four or even five nights out under the open sky … We do have hammocks and tents, says Lizzie, but most people end up sleeping next to the horses. When it's cold, we keep a fire going. It's such a great experience!
How would you describe the feeling of community on the island? Do people accept what you are doing? Do you feel welcome?
Everybody loves horses, says Lizzie. So, definitely, it's a yes. On our rides, we often cross private land and many of our neighbours gave us the keys to their gates. When we come through a village or town and Joan lifts children into the saddle, everybody loves that. When we need water for our horses on our rides, people are always happy to help us out. Some locals even serve us drinks and a meal. Their hospitality might have a lot to do with the respect we show the people and the land, making sure to clean up places before we leave; on the beaches, we even collect rubbish that was there before we came. And we always get the necessary permissions when we go through national parks, that sort of thing. Also, we try to give something back the community, working with handicapped and autistic children. We don't charge for that, it's our service for the community.
Can anybody come and ride? Or do you need to have a certain level of experience? Can children come and give it a go, or is it adults only?
One thing is for sure: We cannot take people out who have never sat on a horse before. They can come anyway, but we have to prepare them first. After all, a horse is no automaton. And kids? They are more than welcome! For many who come here it's their first experience with horses, and they love it. We do fun things with them, like showing them how to round up cattle. That's one of the kids' favourites. And there was this three-year old whose biggest wish it was to go galloping on the beach on his birthday. Joan had him in the saddle in front of him, and off they went! The boy was so happy!
Do people need any special clothing or equipment to come on your expeditions?
Some sturdy leather boots or mountain boots, they needn't be riding boots, and a pair of jeans. That will do. In summer, people sometimes show up in flip-flops and shorts, Lizzie laughs, but then … they can always borrow something of mine. And for adventure rides, I give out kit lists. Everybody loves that. Mainly it's a toothbrush, … all very basic. You really don't need much. And on most expeditions, we alternate – one night camping in the open and the next staying at a refugio with proper beds and a shower.
Is there anything people can do to prepare for a longer ride? (I remember the terrible muscle aches I got when I got back on a horse for the first time after having been away for a while; and how we begged our grandma to give us some of her precious homemade arnica lotion to rub away the pain.)
I always recommend people to do a bit of stretching to prepare. Lizzie smiles a knowing smile. Nothing in life comes for free…
But what if, on a longer expedition, someone feels they can't keep up?
We are careful to make sure to have riders of more or less the same level in one group, so nobody feels neither overwhelmed nor slowed down. So, it doesn't happen very often. But if it does, it's no problem really. We are a team of three, two of us are with the group, and one is staying back home with the horses and driving the truck to ferry all the materials we need to the next camp ahead. So, if one of the riders can't keep up, it's always possible to pick him up and take him back. The truck can't follow us on all trails though. Not when we are in the mountains. And here she laughs. After all, it should be an adventure!
I love your hat, Lizzie.
Funny you should say that. You know, we have a phrase around here. If you want to wear a hat, you have to earn it first. And this one here … it's a gift from my dad.
Thank you for the interview, Lizzie. I will be back! And next time I'll bring my riding boots. For information about horseback outings and expeditions planned, please visit >> Naturacavall
More on horses #
In case you don't know, horses are not indigenous to the Balearics. The Andalusian and Iberia breeds once roamed the peninsula freely but never crossed the Mediterranean Sea unaided by man. To see more of Lizzie's excursion photos, take a look at the carousel below.
Personal Interview with Lizzie Graham
By Ulla Rahn-Huber
1 December, 2019