horse riding

I Left my Heart in the Namib Desert

In this blog entry Abbie from In The Saddle tells us about her trip to Namibia earlier this year.

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A blog is something I do when I return from a trip, to summarise and recount amazing horsey adventures in far off lands. But I’ve been putting off writing this one. Why? Because writing a blog means the trip is over, as if stamping the experience with a definitive “The End”, and if I’m honest I don’t really want to do that.

The Namib Desert Ride is more than a riding holiday, more than the sum of its parts – fast riding, camping and long days in the saddle – it is an experience like no other. I’ll tell you all about it, and although I am sad it is over, I’m sure I will enjoy reliving the most incredible adventure I’ve ever had.

When I last visited Namibia in 2012 I fell in love with the wide open spaces, a nothingness which has to be seen to be believed. The vast plains and endless horizons seem to encourage you to take time out from everyday life and just stop, and breathe, and take it all in. What stayed with me particularly was being in the desert, the feeling of freedom above the deep red soil and below the bright blue skies. I simply couldn’t wait to get back to the Namib Desert, where mile upon mile of open space seems to call you – it has to be the ultimate place for limitless canters.

PIC 1 Endless canters

Namibia – the perfect place for limitless canters

In August I travelled to Namibia to cross the oldest desert in the world on horseback. The Namib Desert route is one of In The Saddle’s more challenging rides, encompassing a journey on horseback of some 320km from close to the desert oasis of Solitaire to Swakopmund on the fierce Atlantic coast. Ever since I joined In The Saddle back in 2006 I’ve been dying to do this ride and when the opportunity came up I literally jumped (up and down) at the chance!

Our riding group meets for the first time at River Crossing, a comfortable guesthouse on the outskirts of Windhoek. We are twelve riders in total, from France, England, South Africa and Denmark. About half the group have their own horses, but everyone has ridden for many years and all are experienced in the saddle. Our guide Andrew Gillies meets us at 17:00 for the ride briefing. After a thorough run through of ride safety and the signals Andrew will use to chance pace, we begin to relax and look forward to the adventure ahead. Over a cool gin and tonic we introduce ourselves and Andrew asks us what sort of riders we are and what we look for in a horse. Requests vary from “fast and spirited” and “fun and forward-going” to “easy to stop”. It is this information along with the details from travel companies like In The Saddle that Andrew and Telane use to allocate horses. A delicious three course evening meal and plenty of wine awaits, before early to bed after a long day of travelling.

The next day we are up early for our transfer to our first campsite at Ababis. It is a journey of about four hours and we spot oryx, springbok, baboons and secretary bird along the way. We stop at a viewpoint on the way and Andrew points out where we are going to be riding in the days to come. The incredible view heightens our excitement as we imagine the journey ahead – think of the amazing views, the adventure, the endless canters – we cannot wait! The sheer open space and lack of people will take some getting used to…whether you come from busy London or rural Shropshire.

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The viewpoint – taking in the vast desert landscape

We reach camp around midday and are met by Phoebe, Telane and Kim. The team take it in turns as back-up guide, but on this particular trip we are in the very capable hands of Kim from Germany who is on her third stint as volunteer. Kim is great fun to ride with and clearly loves her forays into the wilderness of Namibia. Phoebe is a constant beacon of fun and positivity. Cheerfully waving us off each day and then racing against the clock with the back-up crew to set up the lunch spot or the next campsite whilst at the same time preparing mouth-watering meals – she accomplishes so much that we begin to wonder whether she has an identical twin!

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“Phoebe’s Food Truck” – always a welcome sight

Telane, biologist and wild horse researcher, is in charge of the horses’ welfare. During the trip Telane is more often found with the horses than the humans, as she carefully checks them for sore spots, lameness and other ailments. I was fascinated to hear that when she meets a guest for the first time Telane will often ‘see’ a horse. For example when she met Claire on our trip, Telane ‘saw’ Lavoca. This was a great match as throughout the week Claire rode her horse with great sensitivity and I loved seeing them at a speedy canter weaving in and out between other riders, eager to get to the front, a big smile on both their faces!

Pic 4 Claire and Lavoca Joes pic

Claire and Lavoca – a perfect match (image courtesy of Joe Davies)

Next we are given a run through of what to do when we reach camp each evening. The horses are un-tacked, allowed to roll and led to water. Then they are left to dry and are brushed off later (we usually do this whilst waiting in the shower queue). Then we can take a stretcher bed, bedroll and bag to a spot of our choice, be it beside a tree, next to the horses or close to the campfire. The bedroll (each one named after animal species such as rhino, bush pig and impala so they don’t get mixed up) is ours for the duration of the ride and encompasses a sleeping mat, feather duvet and two pillows all tucked inside a waterproof and windproof canvas swag. The duvets are incredibly warm even if the pesky east wind is blowing, although there are extra blankets to use if you feel the cold.

After a lunch of oryx skewers, stuffed peppers, salad and fresh bread it is back on the road again as we travel the 150km to the famous red dunes of Sossusvlei. Andrew tells us about the different types of dunes. These dunes at Sossusvlei differ from those in the Kalahari because they are dynamic, ever-shifting in the wind and taking on a variety of shapes. We kick off our shoes and climb Dune 45, a few of us happy to go part of the way up and then sit and take in the view, whilst others climb right to the top. It is just beautiful.

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Karien taking in the view at Sossusvlei

Returning to camp we have time to de-sand ourselves with a hot shower before dinner. We are spoilt this evening as we are eased into camp life, for tonight we have hot running water and flush loos. There is much giggling over the ‘mini-Sossusvlei’ left in the shower by a fellow rider – how on earth did she manage to get that much sand into her shoes and still walk?! Making my way back to my stretcher after a shower I make the mistake of hanging my towel to dry on a nearby tree…only the following morning do I realise I’ve used a camelthorn tree and it takes a while to extract my towel from its fierce spikes!

