2010-05-15 / Marketplace / Columnists

Horse Tails

Italy’s Cilento National Park Attracts Equine Enthusiasts
by Candice C. Dunnigan

I took to seeing Italy on horseback like a duck takes to water. This April my husband, Brian, and daughter, Claire, joined me on a riding adventure in the Italian province of Campania. The region lies about 90 miles down the Amalfi coast, south of Naples. The Cilento National Park is the second largest natural preserved area in Italy. Small towns and villages dot the area, which is full of natural beauty, wildlife, flora, and some great horses. It has everything for a rider to enjoy; constantly varied vistas of mountain, the sea, fields of blue borage. Mediterranean oaks, flowering almonds, plateaus, castles, classical ruins, olive groves galore, and the ever-changing Arento River, which runs through the park, giving it its name, Cilento.

We were based for seven nights at “I Moresani,” which is much more than just a riding center. It’s a very pretty working farm and stable in addition to being a luxurious small hotel with award-winning food, wine, and cheeses. I Moresani is part of the agro-tourism, slow food movement that is starting to become very popular in Italy. Our host for the week was Gino Fedullo and his wife, Anna- Maria, who oversee and are ever present, akin to our own hoteliers on Mackinac. Gino is a conscientious and capable individual who has a love for the “cavallo” (horse), and is a rider. The riding menage and stables were run by Marco Procedda (our guide some of the days) and his capable assistant, Matilda Rosengren from Sweden. Both Marco and Matilda had plenty of equine experience in the European show jumping circles, and in Cilento, meeting all kinds of riders from England, Germany, Holland, and France. While Marco, originally from Sardinia, sometimes spoke to his horses in Sardis, Matilda was fluent enough to talk to them in five languages.

At right: Claire Dunnigan holding horses in San Giovanni, Italy. At right: Claire Dunnigan holding horses in San Giovanni, Italy. The horses at I Moresani were all well cared for, and in very good condition. The majority of the 14 or so animals are used for both lessons as well as on the treks. The saddles were all new lightweight synthetic English-style forward seats, with the exception of one older-styled trekking saddle. It was a treat to ride in them along with the well cared for bridles, clean saddle pads, and girths. I was matched with Nina, a sturdy bay Italian crossbred alpha-type mare, who didn’t appreciate being behind a young Arab gelding. But, Nina had a great walk, solid canter, and was a steady climber on some very steep ascents up the mountainside. The story goes that Gino purchased Nina from a local farmer who nightly rode her to the tavern. After the farmer would have his fill of local vino, he would sit on Nina and tell her to take him home. She always knew her head, where she was going and what I was doing. No wonder Gino thought this would be a good horse to have on the trails. My daughter rode the new chestnut Arabian that came from Tuscany, and my husband was on an attractive solid dark-bay Thoroughbred, who was sane and steady in all kinds of situations.

Candi Dunnigan near Velia, Italy. Candi Dunnigan near Velia, Italy. This was a based ride, called a “star ride.” We rode out each day from the farm in a different direction. We averaged 20 to 25 miles per day in and around the countryside, always under the shadows of Mt. Stella, the largest mountain in the area and a part of the Mediterranean called the Tyrennian Sea. Lunches were feasts of the best local Italian cuisine. Some days it was fresh homemade pastas, salamis, sausages, breads, cheeses, salads, cookies, and cakes. All were served with white or red wine and even hot coffee. Practically everything was made at the farm. The last day on the banks of the Arento River, we were treated to a barbecue, Italian-style, with fresh roasted pork chops and grilled sausages, all homemade, of course. Our horses rested beneath the olive trees and the waters of the Arento flowed in the background. What bliss. So, too, was the day we trekked to Castle Nuevo and ate lunch in the lush grassy inner courtyard of a 12th century castle looking down at this part of Italy with lemon groves, acres of artichokes, peach orchards, small villages, olives, winding roads, the sea, and the ruins of the Greco-Roman site of Velia below us.

To travel via horseback, one has to take the good with the bad. We were very lucky on the trip with the weather. I’ve been in treks on seemingly endless days of pouring rain and sleet. Because of the nature of the terrain, which can be very steep, a rider must be able to spend more than five minutes or so off their horse’s backs standing in the stirrups. He or she also has to be able to mount and dismount several times a day, to walk a horse down slippery cobblestones or pavement. One day, because a gate to a trail was closed, we jumped a small bank to get across. Humor, confidence, and skill were needed then. One day on the beach, the soft sand almost swallowed my husband and his horse. And, one day we were chased by two little spunky stud ponies who would not take “No” for an answer and followed us for miles, taunting and teasing the mares in the group. That situation went from amusing to dangerous. When Matilda, who was our guide that day, and two local villagers finally resolved the issue of the “bad ponies,” it fortunately became funny again at dinner, especially with the help of Gino’s wines.

Every morning and night, we were met by Filomena Monzo, Gino’s mother-in-law, who not only is the head chef and baker, but also gives classes in regional Campania Italian cooking to many of the international guests who enroll. On our last morning, both Claire and I made earnest but awkward attempts in learning to roll fuselli pasta, as Filomena and her helpers smiled. Both of her sons, Camine and Domenica, work on the property, either in the restaurant or on the grounds. I Moresani is situated just north of a Casal Velino, a small 12th century town with a lovely square and church that looks out to the sea. The area itself has many more horses than I had imagined. The breed Salerno comes from this region, as that city is only 40 or so miles to the north. For the most part, the Italian horses in this south range tend to be crossed with some Arab and possibly Barb or Andaulsian, given Naples’ historic connections with Spain. Hay is much more abundant here than when we were in Crete, and the horse grain, usually in a mixture of bulk pellets and includes rolled corn that looks like corn flakes.

My family and I were joined for some of these days by John and Penny Barr and Mary K. McIntire, who also rode a bit. The six of us took in some of the highlights of Pompeii on a nonriding day. For a treat, Brian, Claire, and I spent an extra day wandering among the classical district of Naples. As I said, I took to the area and the equines like a duck to water. I plan to be buying my lottery tickets at Doud’s this summer, because I want to go back to I Moresani and ride in Cilento again.

Happy trails!

Candice Dunnigan is an active member of the American Equestrian Association, the Waterloo Hunt, and Mackinac Horsemen’s Association. Seasonally she resides at Easterly Cottage.

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