Ride like a cowboy without going to the US!

There are few people who haven’t seen a traditional Western movie without thinking about what it would be like to experience the thrill of riding like a Cowboy! Exhilaration, freedom and quick-thinking equine partners are just some of the draws, however for many it is the idea of learning to ride in a new style that intrigues them.

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Western riding appeals to both beginners and experienced riders – the main differences being the tack in which horses are ridden, the way the aids are applied and the way the reins are held. Whether you have ridden previously or are a beginner rider, Western riding has a few differences to traditional English riding style making it fun and easy to pick up on a riding holiday. A Western saddle has a larger bearing surface over the horse’s back than an English saddle and generally offers a greater degree of comfort for both horse and rider – perfect for long days out on the trails! In Western riding the reins are held in one hand and horses are trained to ‘neck rein’ in order for Cowboys to quickly and efficiently maneuver their mount without compromising on the ability to carry out ranch work such as cattle roping!

Fast, fun and fabulous – for many people, Western Riding has always been out of reach due to the costs involved of travelling to the US, however In The Saddle have discovered options a lot closer to home to give people the chance to embark on a riding holiday – Western style – but without the long haul flight!

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Nestled in the heart of Italy’s Tuscan hills you will find In The Saddle’s Castellare di Tonda! Surrounded by magical scenery, world-renowned vineyards and artistic legacy, the 800 acre working wine estate and Quarter horse stud farm is steeped in history and cultural indulgence.

This countryside resort and spa provides the perfect setting for an exciting Western adventure. Whether a novice or experienced rider – the activities at Castellare di Tonda will fit your Western wishes! Spend time learning to ‘ride like a cowboy’ and become accustomed to Western tack, while exploring the varied terrain. Finish your day unwinding with a glass of local Chianti, paired with exquisite Italian cuisine! All the glamour of Italy combined with the excitement of Western riding!

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Situated in the beautiful, peaceful setting of the Kiskunsági National Park, Hungary – spanning an area of over 53,000 hectares – In The Saddle’s El Bronco ranch provides that feeling of freedom only Cowboys usually get to experience!

Consisting of mainly saline plains and sandy lowlands, El Bronco plays the perfect host to long flowing canters along forest tracks. Your mounts are a mixture of Quarter horses, Appaloosas and Paints ridden in traditional Western tack. You will have the chance to spend time learning the basics of Western riding in the arena, or even practicing movements like side-pass, lope-halt and rollback turns. Combined with trail rides, El Bronco is the perfect balance of fun, education and exhilaration – the epitome of what In The Saddle believes Western riding is all about!

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To find out more about Western riding around the world visit www.inthesaddle.com or call 01299 272 997 to speak to our team of travel advisors.

Categories: Equestrian Travel, Horses & riding, Ranch holidays, Riding Holidays, Travel advice | Leave a comment

In The Saddle unearths the mysteries of Morocco

Morocco is not a country that is synonymous with horseback holidays, however in 2014, thanks to In The Saddle, that is going to change…

After years of searching for the perfect Moroccan equestrian adventure, we have discovered several hidden gems in this spectacular location. Horseback adventures in this part of the world give riders access to amazing riding and sensational scenery whilst providing an insight into the unique culture which has Berber, Arab, African and European influences.

Morocco offers views that will take your breath away

Morocco offers views that will take your breath away

Most commonly known for the hustle and bustle of Marrakech, Morocco has so much more to offer than just being a bargain hunter’s paradise. From the sands of the Sahara where visitors will find date palm oases and Berber communities, to the High Atlas mountains in the middle of the country where riders get the chance to view peaks rising to over 4,000m and ride through woodlands of pine, oak and cedar. The colourful souks and Kasbahs, trips through exotic cities, fabulous aromatic culinary delights and opportunities to see real Moroccan culture first hand makes a horse riding trip to Morocco a feast for all the senses!

With more than four different itineraries to choose from, a riding holiday in Morocco with In The Saddle is varied and offers exciting riding, beautiful sights and a wonderful equestrian experience. Riding Barb Arabian horses, visitors can expect well schooled, well behaved and well cared for equine partners, ridden in good quality English-style tack. Riding in Morocco is challenging, so not for the novice rider, yet it offers a peaceful escape from everyday life.

The Toubkal Trail is exciting and exhilarating

The Toubkal Trail is exciting and exhilarating

The toughest itinerary is the Toubkal Trail, which is a 7-night trail ride in tented accommodation that takes riders on a journey through the High Atlas Mountains and close to Jbel (Mount) Toubkal, which at 4,167m is the highest mountain in North Africa.  This trip is not for the faint hearted but delivers exceptional sights and experiences.

The Desert Trails vary depending on the season

The Desert Trails vary depending on the season

The Desert Trails vary in location depending on the time of year to ensure a comfortable riding temperature for both riders and horses. From mid October the horses are based in the south, near Ouarzazate and there are a number of exciting trails to embark on including riding through the highly scented rose plantations and past the saffron terraces, as well as kicking on for some fast-paced riding in the remote desert. Between May and October guests will have the chance to ride along the Atlantic coastline south of Essouraira – where they will enjoy a cooling coastal breeze and endless riding along beautiful beaches, along with adventures through date palms and Argan forests!

Stay in riads along the way on the Horses, Dunes and Nomads journey

Stay in riads along the way on the Horses, Dunes and Nomads journey

An alternative trip for those not wishing to camp is the Horses, Dunes & Nomads itinerary which gives travellers the opportunity to ride in one of the most beautiful parts of the Moroccan desert whilst staying in comfortable riads and lodges. Alternatively visitors can choose a centre-based holiday at Terres d’Amanar, which is a recently opened Eco-Hotel in the High Atlas Mountains just 30kms from Marrakech, yet, worlds apart from the busy city centre! Ride out from Terres d’Amanar into the mountains whilst also relaxing and enjoying the hotel facilities.

Prices for In The Saddle riding holidays to Morocco start from £465 per person based on a 4-night stay at Terres d’Amanar, not including flights. Contact us if you want to embark on your own Moroccan adventure!

Categories: Equestrian Travel, Horses & riding, Riding expeditions, Riding Holidays, Travel advice | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Heard on the grapevine: So good you can’t go just once!

How many of you have been on a trip of a lifetime and wished you could go back? In our latest In The Saddle Heard on the Grapevine blog we hear from some of our clients who have been lucky enough to return to a destination that they love! We hope that their confidence in a location inspires you to book the trip you have always wished for…

A stay at Los Alamos is one of our most popular trips, and it is no wonder that people return time and time again. The beaches, the food, the hosts and the horses all make for the most spectacular holiday and Una Curran confirms this, especially having already booked her next trip out. “This was my fourth trip to Los Alamos and again it did not disappoint and exceeded expectations,” she says. “It was my first experience of a winter break at Los Alamos and I was a little concerned that I would be cold and it could be bleak. We were very lucky with the weather, but from the roaring fire in the lounge to the heaters in the rooms and the lovely warming winter food my fears would have been unfounded no matter the weather. Our only regret was that we had booked a short break instead of the full week! It is a fabulous experience and I now feel part of the Los Alamos family and I can’t wait to return my second home – only seven months before my next trip!”

