Come to the Riding Holiday Show on 12 December and enter a competition to win a riding holiday at the fabulous Estancia Los Potreros in Argentina. Sadly owners Kevin and Louisa Begg cannot join us at the event, but representing Los Potreros in their absence will be former guides Holly and Georgina.
Here, Kevin and Louisa tell us a little about life on the estancia.
1. How long have you been at Los Potreros?
Kevin: This is my family home and so I have lived here all my life. We have been taking guests for 15 years this time round, although my grannie, Louie Begg, used to take home-stay guests between the late 1940´s and the 1960’s.
Louisa: I came here on holiday with In The Saddle 10 years ago and didn’t go home!
2. Where did you guide and/or ride before this?
Kevin: This is my first time guiding as such, but I have ridden all my life – it is an essential part of growing up on an estancia in Argentina as it is the only practical way to get around and work with cattle. As a young boy I remember my dad, Robert, who still lives on the estancia, making us get up early, go out and fetch the horses, groom them and saddle them up. In those days it felt a bit more like a chore than a pleasure!
Louisa: I have ridden since I was a small girl – my parents gave me the choice of riding lessons or piano lessons which at 6 years old was a relatively easy choice. Through my teenage years I spent every spare moment mucking out stables and cleaning tack in return for riding, and this led to me working for a couple of years in the racing world. Life took me in a different direction after that (although I always kept riding), coincidentally into the hospitality industry, which has stood me in very good stead in the ten years that I have been here. Kevin always says that he checked my CV before asking me to marry him!
3. How did you get into guiding/riding? Was there someone who inspired you?
Kevin: Actually, it was my brother Robin who originally had the idea of re-starting the estancia as a riding holiday business. I had been working in Spain but was posted back to Argentina with my work and when they decided to close their offices in Buenos Aires I decided to stay – I felt I had come home. Robin asked me to come up to the estancia to help out with a few rides and 12 years on I’m still here. Now Robin has gone on to other things and Lou and I have been running the guest and cattle business for over 10 years now.
Louisa: I had always dreamed that one day I would have some form of job that would base me mainly outdoors, but really again I blame In The Saddle! I had a week off between 2 jobs, had been on an amazing riding holiday with them in Chile some years before and they suggested Los Potreros. I came here for a week and mentioned to Kevin that if he ever wanted a manager for the guest/guiding business I would be interested; it combined my service industry experience with my passion for animals and riding. I never imagined my dream would become a reality.
4. If you hadn’t stayed at Los Potreros, what was your Plan B?
Kevin: I had always thought that one day I would come back to the family farm. Aside from the riding holiday business, we have an extremely successful cattle business, each year winning prizes at auction for highest price and best animals. I am really keen to develop the herd further, based on the amazing foundation work that my father and grandmother did.
Louisa: I had worked in the service industry all my life in one form or another, and before I came to Los Potreros I had set my sights on another 5 years of a ‘proper’ job, before looking to buy a little B&B business possibly in Devon or Wales, with the idea that I would be able to spend more time riding and being outdoors. Nowadays, if I couldn’t guide I think Kev is resigned to the fact that I would turn the estancia into a rescue home for horses/dogs/cats and probably a few other animals besides. We have already collected a few of each along the way.
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?
Kevin: For me it is such a privilege to have found a job that allows me to live on my family estancia. One of my passions is sharing with guests the history of my family and the area, the traditions and culture of the gaucho and some of the stories of Argentina. I also love taking guests out to visit the cattle on horseback as I am very proud of the herd. Although it is wonderful having so many horses, cattle and other animals unfortunately they don’t know when it is your day off, and so sometimes the main downside is that it really is a 24/7 job.
Louisa: There is just nothing better than being able to ride out in our beautiful scenery on the back of one of our lovely horses every day. I love a good gallop as much as the next person, but I particularly enjoy helping people build their confidence on horseback, or introducing people to riding or polo who never thought they could do it. This year we had a couple in their 70’s who had never ridden in their lives, and in their first ride I had them cantering over the hills as I can put my trust completely in the horses. In terms of downsides, I am a person who wears their emotions on their sleeve, and as a riding guide you can never have a ‘bad’ day. This is really hard, especially if for example one of the animals is poorly and you have to carry on as though nothing has happened.