Today’s the day – we get to meet our horses and set off on our desert adventure. There is Marnie a sweet grey Arab mare, Xerox the ‘photocopier’ horse, speedy Sundown, the chestnut ‘pocket rocket’ whose speed has to be seen to be believed, Titan a handsome dun gelding, fast and spirited Raven, front-runner Zarron, well-mannered Coco and my own diminutive ‘black Philip’. He was in many ways exactly what I’d asked for (small and straightforward), but he was also so much more than this; I cherished his professionalism, sweet temper and polite enthusiasm from start to finish.

Pic 6 Philip and I

Philip – the perfect gentleman

After a hearty breakfast it is time for a saddling demonstration. The horses are groomed and tacked-up with an incredible level of care, which is continued throughout the ride. After the usual first-day adjusting of stirrups and saddles we set off towards the oasis town of Solitaire about 15km away. The horses are keen, but controllable except perhaps Raven and Joe’s first horse, each having their own ideas about the speed we should be going at. At one point Joe disappears off in front at a purposeful but unintentional canter, only to double back at great speed heading straight for us. A swift bridle change makes little difference, so a horse change is quickly carried out instead – much better, and well ridden Joe. At Solitaire we enjoy a delicious lunch of quiche and salad, followed by the bakery’s famous apple crumble – yum. A further c. 15km ride in the afternoon takes us to the first of our beautiful wilderness camps, Koireb, nestled in a dry riverbed.

Over the next few days we settle into the wonderful rhythm of camp life. Literally we eat, sleep, ride and repeat. It is priceless, absolute bliss, as if you are in a little bubble where it is only your fellow riders, your guides, the back-up team and your horses and it feels almost as though your normal, everyday life doesn’t even exist.  The day begins with Zarron’s high-pitched whinny and the call of the French rooster. We wake up each morning and watch dawn creep onto the horizon, getting dressed as quickly as possible in the cool of the morning. That first cup of tea and a rusk has never been so delicious as you gather your riding gear and break down your little camping spot. Breakfast is taken around the fire, and then perhaps there is time to snatch a quiet moment with your horse before the adventures of the day begin.

PIC 7 Philip eating marmite on toast pheobe's pic

A quiet moment with Philip (image courtesy of Namibia Horse Safaris)

Each day we set off to journey through amazingly diverse desert scenery, cantering across the plains with oryx on one side and zebra on the other. We enjoy a cold Savannah cider and lunch in the shade, before setting off again for more incredible canters and gallops across the open terrain. We arrive in camp, un-tack and let the horses roll and drink, before sipping a cool G&T whilst grooming the horses. Then a quick bucket shower to wash away the red-brown dust of the desert.

Pic 8 Grooming the horses at sunset

Ganab camp – Phoebe grooming the horses at sunset

Each evening Andrew gathers us around the fire saying ‘Dearly Beloved’ and outlines the plan for the following day. Each day is different and yet filled with the same magical ingredients of good company, incredible riding and thrilling gallops; the only thing that seems to remain the same is that “breakfast is at seven”! After a delicious two course meal we go to bed each night feeling nicely weary and drift off to sleep playing ‘join the dots’ with constellations or counting shooting stars in the amazing inky-black African sky.

Pic 9 night sky courtesy of Tony Marshall

The Namib night sky (image courtesy of Tony Marshall)

One day we are doing some LSD (Long Slow Distance – Andrew’s term for a steady canter) and Andrew stops us all, saying he can see something unusual ahead. So we approach slowly and to our disbelief, there in the middle of the day is an aardvark! He is so intent on his quest for termites that he seems oblivious to our presence and we sit and watch him for ten minutes or so. We edge closer and closer until finally he spots us and darts away in confusion.

PIC 10 Aardvark

An unusual sighting – an aardvark out in the daytime

Another day we are not far from camp and during a canter, our guide takes us on a winding route through bushes and low trees as the sun starts to fade. Before we know it we are out in open ground again and in front of us, as if by magic are three giraffe. What a wonderful sight to end another incredible day in the desert (although Coco is not a fan and is still snorting by the time we reach camp!).

PIC 11 Three giraffe

Spotting three giraffe – the perfect end to an incredible day

One day the group splits off into pairs and has ‘wacky races’ along vehicle tracks which make for perfect going. A day or so later we canter across grassy plains so vividly green after the calcrete plains we have just crossed and then we’re invited to let loose, whoop it up and let loose our inner cowboys as we set off at a roaring gallop. My horse Philip is wonderful and tries so hard, but he’s not the fastest horse in the world. We set off feeling good, galloping well, but are soon enveloped in a huge billow of dust as those with more impressive turns of speak streak past us. Quite literally streaking in the case of Ben, whose wardrobe seems to be in a permanent state of malfunction, shirt undone and chest showing!

On our longest riding day from Ganab to Marble Mountain, we ride 40km before lunch and our 20km afternoon ride is one of my most memorable. The entire late afternoon ride takes us along sandy plains of perfect going and we ride towards the sinking sun,  literally riding off into the sunset – magical. During a long canter, Joe who has been part of the ‘rear guard’ until now suddenly storms to the front of the group, taking most of the others with him and setting off an impromptu cavalry charge – whoops!

It is incredible to be cantering along in the remote Namib Desert hearing only your horse’s breathing and the beat of his canter. At one point the evening light and the dust begins playing tricks on me, making it look as though the horse in front is in fact cantering towards me – eerie.

Pic 12 riding into the sunset izzys pic

Riding into the sunset (image courtesy of Izzy Crane)

On Day 6 the landscape takes a dramatic change and ahead of us lies a real challenge; crossing the Kuiseb Canyon. It was here that geologists Hermann Korn and Henno Martin went into hiding during the Second Wold War, as told in the book ‘The Sheltering Desert’. We ride into the badlands where we have an amazing sighting of a magnificent lone zebra who is really intrigued by us. Then we make a technical descent down steep terraces leading our horses on foot.

