Habiba Horse, El Gouna
Sometimes we find ourselves in unexpected places in life. Good and bad, big and small, we all have those moments where we say: Wow, I'm here now. I had one of those moments when I saw my feet trailing through the crystal clear waters of the Red Sea, from the back of a horse. Although small in comparison to life-altering scenarios like moving country, falling in love for the first time or becoming a parent, it ranked high in my amazing and unexpected life moments. The next process of the grey matter is to retrace your steps to find out how you got there. For me, I had seen the horse riders in Gouna and so I made the brilliant decision to contact Kerstin Engels, owner of Habiba Horse El Gouna and go out on one of their 3-hour swimming trips.
Arriving at the stables, I was impressed to see how well kept and clean they were. I imagine it can be difficult to keep things looking their best in the desert sun and dust, but Kerstin achieves this, seemingly easily, but I'm guessing with a lot of hard work. Although the stables are in El Gouna they feel a bit out of town, so to speak, as they are behind the mosque, which is behind the TUB campus. But, their position as being out in the desert is only for the time being. Since El Gouna is expanding at such a rapid rate, and has been for the last 29 years, Habiba Horse will one day be in a bustling part of El Gouna. Only time will tell how long that might be. But for now, it still has that ranch feeling. It's off the beaten track and very quiet. Quiet only as far as external noise goes. Inside the grounds, there is the constant hum of stable work being carried out, horses snorting and neighing and the arrival of guests and the laughter of carrot wielding children.
Stepping into the grounds, I was greeted first by the resident Labrador-Golden Retriever, Emma, with the extremely warm welcome that only a dog can bring. Kerstin followed closely behind with demands of obedience followed by a warm and confident welcome. I was immediately introduced to some of the horses. The most eye-catching was a beautiful white mare with a very healthy aura about her. I was astonished to hear that she was a rescue horse who, prior to permanent residency at Habiba, was shaved bare and left in the sun. As of today, there is little left of her troubled past, other than a damaged and irreparable tongue.
The journey begins.
We mounted up and our journey began promptly at 1:30. As mentioned, it was a 3-hour swimming trip due back at 4:30. Being winter, the temperature was perfect. No warm clothes were needed, but neither did we have to endure the summer heat. We set off at a slow walk into the desert and all its silence with only the rhythm of the hooves to break it. We had a lead guide, Eid, who proudly rode his beautiful Pinto Gelding, Sindbad, and we quickly learned that our horses knew who to follow. We had to do little in terms of steering as the horses obediently trailed behind their alpha male.
We took a slow bend to the right in direction of the sea, meandering our way through Gouna's new developments. There were a few open stretches along the way where the more experienced riders were able to gallop away - literally leaving the rest in the dust. But these horses were allowed a little respite as they waited for the rest of the party. Leaving the last constructions behind us, we arrived at a shallow tidal lagoon where the horses didn't even skip a beat in going in.
We came out of the water on a small stretch of sand between the lagoon and the sea and dismounted somewhere between Buzzah Beach and Elements. There was only the subtle hiss of the sea to audibly bring on the next chapter: Swimming. One horse, Sheherazade has a fantastic love for the water and takes every opportunity to dip in. Eid cleverly allowed her a few short, playful baths before we set out for the watery horizon.
Into the sea
We headed out several hundred meters through the waters, which became continuously deeper until 2 of the bravest horses and riders went to the deepest water for swimming. Not something I've seen before but primal, elemental and impressive in every way.
By this time the sun was sinking in the west, creating brilliant silhouettes of the horses and riders semi-submerged in the water. We arrived again on the beach where the horses were resaddled and we began our journey home. The sun turned it's beautiful orange, rearranging the shades of the sky and we all fell into a companionable silence as we rocked and swayed with the rhythm of our horses. After one more gallop towards the end, we arrived back at the stables just after the sun sank behind the Abu Shar mountains.
Kerstin was eager to hear of our trip and took great delight in our delight. An amazing, magical journey completely different from our regular day to day activities.
A perfect end
To end the tiring afternoon we entered Habiba Horse's self-built, Bedouin-style tent and were served tea and coffee in the ancient, nomadic way as we exchanged stories from the day and learned more about the stable and it's residents. After visiting stables in Frankfurt and Cairo, Kerstin had the idea to combine the best of both and attempt to build here in Gouna. It took little convincing and the terms were agreed, allowing construction to begin in October 2015. Although Habiba Horse was officially opened in June 2016, Kerstin tells me how it is always being upgraded and expanded. Building is never complete. Starting with 5 horses, they have now grown to 13 horses, 1 foal, 1 donkey and 1 mule. Also, in true Sahara style, there is a resident Dromedary camel to be ridden and admired. They have a regular roster of children learning to ride, and tourists, as well as Gounies, always return to Habiba Horse to feed or to the ride the horses.
There is no doubt that the young stables are on a one-way track to success. Kerstin informs me that it has already exceeded her expectations. I, for one, cannot wait to go back.