A horse with no name

Competition winner: Runner up
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The Independent Travel

Dry: we think we know dry. It's when your lawn needs watering, or when you're thirsty and resent spending £2.50 on a bottle of water. No, that's not dry. Dry is when every drop of water is a struggle in a land strewn with rocks and sand, where river beds haven't seen the flow of water for months.

Dry: we think we know dry. It's when your lawn needs watering, or when you're thirsty and resent spending £2.50 on a bottle of water. No, that's not dry. Dry is when every drop of water is a struggle in a land strewn with rocks and sand, where river beds haven't seen the flow of water for months.

Travel beyond the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, along the valley where the Dra runs (when it does run), travel the old way on a horse and you get to know dry. Horses need gallons to drink, even the tough, barb Arab stallions of North Africa. So every day you must find a well. Deep, deep down there somewhere is water. You lower the bucket, heave it up. Horse drinks in long, wuffling swallows – he's thirsty, he knows it might be miles before you find water again.

Red sand gets into all your clothes. You ride cowboy-style, scarf over nose and mouth, still the gritty sand crunches between your teeth and flavours the sips from your water flask. Red kasbahs rise up from the red sand, old as ages. Date palms line the empty river bed. Dry gardens lie ready for rain, and crops of henna and millet. Donkeys stand hobbled, or make their way under burdens of palm leaves or plastic water bottles, going home or going to the well. Berber women stand joined in a lull from their work, beads, tassels and coins twinkling in the sun against their black clothes.

Horse quickens his pace towards evening; he can smell water, miles away. I step down, lead him the last mile. Rest his back, stretch my legs, ease the stiffness of a day in the saddle. We walk together, reins over my arm. Stones are hard on my feet through the soles of my boots, but I walk when it's stony. A bruise on horse's foot and he won't be able to take me on the Dra the next day and the next.

We leave the villages behind, there's only the occasional burdened donkey for company, the twittering of small birds in the palms, camels travelling under their loads or eating the thorny bushes. We camp before dusk. Time to see the sunset, untack, give horse a rub down and draw his water. The sun drops, casting shadows along the mountain ridges; horse settles to his grain. We've travelled about 20 miles today, with luck we'll do the same tomorrow. Horse is bright and bold, he goes where I ask, up steep dry gorges, over boulders, across miles of stone-strewn desert. Canter is exhilarating – the wind rushes in our ears and his hoofs pound the dusty ground. But mostly we travel slowly.

His walk and trot provide time to see almost every rock, plant, tree and bird, time to greet women and children in the villages. A few more days and we will part, but now we're a team together in the dryness of the Dra.

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