PIC 13 Descending into the Kuiseb Canyon

Descending into the Kuiseb (image courtesy of Namibia Horse Safaris)

After watering the horses and a quick picnic lunch, it is time to begin our climb out of the canyon. From the base of the canyon the climb looks impossible, but the horses, guides and back-up team are incredible as they clamber across sheer rock and make light work of the steep, rocky ascent.

PIC 14 Karen and Sundown climb out of the Kuiseb Izzy's pic

Karen & Sundown climbing out of the Kuiseb (image courtesy of Izzy Crane)

We make it to Aruvlei our next camp by mid-afternoon, in plenty of time for a fabulous sun downer in celebration of surviving the Kuiseb.

Pic 15 Celebratory Sundowners after surviving the Kuiseb

Mariette & Gill – sundowners at Aruvlei

As our adventure begins to come to a close we make our way up the Swakop River, the energy seems to change and the horses are on edge a little. Perhaps they can sense their journey is almost over? We have wonderful canters along the dry riverbed and gaze up at the rock formations on either side.

PIC 16 Riding up the Swakop River

The Swakop River – riding towards civilisation

On the way to our last stop on the trail we pause for a break under the shade of a tree and notice that the ground underfoot looks like huge fish scales, crunching underfoot.

PIC 17 Fish scales Rebecca's pic

The Swakop riverbed looks like huge fish scales (image courtesy of Rebecca Hast)

Signs of civilisation begin to appear, a house, a fence, dogs barking; it seems so strange after having been isolated in the desert for ten days.

Our final ride is bittersweet, we’ve nearly done it, but we don’t want it to end. An idea circulates about heading north when we get to Swakopmund, riding up the coast to explore Damaraland and then on to Etosha, before turning south and heading back to Windhoek. Then having a little rest and doing some washing before riding south to see the Wild Horses and then on to explore the Fish River Canyon. What an adventure that would be…shall we start planning?!

As we ride towards Swakopmund we cross a railway and a few roads, before passing towering dunes and then we catch our first sight of the Atlantic Ocean. Our incredible Namibian adventure ends with a final thrilling gallop along the beach at Swakopmund, champagne corks popping as we reach the end of the beach.

It has been a wonderful ten days, full to the brim with adrenaline-fueled gallops, wonderful company, amazing food, ever-changing landscapes, dust, sunshine, and incredible game. We’ve laughed, we’ve cried and we’ve finally fulfilled our dream of crossing the Namib Desert. As Joe put it so eloquently in his thank you speech to Andrew and the team, “we’ve ridden like hell and eaten like horses”.

PIC18 We_ve done it

We did it – arriving into Swakopmund

So there it is, I’ve finally faced it and written my blog. I now have to write “The End” and admit that my adventure is over. But what will keep me going is the hope that one day I’ll return to the wide open plains of Namibia, where friends are made, challenges are met and the memories last until the call of the wilderness becomes too strong to resist.

The End

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As well as this adventurous ride crossing the Namib Desert, In The Saddle also features other challenging trail rides in Namibia including the Damara Elephant Safari, Desert Canyons Safari and Wolwedans to Wild Horses.

If you’d like to find out more about our Namibian rides, please contact Abbie on +44 1299 272 239 or email abigail@inthesaddle.com

Categories: Equestrian Travel, horse riding, Horses & riding, in the saddle, Riding expeditions, Riding Holidays, riding holidays africa, riding holidays namibia, Riding safaris | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ecuador – “One of the Best”

In this edition of GG Journeys, In The Saddle guest Vivien Gwynne-Howell tells us about her recent adventure in Ecuador. Out of more than 23 riding holidays, Vivien rates our Colonial Haciendas ride as one of the best she’s done – high praise indeed for this wonderful country!

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Vivien says, “I decided to book a riding holiday (Colonial Haciendas ride) in Ecuador which was a country I initially knew little about. However, having returned from there, I think it was one of the best riding holidays I have ever been on. The two areas I visited are so beautiful (the northern and the central highlands) and the riding holiday itself was fab. The first few days were spent in the pastoral mountains and valleys of the northern highlands, riding along country tracks and across steep slopes used for a multitude of farming crops. We saw a condor soaring on the first day’s riding! Any rough patch of land between the fields was usually occupied by a cow, a pig or a horse, all looking really healthy and in good condition, calmly watching us passing by on horseback. The Ecuadorians working in the fields were friendly and looked amazing wearing their brightly coloured clothes, complete with trilbies, going about their day-to-day work.

Ecuador Girls

In the Northern Highlands you get a taste of what rural Ecuadorian life is like

The second part of the holiday was spent in Cotopaxi National park in the central highlands, riding around the volcanic terrain. This was my favourite region for riding. The scenery was absolutely stunning, surrounded by four volcanoes, rock faces, rivers, waterfalls, open plains, snow-capped Cotopaxi etc..etc..

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Cotopaxi National Park, where this conical peak dominates the skyline

As a Geography geek, I was in my element, immersed in a region marked by glacial and volcanic evidence, each of the four volcanoes seeming to generate its own weather system. Despite this, we had great weather and never got wet apart from a few drops of rain at the end of Day 5.

paramo riding Ride Andes

Riding up into the paramo (high Andes)

There were also several herds of wild horses on the plains that were curious about us and would inspect us from a distance – there was one magical moment where we were able to canter along beside them which was absolutely beautiful and I will never forget the experience.

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Curious wild horses in Cotopaxi National Park

Before I left home, I was initially a bit apprehensive about the high altitude and whether I would struggle with it. However I need not have worried. Sally, my guide, managed the ride very professionally. It was planned with slowly increasing altitude, giving enough time to acclimatise and with regular reminders to keep sipping water and having small meals and regular snacks (so as not to overload the digestive system with big meals). It worked, and I was not affected at all apart from occasional mild breathlessness at the highest points.

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This ride is high in parts, but designed so that you can acclimatise to the altitude gradually

The horses we rode were superb. All very healthy and happy, well-schooled and much loved. I rode a selection that were all responsive and behaved beautifully. Difficult to choose but my favourite was Capuli who gave me some wonderful smooth canters across the Cotopaxi plains (I could have spent weeks there). The saddles were incredibly comfortable, covered in sheepskins and I had no aches at all to contend with.

