The Barichara Ride in Colombia  is designed especially for adventurous and inquisitive riders who want to participate in a challenging and unique experience. Here you discover the extreme landscapes of Colombia as you follow the Royal roads used firstly by the Conquistadors, the traders and later by the revolutionaries and independence fighters against their Spanish king in the early part of the 19th century. The routes will lead you from the historic lands of Boyacá to the state of Santander; explore wild and diverse landscapes, as well as historic villages bustling with a vibrant and colorful culture.  People have known hardship and adversity in the recent past but they are now emerging into the future with a sense of renewed freedom and energetic independence.

Your host and guide is Julio Pardo, an experienced horseman and Colombian national who has dedicated much of his life to breeding and cultivating equestrian athletes, first in the competitive sport of polo, then for the long distance demands of endurance racing and now for the trail of discovery. Together with a hardworking ground team, he shares with you the unique relationship of horse and rider, the physical demands of the trail and magical realism of Colombia.

Colombia enjoys a tropical climate due to its unique position on the equator and the influence from the surrounding rainforests, mountains, Pacific and Caribbean Oceans. This results in a regular temperature which remains mild year round, but with the intermittent threat of rainfall during the green season and cooling winds in the dry season. The only differences in temperature will be felt as you climb higher in altitude, in order to explore the mountain villages, before returning to the lowlands and to warmer conditions. This climate results in a near perfect situation for the growing of a large variety of tropical fruit, cocoa and sugarcane crops, as well as being one of the greatest regions for coffee bean processing and production.

Upon pickup from the Bogota airport we were transferred to a ranch in the Valley Verde area, about 2 hours outside Bogota where we would spend the first two days of riding.  From there we transferred to the town of Oiba for the first night of the Barichara ride. The only unfortunate situation was that the hotel was situated along a busy highway so rest was not easy to come by in the rooms of the hotel facing the highway. The next morning we received our safety briefing during breakfast before we set off on the fresh horses on our way to the town of Charala. The horses were quite excited to be starting the trail and all having been used for endurance were ready to go so you definitely have to be a confident rider. Up and down steep mountain trails we could appreciate the horses’ endless energy as they would be needing it for the weeks trail. We rode through lush vegetation along the hillsides and enjoyed vast views of the surrounding mountains. At our lunch stop a strong thunderstorm developed with a downpour. Fortunately we were able to wait out the worst of the storm while playing Teja, a game like horseshoes but with rocks which is played by the locals to pass time. Once the worst of the storm was over we set out again on the trail but it continued to rain for the rest of the afternoon. All of us had come prepared with rain gear and since it was a warm rain riding was not unpleasant, except that the trail became slippery. The sure-footedness of the horses was revealed and late afternoon we rode into the town of Charala and to our colorful accommodations outside the town. After a quick shower and change into dry clothes we headed out for an evening city tour before dinner at our accommodations.

The second day we continued our ride to the Valley of San Jose. We rode up and down the mountains through verdant valleys. Today was much hotter and our lunch stop at a restaurant close to a waterfall was a great reprieve. Most of us opted to take a dip in the natural pool at the base of the waterfall to cool off after lunch. Due to heavy rains in the area for the last weeks the flow of the water was quite strong so one had to be careful, but it felt so refreshing. After lunch we had a very steep climb along the hillside out of this valley and we were all amazed by the horses who made it look and feel so easy reaching the mesa above. From there we descended into the valley of San Jose to quaint accommodations with a pool. Even though it had started to rain lightly in the afternoon most of us refreshed with another dip in the pool.

Day 3 took us from the San Jose Valley via the town of Socorro to another lunch stop with a swimming pool in a park at the bottom of the valley below Socorro. The town itself lay below us as we entered on cobblestone streets. Another very warm day and we took advantage of being able to stop and have some cool refreshments at a local store; beer, ice-cream and cold soft drinks were welcomed by all. For lunch we had sandwiches in our saddle bags and extra water to stay hydrated but the owners of the lunch stop also provided us with local appetizers and cold drinks after the long morning ride. In the afternoon we reached the beautiful town of El Palmar, home to a very famous and historic Ceiba tree in the main town square. In local legend the town is said to have built up around this great tree which measures roughly 10 meters in diameter around its trunk. The night was spent at a quaint local hacienda.

The next morning we crossed back over the Suárez River by way of a road bridge and picked up the trail to the small rural village of Cabrera. This little settlement is known locally for its exceptionally preserved Colonial architecture. From here we followed the ancient roads leading us down to the plateau and the historic town of Barichara. The town is recognized as the emblematic jewel of Colombian history. Entering the town by way of a royal bridge we had some time to appreciate quaint cobblestone streets and observe its numerous ceremonial parks and magnificent old churches. The next 3 nights were spent at a colorful family owned hotel overlooking Barichara.

