Experience another way of life

Genuine working ranches can offer some wonderful opportunities for horseback riding vacations. Horses are still an integral part of operations on cattle ranches so they take riding seriously and guests can often help significantly with the necessary work of moving or sorting cattle. Ranches that depend on horses to handle their cattle usually have responsive and athletic horses. These horses can do much more than just follow along in a nose to tail line and are a pleasure for guests with some equestrian ability to ride. If you are herding cattle, you need a horse with some get up and go which responds well in driving cattle even in rough terrain and is prepared to strike out on its own rather than just following a leader. Many horses get to love working cattle and become good at it so that it is a pleasure to work in partnership with them to accomplish the task at hand.

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Working ranches have the character of a family farm.

Of course it is not usually necessary to work cattle every day at ranches, but often they need to be checked on frequently to be sure they are in the right places and to check for wolf, puma and bear kills in a timely manner where these predators are a problem. The point is that horses at working ranches do have a purpose other than just giving people a ride. A working ranch like the Bitterroot in Wyoming or Los Potreros or Huechahue in Argentina have the character of a family farm as well and produce their own meat, many of the vegetables served to guests and raise their own horses. These places are self-sufficient to a great extent and have an atmosphere totally different from a resort. It is a disappearing way of life which used to be common, but there are still places where you can move back in time and experience this appealing life style. You will become part of the family as you ride and take meals with them.

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Driving cattle to the summer range from the Bitterroot Ranch in Wyoming.

The Bitterroot Ranch in Wyoming is located high in a remote valley. The Highland and Angus cows spend the summer grazing in the mountains of the national forest adjacent to the ranch. Wolf and grizzly bear attacks are an ever present threat and it is import to find kills quickly in order to get reimbursed for them by the state. Unless the carcass is found quite quickly there is usually no way to prove the cause of death as the evidence is soon devoured. The ranch also has a vegetable garden and raises horses and sheep. Aside from the aspect of a working ranch, the Bitterroot has an outstanding equestrian program with an extensive obstacle course for advanced riders, complimentary lessons, team-sorting competitions, wilderness pack trips and a wide variety of trail rides. Riding groups are carefully chosen according to skill level. Fishermen can enjoy a trout stream which flows through the property. The Bitterroot can offer guests a fine ranch riding vacation.

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Estancia Los Potreros gauchos

Los Potreros is a large cattle ranch in central Argentina run by four generations of an Anglo-Argentine family. They raise Black Angus cattle and are located in a secluded part of the mountains near Cordoba.   Guests can help the colorful gauchos herd cattle or go on trail rides in the surrounding area. Visitors have a marvelous introduction to the picturesque culture of the Argentine gaucho which dates back to the 16th century. An interesting equestrian aspect of Los Potreros is that they have a polo field where those who wish can have an introduction to this famous sport. They are able to cater to different skill levels from beginners to experienced players.

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Guests helping drive cattle in Argentina

Huechahue Estancia is located in the foothills of the Andes and has a very fine trout stream running through it with excellent fly fishing. It comes closest to complete self-sufficiency with an extensive garden as well as cows for milk and cheese. The ranch also raises pigs and keeps poultry for eating as well as fresh eggs. Huechahue has a prize Criollo stallion and they also raise and train their own horses. There are frequent opportunities to work cattle depending on the time of year and they run pack trips into the neighboring Andes.

At an authentic working cattle ranch you can ride with a purpose and experience another way of life. It is a vacation for true horse lovers where your equine companions have a vital role to play.

Bayard Fox / August, 2014

Making New Equestrian Friends

If you love to ride, but the rest of your family and friends don’t share your enthusiasms, join one of our horseback riding vacations where you have a good chance of making new friends with like-minded people you would never have gotten to know in the normal course of events. Many hesitate to take a trip solo to unknown places without a friend they already know to go with them. Don’t concern yourself about that. The chances are that you will make some great new friends who enjoy the same things you do; who love horses and exciting adventures in interesting places. Often you do not associate in your working activities with the kind of people who have the same ideas you have about what to do in your leisure time. You will find that most of the people who take our riding tours do have a great deal in common with you outside the work place. It is a great way to make new friends in a safe situation.