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The handsome and smooth-gaited Capuli

The food was delicious and so full of flavour, a testament to the fertile volcanic soil that the crops grew in. It was a relatively simple fare but tasted amazing (especially the tomatoes and avocados).

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Locro de papa soup – delicious

Outside of riding, we had a trip to Otavalo market and also visited some traditional weavers that created some beautiful scarves, blankets etc using a completely manual method. Absolutely fascinating, and I came away with a brightly coloured scarf (they have a small shop where you can buy their creations).

CH day 2 & haciendas short, Ride Andes

During the ride we visited a weaver’s workshop

The haciendas we stayed in were wonderful. Most were very traditional with lots of history, my favourite of these being La Merced in the Zuleta valley which is a working dairy farm, plus the owners breed Andalucians and their herd and stallions were lovely to watch (such a beautiful breed).

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The very lovely La Merced, home to gorgeous Andalucian horses

The hacienda I stayed at in Cotopaxi (Los Mortinos) was modern but built very tastefully and in a fab location with stunning views of Cotopaxi (my second favourite hacienda!).

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Los Mortinos, with Cotopaxi behind

Sally is a great guide. With immense knowledge of Ecuador and its history, I learnt so much from her. Sally’s horses are a real credit to her and the ride itself was organised very well. I also enjoyed the company of the two volunteers Marie and Josh who were very nice to ride with.

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Guide Sally, aboard her horse Annemeike (photo credit: Tony Marshall)

All in all, it was a great holiday. Ecuador was absolutely beautiful and amazing to see from the back of a horse. I would massively recommend it as a place to ride.

Thanks very much to In The Saddle for organising the holiday….now have to start thinking where to go next!

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Many thanks to Vivien for this super insight into riding in Ecuador. We are so glad you enjoyed your trip. If you’d like to find out more about our Colonial Haciendas, Andean Adventure and Volcanoes & Vistas rides please contact Abbie on +44 1299 272 239 or email abigail@inthesaddle.com

Categories: Equestrian Travel, horse riding, Horses & riding, in the saddle, Ride reviews, Riding Holidays, riding in ecuador, Riding in the Andes | Leave a comment

Big Adventures on the Big Rivers Ride

In this blog post we hear from In The Saddle guest Sarah Grant, who was part of an intrepid group of riders who undertook the adventurous Big Rivers ride in June 2017.

This exploratory ride journeyed into the Caprivi strip, Namibia’s tropical paradise whose borders are determined by several big rivers. The charm of this area is that it is a corridor for game moving between Botswana, Zambia and Angola. This extraordinary area of biodiversity is in contrast to Namibia’s normally arid landscape. In summer the floodwaters spill out over the riverbanks onto the wide open plains of Linyanti and Liambezi, much like the Okavango does in Botswana.

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“We are riding alongside a wide stretch of water somewhere in the Caprivi, North Eastern Namibia, shortly before sunset. It’s the first day of the 2017 Exploratory Ride, an annual ride that Andrew Gillies of the Namibia Horse Safari Company runs each year, to explore somewhere new in the vast nothingness that is Namibia. It’s a chance to go somewhere that no one has gone before on a horse, but be prepared for the unexpected…

Back to the first day. Setting off from our first camp on the Kwando River, we’ve had a happy day getting used to our horses (mine, Big Red, is an honest, friendly red chestnut gelding, quite powerful and a bit cheeky), getting used to each other (a group of 11 riders from 6 different countries, all of whom have ridden with Andrew at least once and in some cases many times), and getting used to two constant features of the ride – the many herds of cattle herded by the local ethnic groups, with their rather fearsome horns, and the crowds of excited children, who follow us shouting with excitement at seeing 15 riders and 19 horses suddenly appear in their village.

who is herding who

Who’s herding who?

Now, with the sun slipping close to the horizon, I am secretly thinking: shouldn’t we be at camp by now? Time for sundowners perhaps? “No problem,” says our guide, Andrew, consulting the GPS, “it’s only 5km away.” Until we find a wide water channel, inconveniently placed between the camp and us. With virtually no daylight left, and no way round, the order is issued: “Swim the horses across! Bring the old campaigners first!” I’ll be the first to admit, swimming a horse I don’t know across a channel that may or may not have crocs in virtual darkness is not my perfect idea of an end to the first day, but there was nothing to do except point Big Red at the river, and hope for the best.

Expect the Unexpected

A river crossing at dusk – on an exploratory ride you have to expect the unexpected

We did all make it across, and we made it to our camp, tired, soaking wet but high on the adventure of it. Red usually crosses the Namib Desert, but he swam across that channel like it was second nature, and earned my respect and gratitude. We spent the evening futilely trying to dry boots and blankets around the fire, and cheerfully recounting the adventure.

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The handsome Big Red

This is my first Exploratory Ride with renowned guide Andrew Gillies. I went on the Namib Desert ride last October, which was an incredible, unforgettable experience. Only a few months later I’m back for more.

This is what life on safari should be all about, wonderful company, living close to the earth and time for those quiet moments alone, just you and your horse. Big River Safari, Caprivi,

What life on safari is all about…those quiet moments alone with your horse

The Exploratory Ride goes to a new area each year, although there is a recce trip some months before by vehicle. So when the ride heads off the road, it really is across open country, navigating by landmarks and GPS. You do need to be prepared for things to not go according to plan. When Andrew and Phoebe did the recce trip in November 2016, they found the Linyanti floodplains full of buffalo. When we got there on the fifth day of our trip, the floodplains were covered in three metre high reeds, towering over our and the horses’ heads. We spent hours pushing through them. Andrew had to resort to the simple navigation technique of standing on his horse’s saddle to try and see where we should be going.