After a lovely breakfast at the hotel consisting of fresh fruit, the famous Colombian coffee, eggs cooked to order and homemade bread we were ready for the long ride to Chicamucha Canyon. During the ride we took advantage of the more open roads to enjoy long trots, canters and gallops. By now we had come to trust and appreciate the energy of our horses and were really thrilled with the exhilarating pace of today’s ride. This area enjoys a hotter and drier climate then on the previous days.

We visited a coffee plantation on our way to the canyon where we were able to learn about growing organic coffee in this area of Colombia and how they had to adapt their production to the climate.  We were invited to the home of the owners for refreshments and to sample the coffee they grow. Afterwards we continued along dirt roads at a good clip to make up for some of the time we spent at the coffee plantation and we still had a long way ahead of us to Chicamucha Canyon. On arrival close to the canyon we stopped for lunch and cold refreshments before walking down to the canyon, which reminded me of the Grand Canyon. On our way back to Barichara we again tried to make up for a bit of time and even though we trotted and cantered for long stretches – it was amazing how much forward energy these horses still possessed after 5 long days in the saddle – we arrived back in town in the dark, guided by the light of the head lamp Julio was wearing and trusting our horses to bring us back safely.

Upon arrival at the hotel we all showered, changed and were ready for another delicious dinner at our accommodations.

The next day we participated in a morning city tour of Barichara and had the afternoon off to just relax and explore the town after the long days in the saddle. Some of the riders took advantage of the shopping opportunities in town for souvenirs such as textiles, ponchos and pottery. Often described in literature as the “prettiest town in Colombia”, Barichara has a lot to offer visitors in such a small and unassuming place. The tranquility offered is quite unparalleled, a real national treasure with its roots deeply ingrained in the time of the Spanish Conquests. Here you discover pretty whitewashed houses with red-tiled roofs, surrounded by quiet cobblestone streets. Occasionally you will stumble across an artisanal craft shop, or perhaps the odd lovely little bar or restaurant, as well as a great many churches.

We enjoyed a farewell dinner at one of the local restaurants in town. The next day we transferred the long way back to Bogota which took us about 8 hours as traffic was horrendous coming into Bogota on a Sunday evening. In Bogota we stayed at a Marriott hotel in a business area of the city. We had two more days to explore Bogota and opted for a visit to Montserrat and a quick tour of the gold museum.

I would recommend this tour for experienced trail riders who are adventurous and enjoy exploring up-and-coming countries in terms of tourism. We met friendly locals everywhere and enjoyed following the footsteps of Simon Bolivar who aided Colombia in its independence from Spain. I loved the Spanish influence of the area with the cobblestone streets in the towns and villages which date back to the 16th century. The food was fresh and nourishing and we all enjoyed the fresh juice options available daily and the home cooked meals. The accommodations were quaint and comfortable, ranging from village hotels to family owned haciendas in the area. Julio, his daughter and their support staff did a wonderful job of making sure everyone had a great time on the ride, the horses were fresh and ready to go, surefooted and fun to ride and gave us their all until the last day.

Written by Biggi Hayes

A Successful First Riding Vacation in Italy

Last week I returned from my first riding holiday. We selected the “Tuscan Villages and Vintages” in Italy. The fact that I am 62 years of age may not be exceptional for going on a riding holiday. However, what may be unusual is that I didn’t start riding until I was 57 years old.

This story actually began about 30 years ago. While on a ski holiday near Aspen, we saw advertisements for riding holidays in the rocky mountains. I had visions or trail riding, venturing into country assessable only on horseback, essentially sightseeing. I filed this in my memory for future reference.

The years went by. Work became busier, we raised our children. A few years ago I casually mentioned the riding holiday to my wife, Deborah. She told me that if I was serious about doing this, then I needed to learn how to ride, and ride well. She explained that a riding holiday involved more than just walking along trails, would include trot and canter, and several hours a day in the saddle.

Learning to ride was not the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. I could have taken it up at any time. My wife is a very accomplished equestrian, with 55 years of experience in both English and Western riding. She and I and horses have been together for 36 years. I had often helped her at shows over the years, and was quite comfortable around horses. Deborah current competes in A Hunter in Ontario, Canada. She suggested that I take a few lessons on her recently retired hunter named Harmony. Following an injury, Harmony’s jumping career was over but she was still sound and very well-schooled.

So I approached Missy Todd, owner of Waymark farms near Ayr, Ontario about the possibility of a few lessons on Harmony so Deb and I could go on a riding holiday. Deb had boarded her horses there for many years. Missy was delighted and so the following summer the lessons began.