Solo Travel

Having a great time with friends on the Gredos ride

Many life-long friendships have been formed on our riding tours and you will meet others from all over the world from diverse walks of life who still share your love of horses, exotic travel and new experiences. We have many guests who make plans year after year to go on other riding tours together so often you can find companions who will go with you again on other adventures to far flung places and are sometimes willing to share accommodations with you. Some of our tours do not carry a single supplement if you are prepared to share a room with another appropriate guest, whether there turns out to be someone available or not. Sometimes also Equitours can find a partner with whom you can share to avoid a single supplement. If you are the kind of person who seeks new experiences and a wider world view, you may well have a more interesting time going solo than you would with people you already know well. If you are a solo traveler, let us get you started on some exciting and rewarding new adventures.

Bayard Fox

Not for the faint of heart….

Icelandic legend spins the tragic, true tale of falsely accused folk hero Fjalla-Eyvindur and his wife Halla. Exiled in the inhospitable highlands with little food and no shelter, their children died in infancy except for one beloved but weak two-year old daughter.

Their hideout discovered, and the need to run upon them, they made a decision. Halla cradled her daughter in her arms and sang her to sleep with the lullaby “Sofðu unga ástin mín” (“Sleep my young darling”) before dropping the slumbering child over a waterfall to a quick and certain death so she and her husband could flee unhindered.

Iceland on horseback

Anita kept us entertained with Icelandic legends as well as informing us about her country’s unique geology.

Our guides Anita and Elva, both young mothers themselves, solemnly sang this lullaby in their heart-wrenchingly clear voices to our group of riders as we rested by a stream in the highlands where the ghost of Fjalla-Eyvindur is rumored to wander. Beside me, the young Danish wrangler Nina fought unsuccessfully to hold back the black tears streaming down her dust-covered face.

“Did you understand all the words?” I whispered once the song had ended. “No,” she choked in reply. ”The music is just so full of sadness.”

 

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The weather was ever changing. This is our group modeling Icelandic rain gear on the wettest and coldest day.

We were an all-women’s group for the first ride of the Icelandic summer; 16 intrepid riders from America, Australia, Austria, Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland on this dark and blustery June day in the forlorn highlands north and west of the slumbering volcano Hekla. The melancholy tune touched all of us; daughters, wives, mothers, grandmothers… our ages spanning the decades of twenties through sixties, all here to experience riding the iconic Icelandic horses in their ancestral volcanic island home.

 

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Icelandic horses come in all colors; white, sorrel, bay, black, palomino, dappled gray, and paint.

Iceland has a population of around 315,000 inhabitants who own over 100,000 of this uniquely pure-bred stock. Brought in longboats to the country by the Vikings from Norway and the British Isles late in the 9th century, they are considered one of the oldest breeds of domestic horses in existence today. Bred more for their temperament and personalities than for color, these friendly, stocky steeds are treated as part of the families they live with. Having evolved in such a harsh environment, they are amazingly surefooted and confident, practically floating over the landscape in their smooth tölt gait. To interact with them is amazing, but to ride them is nothing short of magical.

Our Danish Wrangler Nina comforting one of the younger horses who was tired on his first big excursion with the herd and riders.

Our Danish Wrangler Nina comforting one of the younger horses who was tired on his first big excursion with the herd and riders.

 

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Our accommodations for the first and last nights were at the outfitters’ farm, which had the typical grass-covered roof.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On arrival night at our hosts’ farmhouse, we were asked to tell a bit about our riding experiences and the type of horse we enjoy riding most. Our guide Anita listened intently to our answers in order to assign each of us two horses to ride in the week ahead, her philosophy being that you must ride a horse three times before the two of you truly connect. The next morning after breakfast we assembled at the nearby corral, greeted by inquisitive eyes shining beneath thick bangs, seemingly as curious about us as we were of them. The barn doors slid open and the wranglers clapped their hands as the herd disappeared into the dark interior. A few minutes passed and the door opened again with a wrangler leading a mount out to each rider in turn. The tongue twisting Icelandic names of the horses were difficult to remember in the beginning. My first steed was Sleipnir, named after the eight-legged horse of the Nordic god Odin. At the age of 17 he was one of the older horses, but was quite forward, attentive and eager to please. Before the farmhouse was out of sight, I had relaxed and given this handsome bay with the thick black mane my full trust.

 

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Plutus and me

My other equine companion was a sorrel with a strawberry blonde mane by the name of Plutus, tall for an Icelandic horse at 15 hands. He was only seven years old, but even more mellow than Sleipnir, 10 years his senior. When I remarked on this trait to our host Stefnir, he commented that Plutus “has an old soul”. In addition, however, he also had the flying pace, skeid, which I was able to coax him into on several occasions and together we floated along at our own smooth pace while the more daring riders usually left us, quite literally, “in the dust” as they galloped past.

 

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View of the hosts’ guests accommodations.