CROP 4 who needs gps anyway (thanks to Clare and Jenn Lawson)

Who needs GPS anyway? (Thanks to Clare and Jenn Lawson for the image)

Andrew & co are fantastic at these rides. They have an amazing back-up team that bring food and water (for horses and humans) plus tents and bed-rolls and loos and showers and many other comforts for life in the bush. On most of the Namibian rides you sleep under the stars, but on this ride we had tents due to riding through areas populated with large predators. The horses were guarded by night, with their picket line surrounded by the rest of the camp and fires which were kept going through the night in lion areas.

This is what life on safari should be all about, wonderful company, living close to the earth and time for those quiet moments alone, just you and your horse. Big River Safari, Caprivi,

Savouring the simple routine of camp life, with great company

Camp life is refreshing in its simplicity. I wake each dawn to the sound of the horses on the picket line calling for their breakfast. My first thought is to get coffee (I’m addicted), which never tastes better than from a metal mug with a rusk as the sun rises. Breakfast is in the circle of camp chairs around the fire before grooming my horse and taking it to where the tack is stored on a long tarpaulin, secretly hoping to get some help from our guides, Andrew and Telane, as I find the saddles so heavy.

5 beautiful Namibia at daybreak

Beautiful Namibia at daybreak

We are riding about 30km a day, from the start at the Kwando River to the final camp at Mutoya on the Zambezi. The going varies, between long stretches of open bush (or ‘veldt’), small areas cultivated by the locals, scrub, floodplains and woodlands. There are many shouts of ‘holes!’ (belonging to aardvarks) and ‘thorns!’ (the ‘wait a little bit’ bush). Where we can, we make up distance by doing some of Andrew’s famous LSD – Long Slow Distance – at a steady canter along the road shoulder. There can be anything from elephants or zebras crossing, to villagers greeting you, to lorries sounding their horn right by your horse (thank you Red for only shying a bit).

6 one of many water crossings

One of the many river crossings

When we reach camp, the first thing is to see to the horses. They are un-tacked, allowed to roll and taken for water. Then they are put on their allocated place on the picket line and fed.

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Walking the horses the final few hundred metres into camp at the end of the day

Later they will be groomed and fed again, and Andrew and Telane, will do the ‘ward round’ to check for any sore backs or other ailments. Once they are seen to, the bar will be open – G&Ts (with ice, even here) and Windhoek beers all round. Then find your tent, have a shower, have some delicious food that is incredible considering where we are, and chew the fat until bed.

horses enjoying a cool off

The horses enjoying a roll and a drink at the end of the day

The joy of these rides is the freedom. It’s hard to put into words the immense nothingness of Namibia. It’s beautiful. Seeing it from a horse you have time to take in the huge mackerel skies, the vivid greens and yellows of grasslands and bush, the belts of trees on the skylines, the blue of the water channels. You have time to talk and bond with your fellow riders, and time to think and let the city life of home recede.

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Beautiful mackerel skies

There was also the local life to see. In the Caprivi, life is harsh on this unyielding land, with the challenges of living with elephants and lions, and the clash of old and new cultures. We had a talk from Lisse Hannsen of the Caprivi Carnivore Project about how to ensure conservation and humans can co-exist.

Horses are a rare sight here and the leader of one village begged us to stop until the whole village could see the horses (he got a ride on Andrew’s horse).

Although hard to believe in the 21st century these locals have never seen a horse

Many of these villagers had never seen a horse before

There are many other tales from this trip I could write about – galloping through water (someone got a ducking), trucking the horses home one day with the riders sitting on top because we couldn’t make the full distance before dark, the time Big Red decided a short cut through a thorn bush was a good idea – but perhaps the best thing to do is go to see for yourself the immense nothingness that is Namibia. The best way to see it? From the back of a horse, of course”.

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The wide open spaces are unforgettable.

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A huge thank you to Sarah for writing this wonderful account of her adventures in Big River country. What an incredible experience and a huge well done to you and fellow In The Saddle guests Clare Anderton, Nicole Appert, Clare Lawson and Jenn Lawson for completing this challenging ride.

If you’d like to experience some more of their epic adventure, then check out Namibia Horse Safaris’ video from the ride here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=DbCR4xTuI7w

As well as the annual exploratory ride, In The Saddle offers a range of adventurous trail rides in Namibia guided by Andrew Gillies:

Namib Desert: A challenging 300km journey across the oldest desert in the world to Swakopmund on the coast.
Damara Elephant Safari: Fast riding through the vast and spectacular landscapes of Damaraland, tracking elephant and rhino along the way.
Desert Canyons Safari: Explore the open plains of the Southern Namib and see the famous Fish River Canyon.
Wolwedans to Wild Horses: A breath-taking journey taking you from the great dune sea of the central Namib to Klein Aus Vista near the home of the Wild Horses of the Namib.

For more information or to book your place please contact Abbie on +44 1299 272 239 or via email abigail@inthesaddle.com

 

Categories: Equestrian Travel, horse riding, Horses & riding, Riding expeditions, Riding Holidays, riding holidays africa, riding holidays namibia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Los Potreros Lovin’

In The Saddle guest Millie recently returned from Estancia Los Potreros in Argentina. Millie writes that her holiday was far beyond her expectations.

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Millie enjoying the view at Estancia Los Potreros

A real highlight were the horses. Millie says, “on every level the horses are fantastic, they look after the guests judging who they have riding them. The horses really know their job as working animals, but also enjoy a good few gallops on the trails”.

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The horses are fantastic on every level.

One feature at Los Potreros that guests really enjoy is that each day is different. Millie says, “the gauchos take you somewhere new on the estancia every day and get you working from day one….anyone who has an inner cowboy would love every second!”.

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Aspiring cowboys would love every moment.

Los Potreros is a long-standing favourite with In The Saddle guests. Check out this additional feedback from recent guests:

Orla from London loved both the riding and the hosting. She says, “The riding was superb. The horses seemed to be beautifully matched to the ability of each rider in the group. They were forward going and responsive but I felt safe at all times”.

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Superb riding and responsive horses are a feature of this holiday.