Six weeks later I was hooked! I had thought that riding would be more difficult than it actually was. There were some painful moments though when I came off the horse three times in two weeks and wasn’t sure that I wanted to continue. Nevertheless, I continued and made gradual progress. What I discovered most of all was the relationship with the horse, and how unique it was. I finally began to understand everything that my wife had talked about all those years.

As Deborah approached her 60th birthday we decided to take the riding holiday we had talked about. Our good friends, Mickey and Kathy were able to come with us. They were both experienced riders. We selected Italy as our destination. The thought of Tuscany in the spring was very appealing after a long, cold Canadian winter.

We flew overnight to Rome and headed up to Tuscany the following afternoon. Our host met us at the train station and took us to the riding center where we were to spend the next week. At the farmhouse we met the second part of the husband/wife team of hosts, who was to do most of the guiding for the tours. A couple from the UK, Phil and Jean, joined us later that evening. The 4 Canadians and 2 Brits quickly gelled as we talked about our backgrounds and riding experiences, and looked forward to the first ride the following day.

After a hearty breakfast we tacked up and set out on the trail. I had hoped to trot and canter in the sand ring before heading out as I had limited experience on horses other than my own. This was not to be however. After a couple of minutes at a walk we went straight to trot followed by canter. I had never cantered at such speeds before. Most of my riding had been gentle schooling canters in an arena, and the first canter at the blistering speed of 20 km per hour was a little unnerving as I desperately tried to remember everything that my coach had told me over the past five years. Sit up and back, heels down and feet forward! I stayed on. By day three I was enjoying the fast canters, on day four I galloped for the first time.

On the trail

Most of the week I rode a delightful 14 year old gelding named Ambrogio. We bonded very quickly. I soon discovered his quirks and he discovered mine. He was very nimble up and down the slopes. I found his trot was a little rough but his canter was very smooth. I was told that everyone who rides him loves him, and I was no exception.

Some of the rides were morning and afternoon,  some were half day and we did three full day rides. The terrain was quite varied. We rode along logging roads, through vineyards and olive groves. A lot of the terrain was quite steep and rough, stony and muddy in others. We crossed several streams. We rode to villages, castles and wineries. We had several wine tastings and visited several wine cellars. Wine with lunch and dinner. Two hour sumptuous picnic lunches overlooking some of the most magnificent scenery I have ever seen. With wine and rich Italian expresso. Medieval castles, Tuscan farmhouses, forest, vineyards and olive groves. The horses would shy when we flushed pheasant and deer. And did I mention the wine?

The spread at lunch

We had two afternoons when we did not ride and our hosts took us to visit the towns of Montepulciano and Siena. These are well preserved medieval towns with lots to see and explore. There is also excellent shopping. In addition to the usual typical tourist items, there are several stores selling unique artwork and handmade goods from the region. And plenty of wine and gelato!

Some stats for the week: Total distance on horseback was 105 km. Time in the saddle was about 30 hours. Maximum speed – 24 km per hr. Bottles of wine consumed …. we lost count.

Our hosts were gracious and attentive and took wonderful care of us. Our meals were long and delicious, it is Tuscany after all. We had pasta twice daily, lunch and dinner along with salads, meats and vegetables. Fennel is a vegetable not generally eaten in North America but common in Tuscany. One night we sampled wild boar, a Tuscan specialty.

The accommodations

The weather that week was nearly perfect, with nights 10-15 degrees, and days 20-25. It was sunny every day. The pool was still cool at the end of April, but this was not an issue for Canadians familiar with cold lake water.

The farmhouse where we stayed is quite large and has been divided into several units, each with a private bathroom. There is a large common and dining area, with a kitchen. There is no television. Internet access is available.

The horses are well cared for and clearly loved. Stalls were immaculately cleaned. Both outfitters grew up riding and they are clearly passionate about it. Riders and horses were well matched. As the least experienced rider, I was given a very reliable horse with whom I felt quite safe, but was also very responsive..

Riding to the nearby castle

Since this was my first riding holiday it will always be special and I would highly recommend it to others. However, it would not be a ride for beginners. After 5 years of riding 4-5 days per week, I had still not done much in the way of trail riding and I found the full days long.

You need to be in good physical shape for this ride, especially if you are older. I need to emphasise the importance of this. I was grateful for the many hours I spent in the gym working out. As much of the terrain is rough and hilly I found that half an hour of stretching exercise before the ride probably helped in reducing the aches and pain associated with long days in the saddle.

I would recommend this ride for advanced intermediate and advanced riders. You also need to love great scenery, great food and great wine. Get in shape. Learn to speak a little Italian. And we are already thinking about our next riding holiday!

Happy Trails!

Paul Westacott.

April, 2018.