The beach riding at Los Alamos is second to none

The beach riding at Los Alamos is second to none

For Georgina Smith, she returned to Los Alamos for the second time in a year to enjoy the Train and Ride trip and it didn’t disappoint! “Fabulous riding once again,” she says. “I rode five different horses for the riding out, all of whom were very fit, well-mannered, responsive and fast when you wanted them to be but with complete confidence that the brakes worked! I really enjoyed all the riding whether that was walking through the forest or having a blast up the firebreaks, the beach riding was amazing as ever – everyone galloping with big smiles on their faces! All the team at Los Alamos go out of their way to make sure we are matched well to our horses and to ensure we have the best rides possible – even tacking them up in the very early dark morning so we could get to the beach for a good tide.”

“The training part was excellent and I learned a lot. I had asked if I could try flying changes as this is what I am working on at home – and by the last lesson that is what I was doing. Antonio is amazing, his eye for small details when you are riding is second to none and the horse you ride is a perfect schoolmaster – ask correctly and it is lovely. This was the second time I’ve been to Los Alamos in a year and won’t be the last – I can’t imagine having a better holiday!”

The terrain is varied at Los Alamos

The terrain is varied at Los Alamos

Another fan of the Train and Ride trip is Natalie Hudd who is on her second trip! “Rachel, Andrew and Rhiannon are incredibly accommodating to all the guests, and Rachel is unbelievably adept at matching guests to the right horses. The downside of this is that there are at least four horses at Los Alamos whom I would like to take home! This is in addition to two horses at Antonio’s yard where we had our lessons. Once again, I found the lessons to be brilliant at improving several aspects of my riding.”

The balance of training and trail riding provided the perfect way to de-stress for Gilda Kelly. “The three training sessions with Antonio were full on, both mentally and physically taxing,” she admits. “It was a privilege to ride on his incredible and very forgiving stallions who always tried to interpret any poor aids but when you get it right… oh my goodness! Then the rides through the forest were a real antidote, with time to absorb what had been taught and think about how to improve before the next lesson, as well as just enjoying the lovely countryside on happy, well behaved horses.”

“The beach rides were exhilarating, especially when the tide was just right on the last day, there were smiling faces all round. Rachel and the team were terrific and constantly trying to match us with our perfect equine companions. Most of us rode a selection of different horses during the week, which was a treat. This was my second visit to Los Alamos but first Train and Ride week. The majority of our group were on return visits, which shows how well the holidays are run. You are made to feel like part of the Los Alamos family from the time you arrive and encouraged to make yourself right at home. Relaxation starts from the moment you get off the plane in the Spanish sunshine and continues (with the exception of Antonio’s lessons) until you fly back into a rain storm at Heathrow! Start planning your next trip immediately.” Ok Gilda… if you insist!

Exhilarating beach rides at Los Alamos

Exhilarating beach rides at Los Alamos

Africa is said to get under your skin, and it certainly has for Linda Parker who returned to Macatoo in Botswana for her third trip! “Mod has an uncanny ability to match horse and rider but will immediately change if you are not happy,” she says. “All the horses are fit, forward going but with brakes when you need them. I loved the fast morning rides and our group was well matched for the pace we did – sometimes very fast, long canters and gallops and some quiet walks and trots in the afternoons. We got to canter across the plains with zebra, which was absolutely amazing! This was our 3rd trip to Macatoo in 6 years and unbelievably it exceeded our expectations again. All the staff are helpful, kind and good at what they do. Our guide, Sekongo, was outstanding. We now have lots of new memories to store and enjoy in the future. There really are not enough superlatives to describe the Macatoo experience. We have said each time will be our last (lack of money and advancing age) but who knows!”

Macatoo gets under your skin!

Macatoo gets under your skin!

And heading to another area of Botswana, Barbara Tollett is a huge fan of the Tuli Trail at Limpopo. “This is an amazing adventure riding from camp to camp amongst plenty of game on beautifully schooled horses, guided by experts – quite perfect! The horses at Limpopo are beautifully cared for and schooled. Louise has an expert eye for a horse and manages to pair horse and rider very well. My horse Monate was a gentle kind horse with enthusiasm and manners. He was so balanced and uphill to ride it was a joy to be in the saddle for 6 hours a day! We were in tented accommodation, but they are large walk-in tents with comfortable beds and hot bucket showers with lanterns to provide light. It makes you feel part of the bush and not just an onlooker! This was my second time doing the trail, it was brilliant the first time but I think this time it was even better!”

Limpopo has a huge fan base, and Caroline Ramsay just can’t seem to keep away! “This was my third time at Limpopo and it was just as good as the last two. The horses are exceptional and Louise is brilliant at matching riders with their horses. They are incredibly well cared for and obviously enjoyed their work. We saw loads of game and the pace was just right. The food was fantastic – how they cook so well in the bush is beyond me! I cannot really imagine going on any other holiday now! It is so special.”

The Tuli Block is famous for spotting elephants

The Tuli Block is famous for spotting elephants

For Sarah Grant she is hooked on the Argentinian Adventure after a return visit to Los Potreros. “The riding was as much fun this time as the first time I came to Los Potreros. The horses are a pleasure to ride, forward-going, sure-footed and happy in their work. We had plenty of fast, exciting rides as well as doing some cattle work and some polo and even a moonlit ride. Riding over the hills in the late evening light can’t be beaten – it was really beautiful. Los Potreros is the last word in homely comfort. I had such a welcoming, comfortable room and everything is thought of. I arrived in need of a real rest and couldn’t have asked for more relaxing surroundings. I loved seeing the mares and foals outside my window! And coming back from a rainy ride to a blazing wood fire was wonderful. The food and wine was as good as ever – of course I had far too much of both. Los Potreros is a really special place for anyone who loves horses, good food, beautiful scenery and good company. It was my second trip and I loved it as much as the first time. Everyone is very welcoming and life really does feel effortless there. I was so sad to leave!”

Los Potreros is a special equestrian adventure

Los Potreros is a special equestrian adventure

Categories: Equestrian Travel, Horses & riding, Ranch holidays, Ride reviews, Riding Holidays, Riding safaris, Travel advice | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Moolmanshoek: The ride must go on

In September 2013 Moolmanshoek, which is situated in the shadow of the Witteberg mountains in South Africa, suffered a terrible bush fire across around 2,400ha of the 3,000ha game reserve. No people were harmed and the team managed to get nearly all the horses to safety but rounding up all the other animals was not easy and sadly 50 of their 500 head of game were killed, including most of their hartebeest, 5 eland, 5 gemsbok and also springbok.