Orla said, “I had a wonderful time during my week at Estancia Los Potreros. I was a lone traveller but I never felt like I was holidaying alone. My hosts Kevin and Lou made guests feel like friends. The staff were delightful. The riding was everything I could have dreamed. Even the weather was perfect (in defiance of all the forecasts)”.

Jackie from Essex agrees. She said, “everything was wonderful – expectations were exceeded. Hosting and riding could not be faulted – Louisa and Kevin, management, guides, gauchos, cooks and housekeeping”.

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Estancia Los Potreros

This trip over Easter even represented two new activities for Jackie, “my first Easter-Egg Hunt on horseback and my first introduction to Polo!”.

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The annual Easter-Egg hunt is a real favourite!

If you’d like more information about Los Potreros or wish to book your stay please contact Abbie on +44 1299 272 239 or via email abigail@inthesaddle.com

 

 

Categories: Equestrian Travel, horse riding, Horses & riding, in the saddle, Ride reviews, Riding Holidays, Riding in Argentina | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Morocco – Sun, Sand and Arabian Stallions

In this blog entry, Lucy Downes from In The Saddle tells us about her recent trip to join the Essaouira Coastal Trail in Morocco. Here, she highlights the best bits of this ride, from the first-class horses to the delicious food.

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If you feel in need of nice weather and a gallop on beautiful horses, but don’t want a long flight from the UK, then our rides in Morocco are ideal. We have a number of itineraries from riding along the coast or camping in the desert to trekking in the mountains.

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Welcome to Morocco

I jumped on a flight from Stansted and arrived in Marrakesh less than 3 hours later. I couldn’t believe the difference in culture and way of life just a short journey away. It was fascinating wondering around the medinas and little shops of Marrakesh and Essaouira. I was pleasantly surprised that I did not get hassled and it was fun haggling with the locals.

I bought a lovely sheep leather handbag and there were lots of wooden carved jewellery boxes and ceramic pots to buy, as well as beautiful rugs – it’s just a shame I couldn’t fit more into my suitcase!

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One of the back streets in the medina at Essaouira

I met the group in Marrakesh where we all got to know each other over dinner. The following day we all headed off to be introduced to the beautiful Arabian horses that would be our steeds for the week; most were stallions but there were also a couple of geldings.

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The horses are ridden in GP saddles and snaffle bridles

Abdel, our knowledgeable guide and experienced horseman, talked about each horse with passion and a lot of love. We were then shown how to tack up and handle the stallions with a firm but very fair approach.

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Lucy and Tissia meeting for the first time

All of the horses are forward going, well behaved, sure footed and great fun to ride. When on the beaches, it was such a thrill to be able to let the horses go – and they can certainly shift!

My horse, Tissia, was around 15.1hh. This was the average height of all the horse, although one or two were slightly taller. When cantering on the beach there were some horses that had an extra gear, but all were easy to stop and everyone had big grins on their faces at the end of the beach! The beach canters were incredible and were a real highlight for me.

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Splashing through the waves just before some faster riding

The days were a mixture of fast beach rides, scenic mountain tacks and riding through little country villages. On the way we would see people fishing, donkeys, camels and goats.

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The local donkeys would wander over and finish any food the horses had left after dinner!

After an exciting morning ride, we would ride on to our lunch spot. The back-up team would already have arrived and set up a large tent with the sides rolled up to provide some shade. Lunch would be served and the horses would be watered. The food was so tasty and there was always plenty to go around.

For breakfast there was a range of cereals, toast with jam and fruit. Lunch would be a buffet of pasta or rice with fresh salad and fish – it was lovely have a lighter lunch as we would remount after an hour of relaxing.

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Relaxing at the end of the day

When we had finished riding for the day and un-tacked the horses, we would help ourselves to biscuits and nuts. Dinner would be served after everyone had showered (or washed off with a very appreciated hot bucket of water!) and then the tents were pitched.

For dinner we helped ourselves to vegetables and there was always a meat dish – lamb, chicken etc. All our meals were always served with classic Moroccan tea.

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It was lovely having a canter at the end of the day when the sun was setting

At the end of the day, we would let the horses roll and pitch up our tents. Then we’d look over the map to see where we had been and where we would be heading the following day.

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It was such a pleasure to ride fit and sure footed horses

By the end of the week I’d had a blast on sun-drenched beaches, enjoyed Moroccan cuisine, had an insight into the local culture and loved riding my little Arabian stallion.

If you are looking for some fast, exciting riding on lovely horses that you are forward going each with their own character, then our rides in Morocco are perfect. You will need to be willing to get stuck in with tacking-up, grooming the horses and pitching tents, but for me this just added to the overall experience. It was nice to be able to bond with the horses off and on the ground.

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Many thanks to Lucy for this insight into what makes Morocco brilliantly unique.

Whether you want to join a desert, mountain or beach ride, we still have availability for  this season. For more information on our rides in Morocco, please call the office on +44 1299 272 997 or contact Lucy via email on lucy@inthesaddle.com

Categories: beach riding, Equestrian Travel, horse riding, Riding Holidays, riding holidays in morocco | 1 Comment

Incredible Andalucians

In this blog entry, Lucy revisits her trip to the Sierra Nevada mountains of Spain back in July 2015. Using a mixture of her own appraisal of the ride and In The Saddle guest feedback, she explains just what makes these rides so appealing.

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Our rides in the Sierra Nevada Mountains are special for so many reasons; from the spectacular scenery to the excellent guiding by Dallas Love. What stood out for me and for many of our guests, were the fantastic horses.

During my visit back in July 2015, I fell madly in love with my mount for the week – Laurel. He was the veteran of the group at 17 years old and Dallas’s former lead horse. He was such a pleasure to ride, forward going and sure footed.

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Lucy & Laurel

Let’s also hear from some In The Saddle guests:

Mary from Mid Glamorgan said her mount was “one of the best horses I’ve ever ridden!”.

Helen from Devon said, “this is a fantastic ride; great views and varied riding on very sure-footed, forward-going horses who are very well-mannered. I only wish I could have taken “Mora” my horse home!”