Since Iceland has become such a tourist destination and the riding holidays we offer in South Iceland into the Highlands are so popular, but with mountain hut accommodations where one room sleeps all, we have been looking for a new riding option that offered fun riding with hotel accommodations in a different area of Iceland.

We have found a new itinerary for us which combines riding in a different area of South Iceland and also in West Iceland. There is a great variety of scenery for those who want to enjoy the comfort of hotel accommodations at the end of the day with fun and easy riding.  You will appreciate the contrast between the fertile south and the west of Iceland which is dominated by glacial views of Langjokull and Ok glacier icefields.

On the first day I was picked up in the town of Hella where I had spent the night and was transferred to Sydra Langholt for the first ride to the Secret Lagoon. We rode along through rolling hills with idyllic farmlands where young horses, sheep and cattle graze in endless green fields. We arrived midday at the Secret Lagoon where I enjoyed soaking away the weariness of traveling after a light lunch in the cafeteria or a picnic lunch out on the trail, depending on the weather conditions. Afterwards we returned back to the farm from where we transferred to the accommodations at the Hotel Fludir which is a lovely 3 star hotel. The small town thrives on mushroom production and growing other vegetables in the greenhouses of the area. 3 nights are spent at this hotel, which is located in the heart of the Golden Circle route with easy access to features such as Gulfoss waterfall and Geysir and Thingvellir National Parks.  The hotel is only 100 km from Reykjavik and features a garden area with hot tubs and an elegant restaurant. This makes it a great option for non-riding companions.

 

After breakfast on the second day the ride headed out from the farm into the highlands, riding underneath the basalt columns of Hreppholar with views of the Stora-Laxa river and the canyon. We enjoyed a picnic lunch by the sheep paddock of Hrunarettir before continuing on over the hills to Hvitardalur farm where the horses spent the night and we transferred back to the hotel for dinner at the restaurant. There is also a small restaurant across the street which is a little bit less pricey but meals in general are quite expensive in Iceland, which is something to consider since they are not included in the price of the ride.

On day 3 a ride into the uninhabited wilderness north of the valley of Tungufellsdalur brought more of the feel of riding in the highlands as we climbed onto a high mountain plateau, following tracks made only by sheep and horses. Along the way, distant glaciers came into view while we enjoyed the freedom of riding in the mountains.

 

Thingvellir Park

The next day started with a vehicle transfer to West Iceland via Thingvellir National Park, a site of historical, cultural, and geological significance, and one of the most popular tourist destinations in Iceland. The park lies in a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the boundary between the North American tectonic plate and the Eurasian. To its south lies Þingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland. As the weather had turned sunny and dry the transfer took us via the Kaldidalur Highland route which begins a bit to the north of Thingvellir National Park and to the west of the volcano Skjaldbreiður, which means “broad shield.”  The track continues between the glaciers Þórisjökull and Ok and leads up to the north. To the east of Reykholt the road comes out near Reykholtsdalur to Húsafell. Connecting South and West Iceland – what a stark contrast of landscape – it actually reminded me more of a moonscape with hardly any vegetation and remnants from volcanic eruptions everywhere.

After the 3 hour drive I checked into the luxurious hotel at Husafell, tucked away in a lush valley. The area around Husafell is a natural playground and perfect base to explore nearby Langjokull glacier, the highlands and Snaefellsjokull National Park. There is a geothermal pool adjacent to the hotel, a golf course and surrounding hiking trails. A tour into Langjokull Glacier and a visit to the world’s largest lava cave Vildgelmir showed what this area has to offer even for non-riders.

In the afternoon we met the new horses and the guides at Sturlu Reykur. From the farm we rode to Deildartunguhver, Europe’s most powerful hot spring.  By providing 180 liters per second of 100 C hot water it has the highest flow rate of hot springs in Europe, and pipes carry this water all the way to Reykjavik for part of their hot water and heating supply. The route took us along a river and its valley, a lovely and peaceful afternoon.  Afterwards the transfer back to the hotel was early enough that we could soak in the hot tubs and pool before dinner.

The owners of the farm have been successfully breeding and showing Icelandic horses for many years and export horses to many European countries. They have also been running these trail rides for many years. The horses are fun to ride and to really enjoy a good tolt.

I was especially looking forward to the next day’s ride through dense birch woods along a small river that comes out of the Hallmundarhraun lava field, which is Iceland’s oldest. The lava flowed from the north western rim of Langjoekull glacier and entered the Hvita river. Afterwards we had lunch at the cafeteria by Hraunfossar and Barnafoss, both of which were spectacular.  Back at the hotel I prepared myself for the tour into Langjoekull glacier by putting on winter gear. This tour is booked through the hotel and takes about 3 hours. First a bus picks everyone up from the hotel and transfers the group to the base camp from where they take one of the biggest snow coaches I have ever seen to the beginning of the tunnels into the Glacier. This is an opportunity of a lifetime to enjoy one of the world’s greatest wilderness areas from the inside. Never before the Langjokull ice tunnels had anyone been able to see the beautiful blue ice at the heart of an ice cap glacier.

