On the road up towards Hacienda Horses' impressive hillside ranch, we stopped to pick up two abandoned puppies cowering under a bush in the blistering sun.
'We can't leave them out here, can we?' Hacienda manager Adrian noted, scooping the sandy bundles of soft fluff up and taking them on board. And so our weekend of equine and canine fun began.
Rescuing these tiny dogs so early on in our adventure set the tone for one of the most rewarding and fulfilling long weekends I have experienced. The puppies were adopted by a British family staying at the Hacienda that weekend - a family who have returned many times to this stable of 30 horses set in the beautiful Andalusian hills. In fact, I later learnt, repeated stays are common, with one guest returning a record 30 times to ride and relax.
The nearest village, Mollina, is a 10-minute drive away, but after a morning riding through the picturesque olive groves, and an afternoon recovering poolside before the early evening indoor school lesson, I can't see why you would want to leave this luxury Hacienda.
The first order of the day for anyone arriving at the property, lovingly restored by British couple Paul and Christine Hartfield, is to meet the horses, many of them rescued from dreadful circumstances and schooled to dressage quality by the Hacienda team. The friendly, helpful staff – a mix of outgoing Brits and other Europeans – know every horse's history and quirks and you are matched with the mount best suited to your skills and needs.
This is the perfect trip for those wanting to ride out in new countryside and brush up on techniques in the school, as well as for those who have been out of the saddle for a while but want to refresh their equine skills. I went with my 13 year old daughter, who has been riding weekly since the age of four, but I hadn't ridden for more than a year.
The key to any good riding holiday is to feel safe but not bored. So often you end up plodding along on a pony who'd rather be watching daytime TV than getting out and about, but at the Hacienda your horse is so well cared for, it is alert and full of energy, in a good way.
I learnt so much in my three days there I don't need lessons now for at least another year, and there were tears in my eyes as I watched my confident teenager tackle a jump on a spirited 17hh horse, under the excellent tutelage of instructor Pedro Sousa Magalhaes.
The team make a real investment in catering to your individual needs on the equine front, and even more so on the fun front. Nothing is too much trouble. There is an honesty shop where you can buy drinks and nibbles throughout the day but the highlight of your stay will undoubtedly be giant cocktails with new friends by the pool, after you've showered and changed.
Dinner is relaxed and cooked by a local chef. It is exceptionally good food, and the company is varied but always entertaining. The team also organise excursions to local restaurants to sample the tapas and rosé, as well as shopping trips if needed. But the jewel in the crown here is the army of forward-going but well-schooled horses. Every ride is an adventure and everyone's tales of their hack out are shared over enormous Aperol spritz as the sun goes down.
I'll treasure the happy memories of our stay at the Hacienda for many years to come and will definitely make a return trip to this stylish horsey heaven.
Hacienda Horses, Cortijo Uribe, Andalusia, 01273252540 ( UK enquires)
PRICE: Three nights from around £400 pp, half board, including 2 - 4 hours a day riding (lessons - dressage/jumping - or trekking). No single supplement
You can do longer day hacks to the Flamingo Lake, as well as a two-day hack following the route of local bandit Jose Maria el Tempranillo.
Every one week holiday includes a trip to a local bar and a picnic ride.
HOTEL LOCATION: Cortijo Uribe, an hour from Malaga airport.
Transfers: they can provide a car , which can comfortably transport up to eight clients with luggage. Price around £80 return transfer, per car, from Malaga.
TYPE OF HOTEL: Rural retreat
HOTEL STYLE: 10 Spanish style rooms and five apartments built around a courtyard and small outdoor pool. Laid back staff and relaxing local cooking. We stayed in the spacious and dramatic Tower suite with four-poster and wonderful sunset views.