Those who have never been to Scandinavia or done the Youth Hostel rite of passage in Europe are sometimes taken aback when they see the sleeping arrangements in the cabins and huts along the ride route. Mattress to mattress, bunk-bed style platforms offer sleeping space upon which 16-20 people may roll out their sleeping bags. Of course, in an open room there can be night noises such as people climbing down the ladders in the dark, sleeping bags rustling when someone rolls over, snoring, as well as some folks talking (and even singing!) in their sleep. Anita has a supply of ear plugs available for those who sleep lightly. If you enjoy camping or roughing it, then you’ll do fine. There are flushing toilets at each overnight stop, as well as running water, but showers are only available in 2 of the 4 overnight locations, although there is an opportunity to soak in thermal springs as well as to shower one afternoon in Landmannalaugar. Touring Iceland on horseback is, in many ways, a “change of pace”.

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Smoked salmon and lamb, cheese and butter, a variety of breads and even special gluten free and vegetarian dishes were served at every meal.

In regards to food, Anita, Emilia, Elva and Nina were up daily before the guests preparing a buffet style breakfast consisting of muesli, fruit, yogurt, several kinds of homemade bread, jams, honey, and lots of the delicious Icelandic butter and cheese, washed down with ample coffee, tea and hot chocolate. After breakfast everyone would make their own “pocket lunch” for the ride consisting of sandwiches with sliced meats (including smoked lamb), cheese and vegetables, as well as fruit and cookies. Snacks appeared magically while the guests were getting out of their dusty gear at the end of the riding day, followed by freshly prepared warm meals of hearty soup, bread & butter, roasted lamb, fish, vegetables, stews, pasta dishes and desserts. Everyone pitched in with setting the table and washing up, family style.

There is no “cocktail hour” on this ride, no doubt for several reasons. For one, the converted Dodge Ram (lovingly nicknamed “Green Monster”) which transported all our belongings and food for the entire week was stuffed to the ceiling with absolute essentials and no room to transport additional bottles. Anita did surprise us on the trail with a shot of whiskey in our hot chocolate on one particularly cold and wet day, as well as a box of red wine (equivalent to 4 bottles) the night of our farewell dinner. It is possible to purchase beer at the stopover in Landmannalaugar, but other than that, this tour is dry.

 

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Riding through a lichen-covered field of rocks.

Anita had long wanted to offer a designated “all women’s ride”, and it was very interesting to observe the women of diverse ages and cultures interact. The common denominator, as usual on such rides, was horses. We shared our tales of falls and injuries, competitions, places we had ridden in the past and dreams of future rides over supper every evening. We had the great fortune of all being more or less competent equestrians, and no one came off their horse during the week. I’ll certainly give my kudos to Sleipnir and Plutus, who never stumbled or shied while moving along confidently with the herd of free-running horses that accompanied us.

 

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To ride with a herd of free running horses was a memorable experience

Now that was an experience! Riding with a herd of free horses mixed amongst the riders, tölting along with luxurious manes and tails flying, accompanied by the four-beat sound of hooves pounding the volcanic soil, clipping over paved roads, splashing through rivers, striking rocks. Since the Icelandic horses are raised in this rugged environment, they know how best to navigate it. This particular horse herd is very familiar with the ride route and knows where to stop, wait, slow down, or go full throttle. After a very short time, I was able to totally relax and be one with my horse in this colorful tölting procession. It’s a remarkable experience for sure.

 

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We felt very small sometimes upon the landscape of Iceland.

We left the herd at a base camp on the days we ventured into the remote areas of the highlands. Climbing high to the rims of black and red craters filled with turquoise lakes, galloping over the black crater floors of extinct volcanoes, leaving temporary tracks of our existence in the wind-swept surface, riding quietly as tiny specks against the massive mountains around us…Iceland can make a person feel very small but very strong at the same time.

 

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Bizarre land and rock formations support the belief in trolls and ghosts in Iceland.

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The lupines were in bloom in June at the base of the volcano Hekla

The Icelandic women are remarkable, physically and in spirit. They can shoe horses, change flat tires, bake and cook and explore mountaintops, live at the foot of active volcanoes, sing folk songs, raise children and slaughter lambs, all the while being warm and gracious to strangers. Their strength was evident to us during our summer ride. I can only imagine the trials of surviving winter on the island, which brings us back to the chillingly beautiful song sung to our group by Anita and Elva as we entered the desolate and mysterious highland area where there is no food, shelter or lodging and where the basalt formations  and mountain features take on the shape of trolls and monsters in the mists.KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

To enjoy a ride over this sometimes verdant but more often stark topography, riders must have the willingness to give up their creature comforts for a week in return for an in depth experience in one of the most unusual places on earth as seen from the strong backs of the dependable Icelandic horses. In my case, the reward was the ride of a lifetime.