On the last day of riding we visited the little village of Reykjholt, following along the river valley where we had great opportunities with a fresh set of horses to experience the fast tolt.  Reykholt is one of Iceland’s main historic sites, a cultural center past and present. Snorri Sturluson, a famous medieval historian, politician and chieftain settled in Reykholt in 1206 and was killed there in 1241.

The most distinctive antiquity in Reykholt is the pool of Snorri Sturluson, called Snorralaug. The pool and the water conduit, leading water from a nearby hot spring, date back to the 10th century and are maybe the oldest preserved constructions in Iceland.

The Church of Reykholt represents a cultural and medieval center. The church was consecrated on July 28th, 1996. It is known for its good acoustics and has old church bells, Frobenius­organ, from the cathedral in Reykjavík, award-winning stained-glass windows and a soapstone baptismal font, which was a donation from Norway. The font and an altar from an older church in Reykholt are from around 1500, now the property of the National Museum. The old church in Reykholt, built 1896–97, was in use until 1996. It is now under protection of the National Museum and is open for all visitors. After a leisurely picnic lunch on site we rode back to the farm again along the river valley. Too soon we returned and it was time to say goodbye to the horses and the owners of the farm who showed us around this lovely valley.

This would be a really good riding options for couples who want to experience two different parts of Iceland but also have non-riding options available to make their visit to Iceland an all-around experience.

Written by Biggi Hayes

The amazing story of our organizers of the Beach Safari in Mozambique was recently featured on CNN. Watch the three sections below for in glimpse of how they made the journey from Zimbabwe to settle themselves and their horses on the Mozambique coast, as featured in their book, One Hundred and Four Horses.

Part One: A Horse Odyssey
Land redistribution programs in Mugabe-era Zimbabwe saw Pat and Mandy Retzlaff pushed off their farm at the turn of the century. With their animals and those abandoned by their neighbors, the Retzlaffs set off for a new life in Mozambique with 104 horses in tow.
Part Two: Big dogs with big teeth
To the people of Vilankulo on the coast of Mozambique, the Retzlaffs’ horses were a new proposition.
Part Three: A new life for Zimbabwe’s rescued horses
Pat and Mandy Retzlaff’s horses now enjoy beach life in Mozambique.

Early in 2018, Mel Fox accompanied a group of Equitours guests on a new riding safari in the Serengeti ecosystem, offered by the same wonderful outfitter who organizes our other rides in Tanzania. Although the weather was not in their favor on this trip to see the vast migration by horseback, they still enjoyed fantastic wildlife viewing by vehicle and some excellent riding. Please enjoy the photo slideshow from this trip, below!

In February 2018 Mel Fox took a group of Equitours guests on the Nile Safari in Uganda. The outfitters have run this successful business for several years, and this was the first time Equitours joined one of their rides, followed by a gorilla trek. We are pleased to offer this unique perspective of Africa, and hope you enjoy the photo slideshow below from Mel’s trip!

By Tom Yeager

The Castle Leslie Estate is comprised of 1,000 acres adjacent to the village of Glaslough in County Monaghan, Ireland. The estate has miles of horse trails and hundreds of cross country jumps to try on park land with meandering streams, forests and lakes. There is also an indoor horse arena for jumping and dressage lessons.

The Leslie family has lived on the property since the 1660s and have opened it to others to enjoy. I stayed in the comfortable hunting lodge overlooking the stables.

Every day we went riding in the morning and in the afternoon. We rode in the forest and countryside, walking, trotting, cantering, galloping and jumping with the wind at our backs.

From my week at Castle Leslie and a week traveling around Ireland, I learned the Irish are passionate about their horses, their football, and their Guinness beer!

Vermont and Quebec are not so very far apart, and our two rides in the area share some similarities, but also offer very different experiences.

The riding in Vermont on the Sugarbush Tolt Trek is designed around the Icelandic horse breed, allowing you to learn about and experience their unique characteristics. These horses are wonderful, and it is a perfect opportunity for those who want to experience their distinctive gait, the tolt, for the first time. The riding begins in the arena with instruction of using the correct aids, giving you the chance to experiment with and feel for the comfortable 4 beat lateral gait.

Here I’m quite pleased with my first Icelandic horse experience!