6. What is the name of your favourite horse? And if they were a human, who would he/she be and why?
Kevin: I enjoy riding all of our horses but I have a special fondness for a homebred Peruvian Paso called Negro 11. He is in his early 20’s now so there is nothing he hasn’t seen or done. He has a very noble air about him, and carries himself beautifully, so he would probably be some sort of conqueror or hero – maybe Alexander the Great?
Louisa: I can honestly say that out of our 140 horses I don’t have a favourite – they are all wonderful and brilliant in their own way. I do however often chat with the back-up guides about if ‘this horse was a human what would they be’ and we have a supermodel, everyone’s favourite uncle, an investment banker, a princess, some Barbie girls and a ‘boy at school that all the girls wanted to be with and all the boys were jealous of’ to name but a few!
7. What can you not live without (when guiding or just generally)?
Kevin: Malbec and beef – I am Argentine after all!
Louisa: My border collies (currently I have 6) and horses in the garden. Both are guaranteed to bring a smile to my face every day.
8. What has been your most memorable ride?
Kevin: A few years ago I took a long distance trail ride with 5 ladies of ‘a certain age’. We stopped at some beautiful pools for lunch and a swim, and the ladies decided to strip off completely and recreate a ‘calendar girls’ type photo. Not something I will forget in a hurry – nor will the gaucho!
Louisa: So many, so very hard to pick one out, but possibly the first time I rode out on my little Peruvian Paso mare, Aurora. There is just nothing like a home-bred horse – following the foal through his or her early years, and training, and probably a few dramas and heartaches in between, until they are ‘ride ready’. She has a very exaggerated front leg action and is as pretty as a picture, so being honest I probably was enjoying the chance to show off a bit!
9. How do you relax after a day in the saddle?
Kevin: A glass of Malbec – did I mention I am Argentine?
Louisa: My favourite de-stresser would be either spending time with the foals, or more recently we bought a pair of Nigerian pygmy goats. They are just the cutest things, incredibly cheeky, and very funny. Sometimes we take a glass of wine down and sit with them – guaranteed to make you laugh.
10. What advice would you give a 21 year old who wants to train for your job?
Kevin: Work hard at whatever you do – it will stand you in good stead for a guiding job. The riding itself is wonderful, but never forget there is a lot of hard work that goes in before the ride, after the ride and behind the scenes, and so developing a good work ethic is vital.
Louisa: Coming from a background in the hospitality industry I would definitely remind people that guiding is a service business, so any experience they can gain in terms of working with people will be time valuably spent. Sometimes you may have to manage people in difficult situations, handle group dynamics, be sensitive to individual guests needs or just be able to chat along happily on the ride. In terms of riding and horses, get as much experience of different horses, environments, riding styles as you can. Your dream may be to ride dressage in Portugal, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider a season as a polo groom. Never stop learning and soak up information from as many different people as possible. And definitely keep an open mind – there is never just one way of doing something and you, your horses and your guests will ultimately benefit the more open your mindset is.
11. Where do you go on holiday?
Kevin: We have one month off a year but have no fixed destination. In recent years we have been to Brazil, Spain, Mexico and the United States. I do like to spend at least part of our holidays somewhere where we get great service – it is very nice to be looked after, when you spend 11 months of the year looking after other people.
Louisa: I always go back to the UK once a year to visit family and friends, but other than that we tend to go somewhere different every year. We do like to be active so often do some driving and of course I always like to ride, although Kevin sometimes takes some persuading. We have ridden with In The Saddle guides Shane and Laura at Horizon in South Africa, John Sobey at Macatoo in Botswana and Paulo in Brazil. This year we are hoping to visit Eddy in Peru to try out some of his fabulous Peruvian Pasos.
Many thanks to Kevin and Louisa for sharing an insight into life at Los Potreros.
You can meet former Los Potreros guides Holly and Georgina 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.