 

Ride review by Trudy Trevarthen

Oregon’s Forests, Beaches and Vineyards…

The hosts and guides of the Willamette Coast ride come from a strong riding and outfitting background.  The husband and wife team of Justin and Lindley Leahy oversee all aspects of this adventurous trip, from planning the route and choosing the horses, to making sure you have fresh vegetables from their garden for your lunches. Justin comes from an outfitting family in Ireland and grew up riding and training Connemara horses and riding on his father’s Connemara Trail. He and Lindley ran a successful equestrian riding and trekking center in Illinois and after much research chose their Oregon location as the best spot to provide a progressive riding vacation for strong and adventurous riders. The reasoning behind their decision is certainly sound; from their base in the Willamette Valley they can offer riding through the vast Siuslaw National Forest, with a rainforest climate which brings to mind the lands of Tolkien, to the coast, dramatic in its mists and rock formations, and back to the valley itself and its profusion of vineyards and wineries.

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Riding through the Siuslaw National Forest

Riding along the Pioneer Indian Trail

This is indeed the route the Willamette Coast ride takes.  The first few days the horses are ridden point to point across the Coast Range through the lush greenery of the forest. The trails vary from gravel mountain roads which allow you to move out in brisk trots and canters, to thick circuitous trails following the paths of elk. The horses are impressively sure-footed and responsive, willing and able to perform in all terrain. They are of all breeds and backgrounds: crosses coming from mounted shooting or cavalry trainers, Quarter horses from Canadian cowboys and a Connemara originally from Ireland. They are chosen not based on breed, but rather on the characteristics that will make them ideal trail horses and partners for your week of riding. All are ridden in snaffle bits and English saddles, although a few Western saddles are available as well. Most mornings your help is appreciated in catching, brushing and saddling your horse before setting out.

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My faithful steed, Steve

The Siuslaw National Forest offers the most challenging riding of the week, and also some of the best views, whether from the depth of verdant vegetation or the expansive sights from the mountains’ summits. In the cool and shady forest there’s a chance to glimpse the Silver Spotted Butterfly, a protected species in the area. There is also variety in landscapes, with one day’s trail passing through an area being actively logged, which provides some contrast and some more open views of the landscape.

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Enjoying the view from the top of the Coast Range

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Proposal Rock, on the beach right outside the accommodations

After reaching the coast your beach ride will be on a quiet morning when the tide is still out. The coast is amazingly cool and damp, even when the interior temperatures are blazing. After a few hours riding in the sand with some canters near the surf you will dismount for another picnic lunch. Lunches each day are provided along the route, with fixings for sandwiches on delicious varieties of bread, with local fruits and vegetables. The evening meals are at local restaurants and breakfasts are provided at the Bed & Breakfasts or condo you stay in.

You sample three different accommodations throughout the course of the trip, a family run B&B and farm in the forest for the first night, a beach condo right on the beach for the next three nights, and then a B&B in the town of Carlton for the last two nights.  All of these places are comfortable and cozy and the food is gourmet and plentiful, with many tasty local ingredients such as Tillamook dairy and, of course, Oregon wine.

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Breakfast Menu at the Carlton B&B

After staying at and riding on the beach the trip returns to the horses’ and hosts’ home of Carlton. This is the heart of wine country, with tasting rooms available all along the charming downtown main street. The final day of horseback riding in Oregon takes place on the grounds of a beautiful vineyard with a spectacular view of the Willamette Valley.

This was the only day we had to be aware of hot temperatures and had an early start  to enjoy a few hours of exploring the vineyard before retiring to the tasting room for a catered lunch and wine tasting.

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Preparations for tasting the famous Oregon wines

That evening we had time to wander the downtown of nearby McMinnville, another small town boasting a strong local culture of artisans and gourmets before enjoying a final meal all together. While the trip’s focus is satisfying riding for avid equestrians, the beach and winery visits make it a pleasure for the rider’s other sensibilities as well. The Willamette Coast ride offers diversity of riding on excellent horses in a unique and interesting location with wonderful hosts, all close to home!