The rest of the rides are in the vicinity of the farm, much along the quiet, hilly dirt roads in the rural country. You also use trails built and maintained for snowmobiling during Vermont’s long winter, and see small maple syrup gathering operations along the way. Given the steep rolling hills and terrain, it is a mellow-paced ride, plenty of time to relax and enjoy the scenery, and also numerous opportunities to perfect your tolting skills.

There are two rides each day, with lunch at the farm in between, and you have the opportunity to ride a variety of horses, as they are only ridden once a day at most.

View of the pastures and arena

Awaiting lunch outside of the barn

The horses are so well cared for, with all staff very attentive to the highest quality of care. Veterans of years of being breed ambassadors to curious guests, many of these horses originally came from Iceland and have enjoyed long lives at the farm.

The area of Waitsfield, Vermont is lovely, and the inn accommodations ideally situated a short drive from the farm. The weather allowed for our breakfasts and dinners to be taken on the beautiful outdoor porch with its idyllic pastoral views. The food is fantastic, and the accommodations comfortable and atmospheric of the old fashioned Vermont country life. With your own car, you can easily visit the small town for drinks and souvenirs, and you have the opportunity to also sample local restaurants on nights dinner is not provided at the inn.

Overall, the experience is a very comfortable, fun, and relaxing way to meet Icelandic horses and spend time in the New England countryside.

A short trip north brings you across the border into Quebec. I took the bus from Burlington airport into Montreal, a city well-worth a visit. From there another bus took me to Trois Rivieres, where I was collected by the host, Bernard, for the St. Lawrence ride. Bernard’s affable attitude and playful banter with our other wonderful guide, Gen, provided much entertainment throughout our week’s stay.

Bernard giving us our briefing

Home base is Bernard’s farm, where you stay the first and last nights of your trip. The guest house has several bedrooms upstairs from the two shared bathrooms with showers, with lots of Western equestrian décor and artwork from the years the farm has operated.

Our farm guesthouse

One of Bernard’s many pieces of horseshoe artwork

Each morning you will tack your horse, with however much help is needed to become familiar with the Western gear.

Your first day of riding is on the farm’s green rolling hills, through farmland and pasture with the opportunities to canter and get to know your horse.

That night you transfer by a short drive to the cabin in the nearby woods, where you and your horses stay for the week. The description by some as “as close to camping as you can get without a tent,” is a bit of an overstatement, as there are bathrooms with hot showers, stoves for cooking and battery operated lights. It is a basic and remote experience though, with no cell or internet service, and not much beyond the necessities of single beds and a long table for meals and companionship.

The cabin in the woods

The riding from the cabin is through the park around the Gentilly river, through forested paths and across the river’s banks and dunes. The days are pretty fully spent in the saddle, with trotting and cantering throughout, so although you don’t need to be an expert rider, you should be prepared for long days with some faster paces. The horses are well-trained on the trail and take good care of their riders. Each morning you make your sandwich for lunch and stop along the way for a picnic meal. Breakfasts and dinners are impressive affairs, with dinner made on the farm and shuttled to the cabin. You have the opportunity to purchase drinks on the way to the cabin, an option which can be appreciated after a long day in the saddle, and enjoyed while Bernard serenades the group with his guitar in the evening.

The tacking pavilion in the woods

Both Gen and Bernard have helmets decorated with horsetail ponytails or mohawks

Your last night is spent back at the farm before your final day of riding, with an introduction to cattle work. This day will likely have several day riders to join for the experience, as you split and herd the cattle with your group from their pasture to another area of the farm. If you’re lucky, as we were, to have a rogue cow with her own agenda, this includes much gathering from wooded and low visibility areas before continuing to the designated route! After lunch, your task is to herd them back to the pasture, with time for a shower before departure that evening.

Working hard after the rogue cow

The other guests with me on the ride drove from Boston and New York, respectively, and it is a good option for those on the east coast looking for something close to home. Pretty evenly located between Montreal and Quebec City, it would be a great addition to a wider Canadian visit. (Perhaps brush up on some French first; I was unprepared at how French the region is, and should’ve practiced with some French Canadian phrases before traveling!) With wonderful hospitality and lots of riding time, the St. Lawrence ride offers an escape into the world of the Quebec cowboy.

Depending on the type of experience you are looking for, one of these trips in the northeast could be a wonderful option for your next summer adventure in North America!

  • Written by ride consultant Megan Barrett

Dreams Coming True in Tanzania

Text by Tom Yeager

Pictures by Darci Rutherford and Tom Yeager

 

Friday, June 30th, 2017

Waiting at the airport in Saigon for my flight to Bangkok, Nairobi, and then onto Kilimanjaro Airport in Tanzania, I felt my familiar anxiety facing the unknown and was comforted by the flight attendants saying “sa-wat-dee” (welcome) as I boarded the plane. 

