The Riding Holiday Show on 12 December will be full to the brim with talented and experienced riding guides from around the world. Here, we have an article by Susan from Akhal-Teke Horse Center in Turkey.
1. How long have you been guiding in Turkey?
2. Where did you guide and ride before this?
I grew up in southern Africa where I learned how to ride on retired race horses and polo ponies. We had a lot of wild places at our disposal and as children we would spend all our spare time exploring the bushveldt on horse-back. Even though I later bought a horse in the US and decided I needed to learn how to ride ‘properly’ I was always happiest thinking about where I could actually go on a horse.
3. How did you get into guiding and riding? Was there someone who inspired you?
I had gotten away from riding as I was living in New York city and working in the publishing field. Occasionally in a fit of nostalgia, I would rent a horse and ride in Central Park but the ‘fire cracker’ went off again when I took a 6 month sabbatical and did my first multi-day trek with David and Robyn Foot on the Nyika Plateau in Malawi.
After that I was hooked and started to ride all over the world from India to all over South America, Europe and Africa until I eventually found my way to Turkey and met Ercihan Dilari, the owner of the riding outfit. We became firm friends and as we rode, talked of riding Akhal Teke horses from Turkmenistan to Turkey. It was a crazy dream but I realized that we were both a bit obsessed with long distance horse travel. We stayed friends over the years and I would return to ride and got to know his family and the outfit quite well. It was however in 2009 when we rode the Evliya Celebi Way that we really came together as a couple and I started helping him with the rides. It has been an incredible journey.
4. If you hadn’t become a riding guide and owner, what was your Plan B?
I have always been involved in photo journalism and photography in general so I also work as a photo editor for a news magazine when I am not guiding. It is fun being engaged in different activities, specially in the off-season.
5. People coming on a riding holiday often think you have the ideal job – what do you love about it? And what are the downsides?
I think it is one of the most wonderful jobs, sharing one’s environment on horseback. I love the fact that I can meet people from all over the world and that many of these contacts turn into friendships. I also love the bonds that are formed with our horses and with our staff as we embark on a journey together with our guests. It is an extraordinary and exhilarating experience and you don’t want to be doing anything else. The only real downside is that I can’t control the weather!
6. What is the name of your favourite horse? And if they were a human, who would he/she be and why?
My favorite horse is Juno, a small, unassuming Arabian/Anatolian mare who was a gift from Ercihan. We believe that she might have started life as a wild horse, living with a herd at the base of Mt. Erciyes, one of the volcanoes responsible for the Cappadocian landscape. Juno has a huge heart and has generously carried me over this often challenging landscape for several years now. A clever, tough and resourceful mountain horse. She is like that ‘little engine that could…”.
Despite her daintiness and to the dismay of others, she has competed with me very successfully in endurance competitions and last year, she helped me fulfill my dream of riding 1,000 km from Cappadocia to Istanbul. I think that travelling with your horse over great distances creates the most extraordinary of bonds. You are adventuring together.
7. What can you not live without (when guiding or just generally)?
I can’t unfortunately live without my cell phone anymore. There are so many things to organize and ‘double-check’ as you go. It is annoying but necessary if you want a smooth
8. What has been your most memorable ride?
There are of course so many stories but one memorable guest was an ‘Iron Woman’ finalist from America. She signed up for a camping trip ride and we had long days in the saddle. Every morning at dawn, before we had even stuck our noses out of our tents she was just returning from a 10km run. We would then ride about 35km and then after untacking our horses after an exhausting day, collapse with a cold beer. This lady would not be seen because she would head back to her tent to get into her exercise gear and proceed to scale the next highest mountain. We were in awe.
9. How do you relax after a day in the saddle?
I like nothing more than going to the Turkish Baths in Ürgüp, one of the villages in the area. I would be happy to go every night and I always take guests with me. After a cleaning and a massage you feel like new. It is a fun way of connecting with guests away from the horses and the dinner table.
10. What advice would you give a 21 year old who wants to train for your job?
Make sure that as you train, that you also develop your interests beside the riding, and that you always remain curious and enjoy engaging with people. One of the finest young guides I met once was a young man who could share so much about the history and culture of his country. It was enthralling. Be fascinated yourself and this will make the whole experience so much more meaningful for you and for your guests. Also don’t be frightened about living in remote places and be content living a disciplined and simple life. It is not for the faint-hearted.
11. Where do you go on holiday?
I am really addicted to travelling on horseback so I always find an interesting new places to ride in, usually very much off the beaten-track. As a guide I also find it really helpful to see how other outfits manage their treks and also see things from a guest’s perspective. I hope that it has made me more sensitive to the needs and concerns of our guests.
Thank you Susan for some fantastic images and another interesting article. Olwen and the team look forward to seeing you in a few weeks’ time.
You can meet Susan from Turkey at the Riding Holiday Show in London on 12 December 2015. Space at the venue is limited so you must obtain a ticket in advance. The event takes place at the Royal Overseas League in SW1 just off Piccadilly from 10 am to 6 pm.
38 different riding destinations will be represented at the Riding Holiday Show. All part of the In The Saddle portfolio of worldwide riding holidays.