Just a few weeks later the World Horse Welfare were set to carry out one of their Challenge Rides, yet despite the devastation the grit and determination of the management at Moolmanshoek meant the ride could go on. We hear from seasoned equestrian traveller Di Stark as she tells us how Wiesman and his team fought adversity and provided the trip of a lifetime…

The World Horse Welfare Challenge group at Moolmanshoek

The World Horse Welfare Challenge group at Moolmanshoek

Moolmanshoek is not just ‘another riding holiday’ destination, it is home to two award-winning studs, the South Africa Boerperd horses and Arabian Endurance horses. There are over 300 horses at Moolmanshoek and in 2007 and 2008, they bred and trained some of the top ranking FEI horses in the world for endurance and it is highly likely when you embark on a holiday here you will be riding a potential, or retired endurance champion. It genuinely is a horse lover’s paradise!

“In early October we were set to embark on one of the World Horse Welfare Challenge rides to Moolmanshoek,” Di tells us. “However not long before we travelled we received the distressing news that a terrible fire had caused significant damage to the reserve. We were given the option of traveling somewhere else but I don’t think any one of us even contemplated this – we were only too pleased that we could go and support Wiesman and his team in what must have been such a difficult time. The fire damage simply added another element to the challenge.”

The fire damage did not spoil an amazing trip

The fire damage did not spoil an amazing trip

“The Charity Challenge is all about riding to raise money for the World Horse Welfare,” Di goes on to explain. “In The Saddle have organised several of these trips, and I have been lucky enough to embark on many of them. On this trip alone, between us we managed to raise £35,000, of which a small amount goes towards accommodation and flights, but a really good chunk of the money goes to the charity – so they are very important for fundraising. We had a fabulous team on this trip, and we all supported each other – without any whining!

Moolmanshoek is a horse lovers paradise

Moolmanshoek is a horse lovers paradise

“There were many highlights of the trip, particularly when we were really pushed out of our comfort zone on some of the steep descents,” Di says. “There were things that we did at the end of the trip that we never would have felt comfortable doing on the first day! On the last day we went for some amazing long canters through the hills, and climbed some really steep and challenging terrain. At one point our horses had to have all four feet on one tiny bit of ground while they paused to consider their descent – I had complete trust in my ride at all times! They were all such personalities, from an enchanting little Welsh C who was smaller than any other of the horses on the ride but made up for it in determination, to the exciting, beautiful stallions that were sensible and sure-footed having been raised on the land. All were fit and calm so the canters were a pleasure, and their rock climbing abilities were unbelievable! The only problem with my main horse was that he wouldn’t fit in my hand baggage on the way home!”

The steep descents pushed riders out of their comfort zone

The steep descents pushed riders out of their comfort zone

“It was hard to see photos of what the area looked like before the fire, when we went it was just a few weeks after and the whole area was covered in black ash where there should have been trees and grassland,” Di goes on to explain. “However, there was already the first shoots of green coming through and we are all hoping to do the trip again one day to see it in all its natural glory. Despite the fire, we still saw plenty of wildlife, including herds of zebra, eland and brown wildebeest – which were so funny to watch as they frolicked and chased each other!”

The scenery was breathtaking despite the fire damage

The scenery was breathtaking despite the fire damage

“One of the things that was evident throughout the trip was the sense of community, with the local town having a population of just 95,” Di states. “The neighbouring farms had all offered grazing for the young horses and although the farm had been badly damaged by the fire, Wiesman and his family managed to provide magnificent riding both on the areas affected by the fire and on their neighbours’ land. They could not have done more to make our stay comfortable and the riding was everything we could have asked for. I can’t wait for my next adventure!”

Categories: Equestrian Travel, Horses & riding, Ride reviews, Riding expeditions, Riding Holidays, Riding safaris | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Heard on the grapevine: Kicking off the season

If you are pondering where to go, which trip to embark on or how best to see some of the world by horseback this year then hopefully comments from our past clients will help make the decision easier! In our latest blog, we hear about trips across the globe, from trekking in Spain to thought-provoking challenges in Romania…

Somewhere that is not often considered as a destination for horseback riding is Romania, however Peter Lewis had a fantastic adventures when he booked the Equus Silvania centre based ride. “I thoroughly enjoyed the riding and rode four different horses over the five days.” He tells us. “All of them were well behaved, responsive and forward going. As someone who hasn’t been riding for long, but keen to improve, I found the mix of paces excellent and thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to “let the horses run” – although my legs were feeling it a bit at the end of the week!”

“Transylvania was great riding country, with quite a lot of climbing through forests to beautiful view points and the chance for faster riding on the lower meadows,” Peter explains. “Although the accommodation was not “five star” it was perfectly appropriate for a riding holiday – clean and comfortable with en-suite facilities and the food was filling and tasty. Juliane, Ame, Tilmann, Tabea and Theresa were very friendly and made me feel completely at home .The visit to the bear hide was great (we saw 11 bears) and the site seeing at Sighisoara and Viscri gave a great insight into Romania. I was also able to squeeze an extra half day sight seeing at Brasov.” Sounds perfect for combining riding and some cultural experiences to learn more about this wonderful country!

A trip to Romania is memorable for all the right reasons

A trip to Romania is memorable for all the right reasons

Another destination that is still relatively undiscovered for horse riding is Hungary, and if you like varied riding then take note of what Mrs Winup says… “The countryside was excellent, long sandy lanes perfect for long canters and gallops, beautiful woods and wide open fields and common grounds where you could let the horses go. Accommodation was in a rustic farmhouse – think white washed walls and local knick knacks – simple but clean and perfectly in tune with the local surroundings.” As with any riding holiday fitness can make a difference, as Maria Harvey found out. “The riding in Hungary was fantastic, but you do have to be fit. Expect your muscles to ache, but a great massage will sort them out midweek. I rode 6 different horses and felt completely safe on all of them, although I did have a favourite!”

Hungary is relatively undiscovered

Hungary is relatively undiscovered

Spain is well known for its equestrian culture, exquisite food and great wines, and all of our In The Saddle trips to Spain combine these important elements to create the perfect horse riding holiday. Although well known for it’s fantastic beach riding, Spain has other hidden treasures as Sarah West found out when she took part in the Alpujarra Ride in the Sierra Nevada. “My husband and I had a fantastic holiday,” she says. “The scenery is absolutely stunning and each day brought with it very different views and terrain. The group was a perfect size and lovely mix of ages and riding experiences, giving us plenty of conversation along the mountain tracks, not to mention in the evening over a glass of Tinto de Verano.”

Of course having the right horse always makes a difference and this is something that is carefully thought out. “Dallas has such a good understanding of the personality of each of the horses,” Sarah goes on to say. “She was able to brief us all on our allocated horse before setting off. By the end of the week we all understood the personalities of each other’s and agreed we’d been perfectly matched. The riding challenged us all in different ways with long canters along mountain tracks, steep inclines/declines, narrow mountain paths, and a good number of hours per day in the saddle. We each finished the week having learned something from our horses. If I didn’t have a flight home booked I might have stayed forever! “

If a week is too long however, why not do what Amanda Volkmer did and book onto the Poqueira Sierra Nevada Short Break. “This was the most amazing experience I’ve ever been able to be a part of,” she says. “I would do it again in a heart beat… Dallas and Janette were wonderful people and guides and the stables and horse were beautiful and well maintained.” What more could you want?