During our trail we were joined by Mordecai, Dallas’s brother. Mordecai is an exceptional horseman and helps Dallas school and prepare the horses for the trail.

The care given to the preparation of the horses is often echoed in guest feedback. For example, Caroline from Northumberland said, “the horses are extremely well-schooled and well-mannered. I’d highly recommend this ride.”

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Mordecai helping with the school work

I thought the pace might feel a bit slow, with one or two canters a day, but not once was I bored. The terrain varied daily, which kept the riding interesting and exciting. Leading the horses down steep rocky paths was never a problem. And of course, you are riding wonderful quality horses, which is always enjoyable.

Jane from Somerset agreed and says that “the horses were amazing – fit, sure-footed and well-schooled while still being their own ‘characters’. I liked the fact that every day we had times when we had to get off and lead because of the steep terrain – good for preventing rider stiffness!”

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All of the horses are trained to walk a polite distance behind you when leading. I never felt rushed or pushed by Laurel and there was never a fear of being stood on. I was so impressed with these horses, I have now taught my own horse at home to lead this way.

Cathrine from Manchester also noticed how polite the horses are, saying, “these horses are a pure delight to lead. They walk behind you, at your pace, never interfering with you.”

Dallas has 22 horses at her stables in Bubion. Some she rescued from around Spain and some are now retired, living the luxury life with a stunning view from their mountain pasture.

The love and care that Dallas puts into her horses is really appreciated by guests. For example, Gill from Cumbria says, “all Dallas’s horses are extremely well cared for and well-schooled – a joy to ride.”

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Having only a small number of horses over a long period of time, means that Dallas knows each one individually. It is clear to see the love Dallas has for each horse with each pat and cuddle she gives.

It was an honour to ride with her on such beautiful Spanish horses in the equally beautiful Spanish countryside.

Sue Donovan from Lancashire agrees. She says, “Dallas and her team know their horses well and certainly matched the right horse with the right person”.

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Many thanks to Lucy for this insight into what makes Dallas’s rides so special.

We still have some availability for week-long and short-break rides this season. For more information on our rides in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, please call the office on +44 1299 272 997 or email Lucy on lucy@inthesaddle.com

Categories: Equestrian Travel, horse riding, Horses & riding, in the saddle, Ride reviews, Riding Holidays, Riding in Spain | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Rides for 2017 – Costa Rica

In this mini-series of blogs we learn about some of the new In The Saddle rides for 2017. From cantering along sun-drenched beaches in Greece, to viewing big game in Swaziland, we hope one of our new adventures will be right up your street.

First up is our exciting exploratory ride in Costa Rica.

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Our new Wilderness Ride takes you from the pristine rainforest of Carara National Park into the high coastal mountains of Turrubares.

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Go off the beaten track to experience rural Costa Rica at its best.

You’ll journey along mountain trails and forest paths far off the beaten track. Your guide will be on hand to help you identify flora and fauna along the way. You might spot species like macaws, toucans, coatimundis, sloths, pecaries and perhaps even the elusive jaguarondi.

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You might spot toucans along the way.

During the first part of the ride you explore Carara National Park, one of the last significant portions of primary rain forest in the Central Pacific region and a destination popular amongst wildlife enthusiasts and birdwatchers.

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Keep looking skywards and you could see sloths in the canopy above.

The park is a great spot for seeing scarlet macaws, boat-billed herons, fiery-billed aracari and American egrets.

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Scarlet macaws are often spotted in Carara National Park.

Later on in the week you’ll be rewarded with wonderful views as you climb into the coastal mountain ranges. As you ascend you will notice the forest changing in constitution and characteristics; the lower temperatures encourage the growth of ferns, moss and bromeliads.

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There are wonderful views as you approach the coastal mountain ranges.

Your first and last nights are spent at a comfortable hotel in San Jose, but during the ride itself you stay at more authentic accommodation which reflects the style of rural Costa Rica.

You’ll spend two nights at Rio Carara Lodge, nestled in a secluded part of Carara National Park. There are no near neighbours, so you are assured a tranquil atmosphere to make the most of the rainforest.

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Spend two nights at the peaceful Rio Carara Lodge.

For the next three nights you stay at Finca Galán, an ecological farm in the Turrubares Mountains. Here you can relax and unwind in peaceful surroundings. Be woken by birdsong as the first rays of light creep into your room. At night the sounds of the tropical forest will lull you to sleep.

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Experience the delights of rural Costa Rica whilst you stay at Finca Galan.

You could be riding for up to 6 or 7 hours a day and so you’ll need to be riding fit to undertake this challenge.

This is an exploratory ride, so you will be the first intrepid guests to undertake the ride. It is sure to be a wonderful adventure. Numbers are strictly limited, with only 2 places remaining. The ride will run from Saturday 25th November to Saturday 2nd December 2017.

If you’d like to hear more about this exciting In The Saddle adventure, or book your place then please contact Sarah on +44 1299 272 997 or email Sarah@inthesaddle.com for more information.

Categories: Equestrian Travel, horse riding, Horses & riding, in the saddle, Riding expeditions, Riding Holidays, Travel news | Leave a comment

I couldn’t live without…

We chat to sponsored rider Rosie Warner about some of the things she couldn’t be without. From items of kit in the tack room, to some things which are a little closer to her heart.

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Rosie says, “There are a few things I really wouldn’t be without. They might not win competitions on their own, but they do make my day to day life as an event rider that little bit easier!

EQUIAMI
The EquiAmi is a lunge aid which has been designed to work in harmony with the horse. I use it on all my horses and it is really easy to use.

The EquiAmi works in a similar way to the way we ride; nurturing a soft contact and discouraging resistance, in a consistent ‘loop’. My horses are encouraged to use their hind end correctly, lower their heads and lighten their withers.

We often use the EquiAmi in conjunction with raised poles and also during ride and lead roadwork. It is a really effective tool to help strengthen my horses’ core and encourage correct muscle development.