I realize this Kilimanjaro Safari is an “if not now, then never” trip for me, because I have the time, good health, and money to make my dream come true, but sitting by myself at the airport gets old in the middle of the night as I waited for time to pass to board the plane.

I fell asleep somewhere over the Indian Ocean and felt much better as I woke up in the morning, seeing the sun coming up out the window and viewing Mt. Kilimanjaro through the clouds.

Day 1: Saturday, July 1st

Met by Jo, our safari guide, as I walked out of the Kilimanjaro Airport, I learned about her love of Tanzania while she drove me to Kili Villa to rest and eat a healthy and tasty lunch of salad, spaghetti, fruit, and a dish of ice cream for dessert.

Sitting with the other riders by the bonfire we enjoyed our first dinner together. There was Jane and her daughters, Darci and Piper, from Australia, Anne, a well traveled psychologist, and all of us listened to Jo as she gave us a briefing on the week ahead. 

We all enjoyed our soup, tender chicken and rice with gravy, and vegetables, with wine and storytelling over dinner, all laughing and full of anticipation of our ride, I felt at home talking about my favorite subjects…horses..riding, and politics.

Day 2: Sunday, July 2nd

It is six in the morning when I wake up ready for a new day, putting my suitcase outside by the door to be collected and put into the jeep for our safari trip, our horses were waiting for us when we arrived at the Arusha National Park.

I was introduced to my horse “Phoenix,” a warmblood and veteran of many safaris and polo matches. I learned from him that his past was full of riders who were not sensitive to his mouth, and decided it was best to be his friend and not his trainer.

An enjoyable day with the only problem being when Phoenix stepped in a hole, causing his front legs to go down to his knees, so instinctively I sat back and we both recovered.

Soon we were riding in the rainforest passing zebras, giraffes, monkeys, and African buffalo as we made our way to the Maio Waterfall for lunch.

My daily challenge was cantering through the rain forest and trying not to have my legs hit the trees on each side of me, all the while looking ahead to follow the riders on the trail ahead of me, feeling excited and comfortable standing in my stirrups at the hand gallop.

When we reached our lunch destination the crew put the horses on a string line to get a well deserved rest, taking their tack off, checking their temperatures and shoes, giving them food and water, while the riders sat on a nice carpet eating lunch on comfortable pillows “roughing it! “

Jo, who I nicknamed Lara Croft, because of her fearlessness and how she could make her Hungarian Bullwhip sing, was always paying attention to what was going on in the bush and making sure our horses and selves were not in danger.   

We made it to the first camp before the sun went down and were each introduced to our tents, very spacious with a comfortable cot inside and conveniently placed next to a small tent with a portable potty and shower.

I looked forward to our evening before supper, sitting by the bonfire as Mareso, the leader of the crew, offered us the drinks of our choice while our horses enjoyed their dinner tied to the string line.  

We enjoyed our dinner with fresh ingredients prepared by the staff chef, eating a local fish, vegetables, potato slices with a brownie for dessert, and lots of wine making for lots of laughs.

At 10:00 it was time to crawl into bed with night time temperatures of mid fifties, thinking to myself that bringing my long underwear was “so smart,” sleeping like a baby and comforted knowing the horses had guards on duty all night to keep them out of danger.

Day 3: Monday, July 3rd

At 6:00 AM I made my way to the shower and as I was standing naked under the shower head, I pulled the string and much to my surprise there was no water…(oops). So I tracked down Ali and he explained that I needed to tell him when I wanted to take a shower. He then heated the water in a drum placed over a fire and filled the container full of hot water, lifting the container into the air using a rope and pulley and with the miracle of gravity, I got my wonderful hot shower in the bush.

After breakfast at eight o’clock we were ready to go riding, exploring in the rain forest, so lush and green, walking, trotting, and galloping and keeping an eye on Jo for her commands, with Stephano in the rear keeping his eyes on the riders and their horses.

We stopped at  Lake Momella to view on Mt. Meru at about 2000 meters (7000 ft) and we looked over the valley towards our destination, Kenya. Later that morning we rode under Fig Tree Arch, stopping for pictures by Stephano.

We stopped for lunch by a waterfall that we called Shangri La, resting ourselves and horses with a nice nap laying on the carpet and my head on a pillow, before getting up to continue our ride North.

The night was spent in a new camp in an area called Nyumbu, named after its usual frequent abundance of wildebeest, who will  become part of  the greatest migration on the planet in February when they cross  the Mara River into the Masai Mara to fulfill their destiny.

Day 4: Tuesday, July 4th

In the morning we saw the Masai herding their cows and goats along the road and Jo, who speaks Swahili, explained how a young boy becomes a Masai Warrior and about their transition into manhood, living their purpose of enjoying each day and being happy.