Ride Review by Megan Barrett

Castles, Caves, Vineyards, Forests, Medieval Villages and Foie Gras…

Since we started Equitours some 35 years ago I have had the wonderful good fortune to do over a hundred rides around the world. My latest ride, the Castles and Caves of Malbec, was a delight, especially since it was my 85th birthday ride. If you enjoy good horses, good food, great wine, lovely countryside rich in history and friendly companions this would be hard to beat. There were eight of us on the trip, mostly old friends and one splendid new addition; Teri, the international vet who takes care of everything from tigers to elephants. Actually it seems to me that for someone who likes this sort of thing I have about the best job imaginable. One of our riders asked me at lunch how I had been clever enough to manage to have a life style like this and I was considering a suitable answer when Teri, the irrepressible vet, popped up with, “Pure, dumb luck!” which set everyone laughing uproariously and has to be fairly close to the truth.

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Bayard and Teri riding down a country lane.

Another plus on this trip was that Michel’s organization was impeccable; things happened on time, the accommodations and picnic places were well chosen. The van always awaited us with food and drink when we arrived. The lodgings were in charming, picturesque inns or B & Bs. The well trained horses never put a foot wrong and were always saddled and ready for us to mount. The pacing of the ride was good though the back country roads and trails we took were often too rocky for speed, but every day we had chances for several fast canters where the terrain was suitable.

The first two days we rode through the rolling hills of vineyard country in the Bergerac area and grape vines stretched in every direction as far as you could see. They seemed to be growing little else in the area which has been famous for its wine for thousands of years. We made stops at several old castles where the grapes were turned into wine and the cellars contained hundreds of huge oaken barrels full of aging liquid. They lined up rows of glasses with wine in various stages and with a variety of different grape blends and described the intricate process. Most of us were unable to absorb all the finer points of production, but one thing did become clear to all of us: there is a lot to know about producing a good wine for sale on a very competitive market. I wonder if modern technology has really improved the wine that much over what they produced a few centuries ago using more primitive techniques like peasant girls in bare feet trampling out the vintage.

As we continued on our hundred mile journey the landscape began to change and instead of vineyards we were winding on narrow trails through oak forests where the hills were steeper and there was no human habitation for miles. Now we were in truffle country where sniffer dogs are used to find these precious fungi (fetching $100 an ounce or so) deep below the surface. I fear my palate is not refined enough to fully appreciate truffles (especially at that price), but this is also famous paté de foie gras country and I did very much appreciate that along with many other delicious local dishes like the maigret de canard.

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Our group at the dinner table tasting more of the region’s delicious specialties and drinking some Malbec wine.

We stopped for picnic lunches every day around noon and Béatrice would unfailingly meet us with the van. She would have the table prepared with bread baked that morning, many kinds of cold cuts, lovely cheese and mouth-watering pastries for dessert. We picnicked in small villages or beside rivers and took a short rest before heading on to discover new places. In the evening of our fourth day of riding we came upon the village of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie built on the side of a steep hillside above the Lot River. Our first view of the place was breathtaking. I have seen many lovely towns and villages in my day, but this town is on the top of my list for its picturesque, fairy-tale beauty and indeed it has been voted by the French as their favorite town. I can certainly see why.

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Saint-Cirq Lapopie perched on the cliffs above the Lot River.

We spent two nights here and I was sorry to leave. We stayed in a lovely inn and ate fabulous dinners. After the first night we departed early in the morning for the Chateau de Cénevières where we had lunch and then made a loop to return to Saint-Cirq-Lapopie by another route.

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Riding out of the gate of the Château of Cénevières.

We were able to ride into the courtyard of this exquisitely maintained, 11th century castle as did the knights of old and we were given a fascinating tour of the castle by its owner who had restored many of the rooms so that visitors could see how people lived in ancient times. The tour also turned out to be a history course because the castle was the center of frequent wars like the Hundred Years War and religious wars which caused bloody upheavals to sweep the area again and again, making the castle’s high walls a matter of survival.

The last day of this ride in France gave us some nice canters along the Lot River and then the trail narrowed and took us through what amounted to a tunnel open on the river side. The ceiling was so low that we had to dismount and lead our horses for several hundred yards until we came to a bridge across the river which allowed us to cross and head up the other side. We traversed narrow trails through oak forests until we arrived at the caves of Pech-Merl somewhat like the more famous Lascaux. We had a guided tour of the huge cave with images of horses and other animals sketched on the walls dating back some 25,000 years. It made medieval villages seem almost modern as I reflected on the very ancient history of mankind in Europe.

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Riding along the Lot River below the cliffs on the way to Pech-Merle Cave.