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Romeo working in the EquiAmi

MY BOOTS
Another essential piece of kit are my Ariat boots. I’ve tried numerous brands over the years, but Ariats are great. They are comfortable to wear all day and robust enough to last. The insulated Ariat Bromont boots are great for winter conditions and I keep my Heritage Ellipse tall boots for competitions because they fit perfectly and look really smart.

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These Ariat Ellipse boots are perfect competition-wear

IN THE SADDLE KIT
I love how smart my horses look in their In The Saddle kit. It is great to have the support of In The Saddle and I am looking forward to sporting my ITS gear at lots of upcoming events.

I’d love to go on a trip with In The Saddle one day. I’ve got my eye on one of the African safaris – riding with big game would be a once in a lifetime experience!

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Romeo looking smart in some of our In The Saddle kit

MY SADDLES
I use Fairfax saddles on most of my horses. These saddles are scientifically designed to improve your horse’s performance and my event horses go really well in them. Fairfax is an English company who use a combination of riding expertise, saddle-fitting knowledge and technical design to create these fantastic saddles.

SARACEN HORSE FEEDS
At my yard I use Saracen Horse Feeds. I feed my eventers the Enduro Performance Mix, a high fibre feed with slow release energy, which has been specially designed for performance horses. The Shape-Up Balancer is perfect for the good-doers amongst my liveries and one of the old-timers is blooming on the Veteran Mix.

As well as their range of products, what’s great about Saracen is their advice service. If I’ve got a feeding query and can’t call during office hours, then I’ll use their online advice form. This is a really useful tool for those of us who practically live at the yard!

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My eventers go really well on Saracen’s Enduro mix

A FAMILY AFFAIR
I couldn’t get by without my family. They are a tremendous support and have helped me get to where I am today. They come with me to competitions, help with the horses at home and are always supportive of my ambitions as an event rider. Every success and step along the way is a real team effort.

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A real team effort

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My gorgeous little dog Lola goes with me everywhere & is definitely part of the team. She loves coming out hacking with us and is always keen for a jaunt in the lorry. ”

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Lola when she was little

Thank you to Rosie for this insight into daily life as an event rider. We wish you a swift recovery from your back injury and a successful season going forward.

Categories: Equestrian Travel, horse riding, Horses & riding, in the saddle | Leave a comment

Sapey Success for In The Saddle Sponsored Rider

In this blog post, In The Saddle sponsored rider Rosie Warner tells us about her progress over the last few weeks.

Rosie has had a busy time, despite her top horse ‘Cult Legend’ being under the weather and on light duties.

On 16 August, Rosie and ‘Ars Big Time’ (aka Milo) headed to Shrewsbury Flower Show. A pole down in the first round was followed by a superb clear in the second round. Despite only being a 5 year old, Milo coped incredibly well with the big atmosphere and didn’t seem to mind a change of career being a show jumper for the day!

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Rosie and Milo at Shrewsbury Flower Show

A week or so later Rosie and Milo set off again, this time for the BE90 at Solihull.

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Milo looking smart in his In The Saddle kit

A solid dressage test was followed by an unlucky pole in the show jumping, but they then stormed round the cross country clear to finish 10th overall.

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Milo flying at Solihull BE90

Next it was the turn of home-bred ‘Finest Star’ to have an outing, as he went XC schooling for the first time.

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Finest Star (Romeo) during his first ever attempt at XC

Romeo flew over all the BE80 fences at Berriewood in fine style and had great fun in the water jump. Exciting times ahead for this beautiful boy.

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Having a splash in the water

After an inspirational visit to Burghley Horse Trials at the weekend, it was time to test Milo with the BE100 at Sapey.Following a lovely dressage test, Rosie and Milo followed through with a foot perfect double clear to finish 2nd. What a great result!

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On their way to claiming second place at Sapey BE100 – sporting their ITS saddle cloth

Well done Rosie…we’re very proud of you.

Categories: Equestrian Travel, horse riding, Horses & riding, in the saddle, Riding Holidays, Riding safaris | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Blogging from Big Sky Country

Becky from In The Saddle is currently on an exciting adventure in Montana. In this blog we hear about her first few days, spent at Rocking Z.

Becky says, “After the long flights out to Montana the last thing I felt like doing was driving anywhere. However as soon as we drove outside of the Helena city limits it was totally worth it; it was just like stepping into another time. The beautiful countryside seemed to roll on forever with dramatic mountains creating the backdrop to our journey.

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Rocking Z – a perfect choice for aspiring and experienced Western riders alike

My first full day at Rocking Z was brilliant. Since I had never ridden in a Western saddle before I was nervous that I wouldn’t take to it or that I would just be terrible! However, I found the saddles really comfortable and the horses were just so responsive. We trailered up to a neighbour’s ranch and rode up into the mountains for a full day ride.

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Making dreams come true – moving cattle in Montana

I didn’t think the riding could get much better after the first day but then it was announced that we had to move cattle from pasture to pasture. Now this is genuinely my biggest dream come true, ever since I was little and used to round up my Grandad’s sheep!

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It may have been a long day in the saddle, but what an experience!

The riding was a little slower as we were crossing such varied terrain, but it was an experience that I will never forget. Even though I ride 5 times a week at home, I must admit that my legs were starting to feel the saddle a bit by the end of the day!

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How could you ever get tired of this incredible view?

When people said that Montana was ‘big sky’ country, I understood that they meant it was really open and beautiful, but I never truly understood it until I arrived. Once you ride up into the mountains you can look for miles in any direction and all you see is rolling green and sky. It is absolutely breath-taking”.

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A very happy Becky!

 

Thanks Becky – we’re looking forward to hearing more about your adventures over the next few days.

If you’ve been inspired by Becky’s blog and are looking for a last-minute getaway, then there is still some space at Rocking Z in late June. You can contact us on 01299 272 997 to book your place.

 

Categories: Equestrian Travel, horse riding, Horses & riding, in the saddle, Riding Holidays, Riding in Montana | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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