The Sierra Nevada offers a wonderful view of Spain

The Sierra Nevada offers a wonderful view of Spain

Going a little further afield, Costa Rica is thought of for beautiful colours, sunshine and a tropical vibe – but also, for Dawn Burdyshaw, as a haven for horse riding! “The entire holiday exceeded all expectations,” she says. “The country is amazing. Our guide, Hector, has unlimited knowledge and explained everything with great understanding and enthusiasm! Anna, our cook, produced the best food, was accommodating, friendly and took very good care of the house and guests. The horse master, Stanley, was the BEST! He was fun, witty and took us on fabulous rides! It was hard and sad to leave!”

Beautiful scenery and wonderful horses in Costa Rica

Beautiful scenery and wonderful horses in Costa Rica

They do say that horse riding is addictive and far more than just a hobby, and for Helena Broad a recent trip to the Azores was, in her words, life changing, and rekindled her passion for equestrianism. “Although I had chosen a learn to ride week (I was returning to riding after an 8 year absence), Christina and Steffy scheduled half day rides for me so I spent less time in the indoor school,” explains Helena. “This was exactly what I needed! Christina and her team spent a great deal of time and thought matching riders with mounts. They took into account what I’d asked for when I filled out my rider profile form, and after seeing me ride, they challenged me a little more each day. It was a privilege to see horses so well cared for and loved, many of them have had an unfortunate start in life and bear the physical scars but have certainly fallen on their hooves living at the Quinta!”

“São Miguel Island has some fabulous scenery, and the ride leaders always checked that the riders were happy,” Helena says. “Steffy happily chatted away about the flora and fauna, and told us about life on the island. I was in a fairly advanced group and we had some fantastic canters and gallops, particularly next to Sete Citidades. The meals were fantastic and always ready on time, and you must take the time to give Vivaldi an apple or pear in the evening. I am so pleased I chose this holiday, I had a fantastic time and it has reignited my passion for horses. I will return to Quinta da Terca.”

The food, hosts, horses and scenery are fantastic in the Azores

The food, hosts, horses and scenery are fantastic in the Azores

For a trip that is as spectacular out of the saddle as it is in the saddle, then Suzanne Segerstrom recommends Castellare di Tonda in Italy. “Riding through the Tuscan landscape is so beautiful, it’s almost surreal,” she explains. “Jess and Matteo made sure that we had an amazing experience both in and out of the saddle – they took great care of us out riding, but on days we were rained out, they were our tour guides to experience other sides of Tuscany. Long views across valleys and long canters across a field or up a road will feed your soul and the food was so good that my trousers don’t fit anymore”.

An Italian adventure to remember at Castellare di Tonda

An Italian adventure to remember at Castellare di Tonda

And last but by no means least, the Balkan Rides in Bulgaria is a ride that was introduced to us in 2013 and has proven to be an insightful adventure, as Eleanor Green explains. “I loved my horse, who was forward going but easy to stop and didn’t pull,” she says. “The horses are mostly Arabs and Shagya Arabs and all seemed capable and happy. They are pretty tough animals and are very used to being tethered at night or during lunch breaks. There is quite a lot of cantering so you do need to be a confident rider and the terrain is a mix of open fields, woods and heath/scrubland. You ride through some pretty dense undergrowth so long sleeves and chaps are a good idea! It is rural Bulgaria so the food is rustic, it’s not haute cuisine and the service is pretty informal (and slow on occasions) but portions are large and as a vegetarian, I had no problems. Bulgarians love cheese and it is in everything so it helps if you like cheese! Each day had some non-riding activities, visiting caves, monastery, preserved villages and craft centres, Veliko Tarnovo and the waterfalls so it is a good holiday if you are interested in the region and want to learn more about the country as well as riding. The countryside appears to have been almost completely depopulated with lots of abandoned and neglected land and villages which was a bit sad to see, but it does need make for good riding! You need to be fairly laid back and accept that rural Eastern Europe is in a time warp in terms of some elements!”

You can ride almost endlessly in Bulgaria

You can ride almost endlessly in Bulgaria

Categories: Equestrian Travel, Horses & riding, Ride reviews, Riding Holidays | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Danger in The Bush – No just on the Airplane!

Danger in The Bush – No just on the Airplane!

The intrepid duo (Marian and June) were off again.  A different continent to explore – Africa was our destination – a Safari on Horseback in Botswana, only this time there were four! (Gina and Janet came too).DSCF2600

Our information said there would be two men joining us, we didn’t know what to expect so we checked out all the “likely” men’s feet in the departure lounge. (“Likely” being – youngish, handsome and fit!).  You can always pick horse riders as they are the only passengers at Heathrow wearing riding boots.  No boots to be seen??  We arrived at Johannesburg Airport in eager anticipation. It was actually pouring with rain, that wasn’t on the itinerary! To be met by a driver and our two men, a Canadian cowboy and a retired chemist from Sunderland, plus three drop dead gorgeous Swedish girls! There would be no contest – four “late middle aged” (ok sixty something DSCF2515ladies), two senior chaps, and three thirty ish blondes!!

A six hour trip to Botswana in a mini bus with our new pals took us to the border, we were firm friends by the time we arrived, we started laughing on the way out of the airport car park and didn’t stop until we returned the following Sunday . Well that’s not strictly true we had to be quiet on a few occasions to avoid being eaten by lions!

Entering Botswana across the Limpopo River, literally by driving across the dry river bed.  We were met by our guide and taken to the start of our adventure.  Out hosts met us with a sumptuous lunch, a relaxing afternoon we thought after our 24 hours traveling! No.  We changed into our jod’s in the open, so no time for being shy, and after a short briefing were off to meet the DSCF2418steeds. Some of the nicest horses I’ve seen in fact just like at home, TBxShire – sports horse types all very well-schooled.  Matched perfectly with our horses, they had obviously done it before.  We set off immediately into the bush.  Our first challenge was for our guide to check out if we were competent; this was accomplished by being sent to canter individually to an appointed tree in the far distance and return in one piece, preferably still on the horse.  Having passed the test, well no one fell off; we set off on our adventure.  Within ten minutes we came across a herd of elephants and then giraffes interspersed with Impalas and Kudu’s.  This constant show of wild life was with us throughout the eight days we rode, they were never far away.

The first nights camp, very civilised.  G&T and beer within minutes of dismounting, a hot shower and the most delicious dinner by candle light.   Our tents were on raised platforms, comfy beds, and a hot shower at the ring of a bell.  The only warning was “don’t leave your stuff outside the tent, the baboons steel things and you might see your hat on a Hyena in the morning”!  (One day we rode into camp to be met by one of our boys who was very concerned, the baboons had got into a tent whilst they were setting up camp and had stolen some underclothes and food from a bag.  OMG, it could be my Bridget Jones’s and Brazil’s, but no, the discerning baboon had taken Edda’s thong and her peanuts!!)

