The Maremma has a long history with horses. This wild corner of Southern Tuscany even has its own breed, the cavallo Maremmano. Traditionally a hardy working horse used for livestock management, it’s today principally a saddle horse. Thought to have originated from North Africa, the breed is known for its solidity and ability to adapt to bad weather and rough terrain, and is used by the Italian Mounted Police. It’s brave and difficult to spook, an attribute that served it well in the 18th and 19th century when the Maremma was a malaria-plagued area, home to brigands and thieves.
The Maremman breed’s traditional caretaker is the Buttero, the famous Maremman cowboy. During the dark years of Maremma’s history, these proud men would travel the region on the backs of their horses, rearing the vacca Maremmana, another native breed, this time of cattle. The vacca Maremmana wasn’t raised in pens or stocks, but roamed freely throughout the area, travelling to different grazing lands whenever the going got tough. For the butteri, it was a long and lonely job. The men spent months at a time away from home caring for their cattle with little but each other and their horses for company.
Today the butteri have all but disappeared. The vacca Maremmana is not the choice breed for beef in the area. Its meat is pleasantly gamey, but also considered a little tough from all that roaming and the Maremmans prefer other types of livestock. You can still see the odd buttero at the Parco della Maremma nature park or in special shows scheduled throughout the year. Dressed in high boots, white shirts, brown leather vests and hats, these men strike a handsome figure as they perform the amazing equestrian feats for which they’re known.
You can also come into contact with the cavallo Maremmano at the Maremma’s various riding schools. There are plenty in the area that cater to all skill levels and ages. One of the most popular holiday pastimes is to book a few lessons at a local maneggio, which is Italian for riding schools. Here adults and kids are taught the basics of caring for and riding a horse. Once you feel a little more confident around the animals, you can try your hand at riding them. Just a few laps around the school, no jumps, we promise.
If you’re an old hand at horse riding or have reached the point where you’re comfortable, you can arrange a horse riding tour. The Maremma has numerous designated horse riding trails that wind throughout the beautiful province. Again, it all depends on your confidence and skill level. You can settle for a short trot in the countryside around the riding school or you can head out on your own or with a guide for a half-day or full-day ride. With prior reservation, you can even organize a multi-day ride discovering places that very few locals have even seen and perhaps stumble across an abandoned hermit monastery or two. They’re out there! If you’re keen to organize any of these tours, just speak to reception and they will be more than happy to help you find the best solution.
If you’d rather admire than ride, there are plenty of horse themed events held in the Maremma throughout the year, as well as organized horse riding itineraries and picnics.