As we came down the mountain, passing rivers and  streams, the greens turned to brown and barren with shrubs, we continued our ride north towards Kenya, across the vast and harsh land, an exciting time to be in the saddle and sleeping under the African skies.

I had ridden for six hours and  after lunch decided to take the jeep Safari with Huntsy to the night camp, a new and different experience for me because I didn’t have to convince the jeep to cross the river or go over a ditch.

At our next new camp it was very quiet in the evening and the birds were singing as the sun set in the background,with Mareso setting the table for the guests who would arrive on horseback, and soon the riders appeared on the horizon galloping into camp to beat the setting sun.

After our dinner we went to our tents to sleep in our camp that was located between four powerful  mountains, Mt. Meru, Namanga, Longido and in the shadow of the legendary Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Day 5: Wednesday, July 5th  

We woke up in the morning to a bowl of warm water to wash our faces and enjoyed a hearty and healthy breakfast before starting our ride: eggs of our choice, sausage and bacon, juice, tea or coffee with sweet milk and conversation with a touch of excitement for the day.

Each day Jo would bring extra horses who would run free with us so they can get used to being out in the bush, this morning three wanted to run free as the wind and took off on their own, so Stephano chased them down and brought back home.

We saw a big bull elephant today who was about 50 years old, eating the vegetation when we approached, along with a mother and her young calves. He looked at us and we looked at him, and he decided to keep eating.

We rode about five hours in the desert, fulfilling my dream of galloping with the zebras and herds of wildebeest, and at the same time trying to avoid the prickly oltupai plants with thorns on steroids that the elephants chew to get moisture.

Day 6: Thursday, July 6th  

We started our day at 8:00 in the morning and all of us became concerned when Anne fell off as she slowed down to find her stirrup at the canter, so Jo had her taken back to camp in the safari jeep, reminding all of us that riding hard and fast in the bush can be dangerous.

Sarah and Adam, friends of Jo, came to the camp at lunchtime and all of us enjoyed avocado salad, Mediterranean salad with mousaka, and a delicious dish made with cheese, eggplant, and very lean masai meat under an African umbrella tree.

On our ride we saw gerenuk hiding in the bush, along with giraffes, zebras, antelope, jackals, spotted hyenas and monkeys running between the trees, all pointed out to us by our guide.

I was tired with sore muscles and dust from head to toe as we crossed the dry Sinya riverbed waiting for the winter rains, meeting the physical challenge of  riding six hours a day – covering 300 km or about 180 miles in six days.

Sinya riverbed

Day 7: Thursday, July 7th (Last riding day)

Phoenix had a leg injury and was being rested in the morning, so I started playing polo for the first time on another horse. We divided into two teams and had great fun, finding yet another way to enjoy riding and horses.

Then we rode along the Sinya Riverbed, chasing the elephants and following their tracks, jumping logs along the way and feeling like kids playing follow our fearless leader.

We then rode to the Kenya border and took a picture next to the marker before heading back to our camp and making a cavalry charge with all six horses galloping together so a camera mounted to a drone could capture the return of the conquering heroes.

 

Kenyan border marker

It was our final night, so we rode to a hill near the camp and climbed to a high spot to witness the setting sun, while the horse crew took the horses back to camp. We enjoyed eating fresh goat meat prepared and cooked by the Masai.

For me this trip was a challenging ride, riding across different types of African landscape, from the rainforest to the savannah to the grassy plains, walking, trotting, cantering, galloping, and the thrill of  jumping logs.

In the evening I thought about how my challenge had been met, making my dream of riding in Africa come true, and it was now time to go home, so we packed our suitcases to be ready to be picked up in the morning.

Day 8: Friday, July 8th  

After our breakfast, we all signed the guest book and I wrote down my thoughts, “Jo, thanks to you and your crew for taking such good care care of us. What impressed me the most about you and your crew was that you cared about your horses as much as your guests.”   

The entire crew

It was then time to jump into our four wheel vehicle and drive back to civilization, to drop off Jane and her daughters at the Kilimanjaro Airport, saying goodbye to Anne, who went on to do more traveling, and I went back to the Killa Villa to wait for an evening flight back to Saigon.

After taking a short nap, swimming in the pool, and eating a delicious lunch with tilapia fish and vegetables prepared by Chappie, I reflected on my unforgettable  experience and what I learned.

The importance of a guide on any new journey, knowing and respecting your own limitations, and being willing to learn more about the world.

We were all blessed to experience Africa and see magnificent  animals, both predators and prey, in their natural world, to witness the world of the Masai, their friendly nature and the stature of warriors, who live their lives with “Hakuna Matata”  meaning  “no worry for the rest of your days.”

Sundown on the African bush