Five of the nights were spent in different locations, each quite different but there was always attention to detail from our hosts.  The bush shower was ingenious, a large bucket of water fitted with a rose and a tap, filled by one of our lovely grooms the water heated in a cauldron then hoisted up into a tree   You turned it on, got wet  turned it off,  shampooed and then turned it back on and  rinsed. Your shower was complete and as most days we were covered in dust it was pure heaven.

Our day started with West, our Botswana guide(an accomplished horse man who had a wealth of local knowledge about all the flora and fauna of the area, who could also give an insight into  Botswana’s history and politics)  bringing us tea in bed at 5am, breakfast followed  and then we were off.   The plan was to be mounted and ready to go by 6.30. Well we nearly made it on time most days, but there were seven ladies??  The horses were always immaculately groomed and brought to the mounting block for us to get on.  Ditto in the afternoon on our return they would un tack them, let them role in the dust and clean both horses and tack. (Could easily get used to this George?)   We would ride for about three hours with the odd “bush bathroom” stop.  We could only stop where there was an appropriate mounting block!  We’d have a break for an hour and then ride for another three.  The terrain was very dry and dusty and everywhere evidence of elephants, I’m just pleased I don’t have to poo pick! They break down the trees and eat all the vegetation in their path including the thorns that look like steel needles and feel like them if you are unfortunate enough to get too close, DSCF2555which we did on occasions. We rode along dry river beds and climbed escarpments. Two paces walk and canter.  No silly trotting.  On the first day we encountered lions under a tree we couldn’t get too close as they might eat the horses or even us if they were really hungry!  The ever present elephants, giraffes, Kudus, Impalas or Bush McDonalds as the locals refer to them.  They have a dark line on their rear in the shape of an “M” and are eaten by all the carnivores.  One day we saw an Impala carcass high up in a tree, taken there by a Cheetah to eat in peace.  We galloped alongside the Zebras, as they wouldn’t stand still! One day whilst riding along a river bed we came to a pool, a large pink head popped up and then a little pink head, Mrs Hippo and son.  Not far away the most enormous Croc gliding through the water.  A good thing we didn’t paddle that day! An ostrich and even a torDSCF2432toise made an appearance later and frequently the little Wart hogs would pop out and say hello along with the numerous birds and reptiles.  We rode along the “M1” a long straight dirt road with a truck appearing once in an hour.  One day we came across a family of Hyenas’, not in the least bothered by us or our horses and on another a Brown Hyena – a very rare sighting.  There were Gnu’s, wild dogs that looked like stripy foxes and hundreds of dark blue Guinea fowl.

The afternoons were spent relaxing followed by afternoon tea. Grace we discovered had trained to do massage which we all took advantage of.    Each evening we had “sun downers” taken on rock escarpments watching the sun go down or after a drive in the truck to see the wildlife we couldn’t get close to on the horses, mainly the cats. We saw Leopards just a metre away unconcerned by our presence and two lionesses with cubs just casually laid under the trees.  One night DSCF2535we did get into a bit of a predicament when our guide took us to the river bank to watch a herd of elephants below with their young rolling in the dust.  A few of them came up and within a few minutes they surrounded us, with elephants on two sides and a twenty foot drop on the other, we felt a tadge vulnerable!  One large cow decided we were encroaching on her space and bellowed loudly in a threatening sort of way coming straight at us!!    West calmly said we will just rev the engine, she’ll move on, but she wasn’t scared,  we  sat it out for a bit and then reversed a little she moved forward and we moved back, he revved again and flashed the lights,  after a while she roared off and so did we.  I’ve never known Gina so quiet!!! The G&T sun downers went down well that night!   We had a few more near misses with the elephants but despite that the highlight of my week was seeing a little baby elephant in one group. It was about three days old, being taught to stand up by his mum when he really just wanted to stay a sleep. A wonderful sight that I’ll never forget.DSCF2574

Once safely back in the camp we had dinner by candlelight.   The food was so good throughout the week, five star hotels gastronomic delights all cooked on an open fire, chicken, pork, lamb, goat, beef, fresh fruit and salads, cakes, pastries, and sweets, all to die for. Our chefs – two amazing ladies Martha and Grace. They even made me wheat free cakes and pies which is something most of the restaurants in the UK can’t manage.  We told stories and we spent a lot of time laughing!  We would discuss the day’s events and our many ailments. Six hours in the saddle isn’t without its sore bits and aches and pains!!  Those poor young girls I’m sure they didn’t realise what age has in store for them? They were such good company and were impressed by their new found older friends; we were flattered by their respect, compliments and good humour.

Two nights were spent sleeping under the stars.  Beds in a circle round the fire.  Were we vulnerable being surrounded by some of the fiercest wild animals in the world with eleven tethered horses as bait? Not a bit of it, what creature in its right mind would be brave enough to attack Marian in her nightie? The noises of the night were quite incredible, if a little scary at times, especially when the elephants came a visiting and the horses got loose. The sounds of the mornings were a pain in the ….!  Well who wants a cheerful bird or a laughing Hyena at five am??

The trip home wasn’t without adventure, at the border the guards confiscated our Porcupine quills that Cisie had retrieved with great courage from a porcupine hole.  On coming upon an accident our driver casually drove across the central reservation onto the opposite side of the road and proceeded to drive the wrong way up the dual carriageway until he was past the obstacle only to drive back across to the correct side and continue on as if it were just the norm!

You would think eight exciting days in the African bush was not without danger but the most peril less and scary part of the holiday was the flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town.  Our luck was in or so we thought.  Upgraded to business class, wow how good is that?  We were fed and watered and just about to relax when an off duty stewardess who luckily was sitting next to us suddenly said “just sit there and don’t move”. Why?  Creeping slowly down the back of the seat in front was a scorpion.  I was ready to squash it with my napkin when she said NO in the sort of tone that even I took notice of!!  The steward came very quickly and removed it in a box.  He said if you had squeezed it, it would have stung you and you probably would have died.  A sobering thought at the end of an exciting holiday.

June Collier November 2013.

Categories: Horses & riding, Riding Holidays, Riding safaris | Leave a comment

Abbie’s Ecuador Blog: Hacienda Zuleta

In The Saddle’s Abbie Wood recently embarked on an adventure to Ecuador! In the last of her three-part-blog she tells us about visiting a new destination, Hacienda Zuleta…

About 68 miles and a two hour drive north of Quito is the wonderful Hacienda Zuleta. The hacienda, which dates from the Sixteenth Century, is nestled in the Andes Mountains at an altitude of 2,800 metres. This colonial working farm has been in the hands of the Plaza Lasso family for more than a hundred years.