After the caves we were off again through deserted forest trails with no sign of life until we suddenly came out of the woods to the edge of a seemingly almost sheer limestone escarpment at the bottom of which was the Célé river and the picture perfect village of Souillac with the red roofs of buildings set among the trees. The sides of the valley were so steep that at first glance it was hard to see how a horse could find its way down, but Michel knew a zigzagging trail which descended safely though at a sharp angle. It seemed to me that Souillac, though a tiny village, was just as picturesque as Saint-Cirq-Lapopie and it was a fitting destination for our last night with a superb dinner and many toasts all around. It was with great regret that I said goodbye to my companions and returned to Bergerac next day for my flight to London and home. I couldn’t feel very sad at leaving because I was returning to our beloved Wyoming ranch where spring had melted the snow, the grass was growing fast and wildflowers were beginning to bloom. Nevertheless I will long feel a certain feeling of nostalgia for this idyllic area.

Ride Review by Bayard Fox                                                                                        Photography: Claude Poulet

…an exceptional experience in every respect…

 

Transfers
As expected, the representative of the ride safari was at the prescribed location next to the Johannesburg Airport information booth at the designated time holding a placard.
Departure was delayed due to late arrival of one flight, but this did not present a problem. The van was in excellent condition, clean and comfortable with water and ice placed in the vehicle for guests to use. A rest stop at a cafeteria was made at the halfway point. Customs formalities at the South Africa / Botswana border crossing at Pont Drift were efficient and proceeded without delay.

Riders
There were eight participants on the Tuli Safari during the week of October 6-13, 2013 as follows: five English women, a German couple and me. One of the participants from England had taken the same ride years earlier. All were experienced horse people so there were no problems with respect to ability. About half of the participants owned horses and two of the riders from England actively compete in horse shows. All participants were well matched with their assigned horses.

Tuli ride safari reception

Welcome to Botswana!

Reception
Upon arrival we were given a warm welcome by Louise Carlesen, Director, and other members of the staff. (We would meet Cor Carlesen later at a camp in the course of the ride). Afterwards we were treated to lunch and given a thorough briefing about the ride itinerary and safety procedures. We were also asked about our riding experience and preferences prior to the horses being assigned. Following the introduction we changed into our riding gear, mounted the horses and set off to the first permanent camp. Soon after our departure each rider was asked to individually demonstrate their riding skills at a walk, trot and canter over a short triangular course in the open. This ride should be suitable for all experienced and confident riders.

Guides
The ride was accompanied by the highly experienced guide, “West” Mmanoke, who led the group, and the assistant guide, Tsaone Radedibo, who brought up the rear. Both were highly skilled and knowledgeable and shared their experience about the region and wildlife throughout the week. They were very alert in spotting game and in keeping ample distance from elephants to avoid risks.

Ride Safari in Botswana: Horses

Our trusty steeds were Ajax, Big John, Calvero, Casablanca, Dennis, Foxy, General, Lancelot, Mister Fun, and Monate.

Horses
All horses in the ride were excellent. All were geldings of pure and mixed breed and included one Boerperd. Each horse was well-schooled, responsive and in excellent condition. During long canters in hot, dusty conditions no horse showed signs of tiring and there was no sweating, other than under the saddle pads. The horses went over jumps smoothly and without hesitation. They also got along well with each other.

Grooms
Four grooms (one also served as a driver) took excellent care of the horses and the tack. The horses were properly fed with good quality hay and feed, given plenty of water and thoroughly checked in the morning and evening.

Tack
The tack was in excellent condition and was well maintained throughout the ride. I chose English tack and was very comfortable after many hours in the saddle. Saddlebags were provided and two bottles of water were placed in them at the beginning of each ride. The grooms were responsible for tacking and untacking the horses each day.

Itinerary
The ride was well planned and executed. This was to be expected in light of the fact that the Tuli Safari is conducted weekly from March through October.

The ride from camp to camp was thoroughly enjoyable given the variety of terrain, the spontaneity of game sightings and the wide range of wildlife species encountered. The outgoing personality and knowledge of the guide and his assistant were a big plus, as was the camaraderie among participants. Long riding times gave us the opportunity to “take it all in” and to appreciate the open space and exotic nature of this adventure. The route each day was particularly rewarding: galloping across open plains, crossing riverbeds, admiring the terrain, vegetation and wildlife, etc.

Tuli ride safari wildlife

View from the safari vehicle. Our guides always kept us at safe distances from wildlife when on horseback.

Evening game drives by safari vehicle were also a highlight, giving participants the ability to see a variety of animals, including cheetah, elephants and lions up close in comparison to the distance maintained while on horseback.