Hacienda Zuleta

Hacienda Zuleta

Despite my late arrival due to a flight delay, I receive a warm welcome from my host Amoble. Entering the hacienda is like stepping back in time; a huge fireplace, impressive furniture and family portraits dominate the room and yet it still feels amazingly homely. The fire is lit and the table is laid for dinner, so I am shown to my room and then settle down to a delicious dinner by the fire. Accompanying the meal are three different types of cheese that are made in the dairy just across from the main building. This sets the standard as with every meal served, an array of delicious, homemade cheeses are on offer. Half an hour later I am ready to turn in and walk down the corridor to my room.

Abbie's room

Abbie’s room

How lovely to find my fire lit, a hot water bottle in my bed, chocolate on my pillow and flowers adorning the bathroom. It is these little touches, the staff and the attention to detail that makes Hacienda Zuleta such a special place to stay. The following day I am woken by the sound of hooves trotting along the cobbles…what an ideal way to start the day! I have breakfast with Felipe, the horse manager and my guide for the next few days. The table is laid beautifully and we feast on fresh fruit from the garden, homemade yoghurt, toast and scrambled eggs as we overlook the stables. Felipe asks me about my riding experience and the kind of horse I ride at home. Then explains that I am to ride Rebeldia, a four year old Andalucian cross, who ‘isn’t really a rebel’. He assures me that she is very good for her age and if we don’t get on then there are plenty more horses to try.

After breakfast Felipe shows me around the stables – the tack room, office and hacienda paddocks. Then we set off on a two hour ride, we go out along the avenue and out onto the cobbled roads. Turning down a track by a little farmhouse we pass by curious pyramids called Caranqui Mounds, which were constructed around 1200 A.D. These earthen mounds were necessary to protect buildings such as huts, sheds and temples from the humidity of the ground.

Riding to the Condor House

Riding to the Condor House

We ride to the foot of a mountain, dismount and tie up our horses. Through a gate and along a short path and we reach the Condor Project. This project aims to boost the breeding of the Andean Condor and to release juveniles into the wild. You cannot successfully release adult condors into the wild and so the Condor House is home to 7 adult condors, which have either been born in captivity or have been so badly injured that they would not survive if released. One pair are incubating an egg and the plan is to team up with Quito Zoo (who currently have two juveniles) to release the three condors into the wild.

A wild Condor visits

A wild condor visits

I was lucky enough to see not only the 7 condors in captivity, but also see three wild condors in the surrounding area. They are absolutely magnificent birds; an adult male flew ride over our heads and it was the perfect chance to appreciate just how big they are (their wingspan can reach up to 10 feet!). With only about 50 condors left in the wild in Ecuador, now is the time to act. Please ask if you would like to learn more about the condor project at Zuleta. Zuleta also have a project researching spectacle bears and there is a feeding platform and camera up above the condor house. They have known about sixteen different bears to be in the area, although only three have been seen more recently.

In the afternoon we had a super ride through the Zuleta valley, passing through the community and seeing rural life at its best. Pigs and cows are tethered close to the house and children come out to wave at the horses. The mountain views are magnificent, the green valleys giving way to towering peaks and the awesome Cayambe Volcano beyond.

Abbie and Rebeldia with the Cayambe Volcano in the backdrop

Abbie and Rebeldia with the Cayambe Volcano in the backdrop

The next day I get up early and ride with Felipe to the horses’ pasture. We round up the herd and usher them the 5km back to the hacienda. By 8am we are definitely ready for breakfast!

Bringing in the herd

Bringing in the herd

Today we ride through neighbouring villages and stop for a picnic lunch on the banks of a stream. My mount today belongs to Fernando (an owner of Hacienda Zuleta), he is called Valentin and is a loveable rogue, forward going and just a little bit cheeky! Returning to the hacienda by a different route we climb up from the valley floor, descend the other side and have some lovely canters along the grass verges.

Waiting for Abbie!

Waiting for Abbie!

You are welcome to fill up your days with horses, but when you are not riding there is plenty to do at Hacienda Zuleta. You can take a tour of the cheese factory, hike one of the numerous walking trails, take a carriage ride or visit the embroidery shops in the village. At dinner I meet an American guest who is on her sixth visit. Her favourite horse is waiting for her each time she comes, as is Jose her favourite guide. Sometimes she visits with a group of friends and sometimes she comes alone. She loves to stay here she tells me, it is like visiting family. I have been keen to see Ecuador for some years now and now I have been lucky enough to visit. I had expectations of dramatic mountain scenery, a strong horse culture, wide open spaces, untouched landscapes and fantastic riding. Did it live up to my expectations? Without a doubt.

Categories: Equestrian Travel, Horses & riding, Ride reviews, Riding expeditions, Riding Holidays, Travel advice | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Abbie’s Ecuador blog: The Galapagos

In The Saddle’s Abbie Wood recently embarked on an adventure to Ecuador! In the second of her three-part-blog she tells us about a wonderful adventure to The Galapagos…

The next part of my trip took me to the wonderful Galapagos Islands. Situated 1,000km from the Ecuadorian coast, the Galapagos Islands is home to a plethora of flora and fauna such as land iguana, marine iguana, giant tortoise and many sub-species of mockingbirds and finches. The Galapagos benefits from being at the confluence of three different ocean currents. It is this, along with ongoing volcanic activity and the isolated location of the archipelago that has over time led to the development of unusual plant and animal life.

My first stop is Finch Bay Hotel. The flight from Quito stops at Guayaquil, before continuing on to Baltra. From Baltra airport it is quite an adventurous journey to the hotel, which is all part of the adventure! A short bus ride and then in order to reach the neighbouring island of Santa Cruz I take a ferry across the Itabaca Canal. Then it is a road journey to cover the 26 miles to Puerto Ayora, at the town’s docks you take a water taxi just across the bay and then follow a short walking trail (c. 5 minutes) to reach the hotel. Finch Bay has a wonderful beach front location; in fact it is the only beach front hotel in Puerto Ayora. Nicely laid-out, the majority of rooms are reached by wooden walkways that wind around the central gardens. There is a super pool overlooking the sea and spacious dining and lounge areas.

The Finch Bay Hotel

The Finch Bay Hotel

There are 6 Ocean View rooms just to the left of the main building. This hotel is ideal for both land and sea exploration. There are various programmes on offer, ranging from 3 and 4 nights to 7 nights. Yacht excursions run every day except Sunday and Wednesday and other activities include highland tours, a visit to the Twin Pit Craters and the Darwin Research Station. 

Unfortunately there was not enough time for me to join one of the group tours, but I was able to explore the beach and wander along the boardwalk towards the town. A popular walk (c.30 minutes) takes you to the picturesque beach at Tortuga Bay. Here you can often see marine iguanas, Galapagos crabs and many different species of birds. At the end of the beach is a bay which is great for swimming.

The next day it was back to Baltra, but this time to the dock, in order to join a four night cruise on the magnificent Santa Cruz. The ship’s three decks house up to 90 guests, as well as a lounge, bar, dining room and a spacious sun deck, an ideal spot for a sundowner. A safety briefing and drill follows, so that we all know what to do in the event of problems at sea.

After settling in to my cabin (absolutely super with a big picture window), it is time for a delicious buffet lunch in the dining room.

Abbie's Cabin on board Santa Cruz

Abbie’s Cabin on board Santa Cruz

 This afternoon’s excursion takes us to a beautiful beach on the northern shore of Santa Cruz Island. As I take in the white organic beach and turquoise waters, I can’t quite believe I’m here, I feel so lucky to be in such breath-taking surroundings and about to embark on another marvellous adventure!

Iguanas

Iguanas

Over the next few days we see, actually not only see, but get close to and really observe so many species including Galápagos sea-lion, fur sea-lion, Galapagos hawk, oyster catcher, vermillion fly catcher, mockingbird, lava lizard, marine iguana, blue footed booby, frigate bird, brown pelican, yellow crowned night heron, Galápagos penguin, swallow-tailed gull, several species of Darwin’s finches, Nazca boobies, red footed boobies, storm petrels and a short-eared owl. From the boat and snorkelling we see vibrant fish and even a few sea turtle and manta rays.

Sealions on the beach

Sealions on the beach

Each day, different activities were on offer but the general pattern was an activity every morning and afternoon usually consisting of a boat trip and a nature walk, followed by a second activity such as deep-sea snorkelling, an excursion on the glass-bottomed boat, swimming and snorkelling from a beach.

My group, the 'Boobies!'

Abbie’s group, the ‘Boobies!’

More at home in the saddle than in the water I am not particularly fond of very deep water! So I opted to swim and snorkel from the beach, although I know from fellow guests that the deep water snorkelling was also excellent. Building on my snorkelling technique (well lack-of), I went out further each day and the absolute highlight of my time in the Galapagos was snorkelling from Genovesa Island where I was joined in the water by a young sea-lion. I spent nearly an hour in the water observing this young sea-lion as it darted around me, shooting away and then coming back again for a closer look, it was so playful and curious.

One of the Sealions

One of the Sealions

Soon though, we were joined by some much larger dark shapes in the water as two mature sea-lions came to join in the fun…what an amazing experience and something that will surely stay with me for ever.

Abbie enjoying the surroundings

Abbie and Red Footed Booby

Our last night in the Galapagos is kicked off by sunset cocktails on the deck, followed by a delicious gala dinner, slideshow of pictures from the week and karaoke! Next morning it is time to say goodbye to the crew and guides who have shared this magical place with us. 

Saying goodbye to the Galapagos

Saying goodbye to the Galapagos

Look out for the last instalment of Abbie’s Ecuador blog coming soon!

Categories: Equestrian Travel, Ride reviews, Travel advice | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An invitation to celebrate two BIG birthdays in Botswana

Two of our In The Saddle team members, Chris Day and Cathy Holloway, have ‘big’ birthdays coming up in 2014 and have decided to invite passionate travellers and horse riders to join them in the celebrations! The pair of them are marking these milestones by taking a little trip to revisit old haunts and hope to create some fabulous new memories that will travel with them into the next decade!

Where better to celebrate an important birthday than in beautiful Botswana? Often described as the ultimate riding safari trip, a horseback adventure in Botswana promises abundant and varied game, extremely experienced and knowledgeable guides and well-schooled horses! It is no wonder that Chris and Cathy have chosen this destination as their ‘party’ venue!

Chris (left) and Cathy (right) together in the UK with their canine friends Paddy (left) and Inca (right)!

Chris (left) and Cathy (right) together in the UK with their canine friends Paddy (left) and Inca (right)!

Having travelled to Botswana previously, the country has well and truly got under both Chris and Cathy’s skin. They have been taken under the spell of the vast open spaces, beautiful climate and privileged feeling of being in close proximity to some of nature’s most spectacular animals! Now, with the excuse of birthday celebrations, they want others to join them in experiencing the thrill and wonders that Botswana has to offer!

25th – 30th March
Starting separately, from 25th – 30th March, Cathy will be going to Makgadikgadi Pans to explore the remnants of a vast lake that dried up around 1,500 years ago from horseback. What is left is a flat landscape with an immense skyline that appears to go on forever and you will have the opportunity to see shy brown hyaena, some of the largest baobab trees in the world, local meerkat and enjoy walks with bushmen to learn about this fascinating part of Africa. As an additional bonus, in February/March the Makgadikgadi experiences its own migration meaning the landscape should be teeming herds of zebra and wildebeest – a spectacle not to be missed!

Cathy at Makgadikgadi Pans with zebra on the horizon

Cathy at Makgadikgadi Pans with zebra on the horizon

Meanwhile Chris will be at Kujwana. Situated on the banks of the Xudum River in the Okavango Delta, this personal safari has luxury accommodation and is run by PJ and Barney Bestelink who have an intimate knowledge of the wildlife and ecosystems of the Delta, acquired over 25 years. Explore a maze of papyrus lined waterways, meadows and woodland rich in birdlife and game, canter alongside herds of wildebeest and zebra and get up close and personal to Africa at its most beautiful.

Chris at Kujwana on a previous trip

Chris at Kujwana on a previous trip

30th March – 3rd April
Next up will see the pair unite at Motswiri from 30th March – 3rd April. Motswiri is a luxury camp set on the edge of the Selinda Spillway and its positioning enables guests to experience both the open flood plains of the Delta, as well as the contrasting riverine forests. Even if camping has never been on your agenda, the luxurious accommodation at Motswiri will take your breath away – as you watch the wildlife and scenery from your own veranda overlooking the Spillway, you will easily forget the damp chilly British winter and enjoy the feeling of freedom and escape in beautiful Botswana. 

The riding at Motswiri is exciting and exhilarating but there is also the opportunity to enjoy non-equestrian activities such as game walks, game drives and canoe trips – perfect if you are looking to take a non-riding partner along for the adventure!

Cathy enjoying the spectacular scenery at Motswiri

Cathy enjoying the spectacular scenery at Motswiri


3rd – 7th April
Last, but definitely not least, the commemorative trip will draw to a close at Macatoo. Situated on the western side of the Okavango Delta, Macatoo is a luxury bush camp, recently renovated, which offers riders the experience of a lifetime. Riding beautiful, fit and well cared for horses you will enjoy a variety of riding; from an early morning gallop on the plains alongside giraffe or zebra to splashing your way through waterways and tracking elephant as you explore the palm studded islands. This area is known for the ‘big five’ and you can expect to see plenty of giraffe, elephant, buffalo, many species of antelope and even lion.

Chris enjoying an adventure at Macatoo

Chris enjoying an adventure at Macatoo

Any competent rider is invited to join this exciting adventure across Botswana, and help the girls celebrate their birthdays in style! Whether you want to come along for just one element, or the whole journey – we can promise a fun, exciting, and exhilarating trip packed full of one-off experiences, with a wonderful crowd of likeminded people – everything you would expect from any In The Saddle holiday!