Tuli Ride Safari: Sundowners

“Sundowners” is a wonderful tradition to celebrate the achievements of the day’s ride.

Sunsets spent with drinks/ Sundowners in hand atop rock outcroppings with spectacular views of the riverbeds and the vast plains below provided a heavenly end to each day as the sun slipped below the horizon.

Pace
The ride was well paced and varied between walking and cantering, nearly always in single file. There was very little trotting. Canters included some enjoyable long stretches in open areas. Frequent stops were made when encountering wildlife as well as gallops near other animals including zebra and giraffes, generally at a distance of about 75 yards. The guides were particularly sensitive about maintaining a safe distance from elephants.

Tuli ride safari: pace

Thanks to our ever cautious and professional guides, there were no animal charges or incidents throughout the week.

Each day there was generally a rest break of about half an hour in the morning and afternoon in the shade of huge Mashatu trees. During these stops, participants were given light snacks, including apples and cakes. There were numerous crossings of dry riverbeds, some of which had moderately steep inclines. A number of stops were made at waterholes and streams for the horses. On several occasions riders had the opportunity to jump over downed trees and natural obstacles.

Climate
The ride took place in the spring. The climate was dry as were nearly all riverbeds. There was no rain throughout the week. The temperature during the day was hot and, in my estimation, approached 100 degrees by midday. Rides departed around 7AM each day. There was also plenty of dust kicked up by the horses, especially during canters, as we were riding in single file. Evening and overnight temperatures were pleasant.

Ride safari camp

In our outdoor camp we gazed in awe upon the majesty of the Southern Constellation before drifting off to sleep.

Accommodations
All camps were located in attractive areas. Tents were spacious and equipped with water, bowls, soaps and towels for shaving and freshening up. Each tent had its own flush toilet or drop latrine. Two nights at the Kgotia Camp featured sleeping outdoors, which was very enjoyable. Adequate shower facilities were present at all locations. Luggage was transferred from camp to camp during the ride and placed in the respective tents prior to arrival of the riders in the afternoon.

Meals

All meals were excellently prepared and included a variety of drinks, salads, meats, vegetables and desserts. The quality and variety of food were excellent and better than expected. This was particularly noteworthy in light of the logistics of moving from camp to camp each day. Hot coffee, tea or hot chocolate was delivered to each tent at the time of the morning “wake up” call. Early breakfasts included fruits, cereal and breads, together with coffee, tea and juices. The varied menu for lunch and dinner were particularly noteworthy. Plenty of food and a variety of drinks ( water / soda / wine / beer / coffee / tea ) were available.

It was clear that the cook, Grace Mosholombe, and her assistant, Queen Bale, took pride in their work. Sanitation standards were high.

It was clear that the cook, Grace Mosholombe, and her assistant, Queen Bale, took pride in their work. Sanitation standards were high.

Summary

The Tuli Safari is an incredible adventure enabling equestrian enthusiasts to thoroughly appreciate spectacular landscape and a profusion of wildlife that is unique to the Tuli District of Botswana. Experiencing this majesty in a small group aboard willing horses under the guidance of personable and knowledgeable guides is unrivaled. The magic continues after dismount with evening game drives, spectacular sunsets savored from high vantage points, animated conversation over excellently prepared meals beside the fire and culminating with the awe of gazing upon the majesty of the Southern Constellation before drifting off to sleep. This is a lifetime experience not to be missed.

Author Robert Savarese.1

Author Robert Savarese at home away from home.

Ride Review by Robert Savarese

Riding High In the Sierra Nevadas…

Sitting now in my living room in Verona, Wisconsin, it is hard to believe that a week ago I was sleeping in a rustic inn in Trevelez, the highest village in Spain, following a long day of riding through amazing scenery in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. My best riding buddy and I signed up for this ride in celebration of “big” birthdays, 60 for me. We expected to see and do amazing things, and were not disappointed.

I cannot say enough good things about trip outfitter, Dallas Love, and her string of wonderful,  hard-working  horses.These are well-schooled, sure-footed, trustworthy mounts who seem eager to go to work each morning and are highly responsive to rein and leg cues. Although I don’t like heights, I can honestly say that I never had a moment of fear, even on the most precarious  trails, thanks to the steadiness and experience of the horse Dallas trusted to me for the week.  Prior to experiencing this week of mountain riding, had I seen the trail down the Trevelez river gorge, I would never, ever have thought I would willingly walk down it on my own, let alone leading a horse!