To find out more give us a call on 01299 272 997 or drop us an email at rides@inthesaddle.com

Categories: Equestrian Travel, Horses & riding, Riding expeditions, Riding Holidays, Riding safaris, Travel news | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Abbie’s Ecuador Blog: The Colonial Hacienda Ride

In The Saddle’s Abbie Wood recently embarked on adventure to Ecuador – in the first of her three-part-blog she tells us all about exploring the highlights of Quito before joining the Colonial Hacienda Ride

Landing at the new Quito airport, I was met by our ground handlers Metropolitan Touring. During the one and a half hour drive to Quito, I learnt a little of the city’s background. At 2,800 metres, Quito is the highest capital city in the world. Not only this, but it also houses one of the largest and best-preserved historic centres in the Americas. Quito was declared a World Heritage Site in UNESCO in the 1970′s, so there is plenty to see and do. Nestled in the country’s northern highlands, Quito lies on a plateau to the east of the Pichincha Volcano and is flanked by Cotopaxi, Antisana, Cayambe and Sincholagua volcanoes which you can see on a clear day.

After a good rest I was collected the next day for a city tour. Wandering through the colonial town, we visited the impressive ‘La Compañía de Jesus’, a church which has Spanish, Moorish and indigenous influences, and a rather memorable golden interior. Others are less ornate, but no less impressive with huge carved wooden doors and the walls painted to look like they are made of marble! We also see the Archbishop’s Palace and the Cathedral. Later, we drive about 45 minutes outside of Quito to visit the ‘Middle of the World”. There are two options here and most visitors will choose to go to both. The first was constructed in 1982 and contains a monument, the Equator line and a museum about the indigenous ethnography of Ecuador. It has however been discovered that the actual equator is about 240 metres to the north! The other option is the Intiñan Solar Museum, which was built to mark the Equator. There are various exhibits on Ecuadorian culture, as well as demonstrations such as water flowing clockwise and anti-clockwise due to the Coriolis Effect.

Outside the Presidential Palace

Outside the Presidential Palace

The next day it was an early start to travel to the new part of Quito for my transfer to the start of my riding trip. I met my fellow riders at Hotel Sebastian and Sally collected us promptly at 7:30am. We drove for about two hours north towards Otavalo, stopping just outside the town for fresh bizcochos, still warm from the oven, delicious! Continuing on to Otavalo, Sally gave us our bearings and then let us loose on the market! I liked the food section the best, so colourful with its stands selling Lima beans, maize and herbs, with the odd suckling pig or stall selling fried fish. There were many other goods to browse too, from colourful bolts of cloth in bright greens and pinks, to scarves, hats and of course the obligatory poncho. It was such great fun to wander around the market and see what is on offer; it is such a vibrant atmosphere and you can easily while away a few hours.

Otavalo Market

Otavalo Market

After a few hours we were collected and it was a short drive of 10 minutes or so to Hacienda Pinsaqui. This first overnight stop was not far from the Pan-American Highway, although you would never know it by the time you are installed. Hacienda Pinsaqui is a wonderful building, well-furnished with interesting antiques. Our rooms were spacious guest rooms a short distance from the main hacienda, with views of the monkey-puzzle trees in the garden. We enjoyed a delicious lunch of potato soup (fresh cheese and a slice of avocado added just before the soup is poured into the bowl), and then fresh fruit salad of pineapple, papaya, apple with sorbet on top. Usually lunch would be a three course affair, but we were adjusting to the altitude and about to ride and so it was lighter fare than usual. Outside the horses were waiting for us, experienced Henry, dependable Antares, eye-catching Arab gelding Prince and handsome Cyrilo, among others. Sally’s horses are lovely looking, obviously cherished and very well taken care of. Our introductory ride took us across a small stream and out into the neighbouring community. Riding past fields of the biggest cabbages I’ve ever seen, we also saw small houses with smiling children playing outside and wonder at the impressive highland scenery surrounding us.

Cyrilo and Abbie

Cyrilo and Abbie 

Then followed three days of riding in the beautiful northern highlands, riding through villages, where the land is often worked by hand, the family’s cows and pigs tethered nearby. We journeyed through fragrant eucalyptus forests, past fields of lupins and potatoes with their purple flowers and saw a brand new foal born just minutes before our arrival. One of the best days of riding was travelling from Hacienda Cusin to La Merced. Climbing up into the hills and enjoying far reaching views of the farmland and villages below….it is extremely windy, but this only makes the day more exhilarating.

Riding in the Northern Highlands

Riding in the Northern Highlands

We feasted on delicious and wholesome food; palm heart ceviche, quinoa soup, steak and local cheeses. At lunchtime we stopped for saddlebag picnics at a scenic spot and devour sandwiches invigorated with hot sauce, peanuts, three different kinds of passion fruit (one with insides resembling brains, but delicious), cheeses, ham and salami all washed down with coca tea and thimbles of warming vino tinto. Who told us that the altitude is supposed to reduce our appetites?!

One of my favourite overnight stops was La Merced, home to beautiful Andalucian horses bred by Diane and Oswaldo. It was such great fun to wander down the avenue and meet the curious youngsters who peered over the fences at us, so keen for a scratch and a fuss.

Andalucian horses at La Merced

Andalucian horses at La Merced

We visited the bullring and the chapel and just a bit further on, met the mares and their new foals. Before dinner we learnt something of the history of the hacienda and its breeding program. I loved the rooms with squeaky antique beds and stoves in the corner. After a delicious dinner we crept back to our rooms and delighted in finding our stoves lit and our rooms cosy and warm. Character and charm oozed from every part of the hacienda, from the old wooden floorboards, to the family pictures adorning the walls.

In the Zuleta Valley

In the Zuleta Valley

Two days later we headed to our second riding location. After meeting the horses on a rural track, we set off on a long and quite challenging ride in to Cotopaxi National Park. We made our way along steep hillsides (don’t look down!), through gorses and finally up onto the paramo. All those hours in the saddle were worth it for our first up-close glimpse of the impressive Cotopaxi volcano. Our overnight stop was the beautiful Los Mortiños, named for the wild blueberries found nearby.

At Los Mortiños

At Los Mortiños

The next day we had the most exhilarating ride through the national park, with endless canters, pausing by a stream to catch our breath and climbing to the top of a rise to see an ancient Inca fort.

Riding in Cotopaxi National Park

Riding in Cotopaxi National Park

After lunch there were lots more canters, before stopping in at Tambopaxi Lodge for a warming cup of tea. Later, we were lucky enough to glimpse the wild horses, which stopped to stare at us but became timid if we got too close. What a wonderful day of exciting riding in truly the most awe-inspiring and exciting location I have ever been! The Colonial Hacienda ride has been an amazing adventure, full to the brim of expansive landscapes, rich history and great riding.

Riding out of the National Park

Riding out of the National Park

 Look out for the next instalment of my adventure in Ecuador, coming soon! 

Categories: Equestrian Travel, Horses & riding, Ride reviews, Riding expeditions, Riding Holidays, Travel advice | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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