Dallas is a competent, experienced tour leader and excellent cook. She prepared amazing picnic lunches, always accompanied by a local wine. One day after lunch I casually mentioned that the only thing lacking was a bit of chocolate. Voila! Dallas pulled a giant bar of dark chocolate with almonds from her picnic bag!

Mountain Riding in Spain

Enjoying a cool drink from the fountain

The experiences and scenery of this trip will not be easily forgotten. The sounds of our horses’ hooves echoing through the steep, narrow streets of so many tiny white-painted mountain towns, the bubbling village fountains where we and the horses drank cold spring water, and the melody of cowbells on all sides as we rode through a high mountain pasture are among the most vividly different from suburban life in the United States.

Mountain riding in Spain

Thank goodness for waterproof riding boots!

I would highly recommend the Coastal Range Ride for persons who are FIT, both for riding and hiking. The ride description says you need to be capable of mounting and dismounting on the trail, which indeed we did many, many times each day, and be capable of walking up and down steep, rocky terrain leading your horse.Take this seriously. We walked a lot, both on the trail and in the villages.Some of the trails were tricky, to say the least! My riding buddy and I were very thankful for our rubber soled Ariat Terrain boots.  We also definitely wished we had signed up for a fall ride (after a season of riding at home) rather than a spring ride following a long, idle winter.

If you do take this ride, you can be sure you will see sights and have experiences that are absolutely unique, enjoy excellent horses, and be very well looked after by Dallas, aka “the mountain gourmet.” Buen viaje!

Ride Review by Jean Warrior

To the drum of my horse’s hooves…

French Malbec Trail

This trip was not just about visiting wineries….it was about riding through a 500 year old vineyard to the beat of my horse’s hooves.

French Malbec Trail

This “gariotte” is an old shepherd’s house, about 200 years old.

In this travel exposé I am supposed to write of the itinerary of the french Malbec Trail…to describe the incredible, ancient french villas we slept in, to expound upon the minerality and subtle classic french flavor of the daily wine tasting and the visits to the vignobles, or ancient, millenniums old wineries. But this trip was not just about visiting wineries…it was about riding through a 500 year old vineyard to the beat of my horse’s hooves, with the spring sun slanting through vines just budding out…

So, I will leave that traditional travel exposé to others, and instead write about what is indelibly inscribed into my being after this week of riding through the beautiful Célé and Lot river valleys of south-western France…

French Malbec Trail

Author Teri Weronko

Imagine lush green countryside…imagine thick-necked, spiky-maned, buckskinned, French horses…that come in fantastic colors….isabelle fonçé, café au lait, champagne and alezan brûlé. Each impeccably, dependably trained… Imagine passing those envious, traditional tourists, climbing out of their cars, watching, speechless, as you ride past, through the ancient, fortified gates of a cliff side castle, 800 years old. Imagine lounging in the late afternoon sun, drinking a beer, and watching your horses roll in the luxuriant grass when you finally reach your french Chambre D’Hôtes, or bed and breakfast. All of you slaking down the heat and sweat of a fine day galloping through the french countryside in your own species-specific ways…

French Malbec Trail

Cave painting dating back to 25,000 BC…spotted horses running over neanderthal plains.

Friends at home have told me…why would I spend money to ride horses somewhere ELSE, when I have these horses of my own here, to ride at home? I have an answer for that now…for this type of journey is about discovering a country on a human scale, one gallop at a time, far from the aggravations and crowds of traditional tourist travel. It is cave paintings dating back to 25,000 BC, of spotted horses running over neanderthal plains. It is hidden river valleys, ringed with hanging white limestone escarpments, studded with spectacular stone troglodyte dwellings, clinging to the cliff sides and promising more secret, painted caves yet to be discovered. It is learning new horses and new languages and drinking coffee and cocoa from steaming, peasant, country bowls in the homes of sweet old french couples. It is new friends from around the world. It is laughing at cultural differences and toasting cultural similarities. It is drinking in the flavor of the life we have always dreamed of to the drum of our horse’s hooves on cobble-stoned roads as they carry us to our next french villa, our next country cheese discovered, our next bottle of wine together, our next connection made.

French Malbec Trail

Michel and Bayard….Santé!

I would call this the ‘trip of a lifetime’… but that is so wrong… A trip like this is just the beginning…once you are here, you will see that this is just the first journey of many that you will make, to reconnect and ride again with old friends, and to meet new friends around the world. Adventures like this are not once in a lifetime experiences…they are the living, galloping reminder that THIS is life…today…THIS trip, THIS horse, THIS shared laughter on the trail. Don’t miss it. Come and join us!

Ride review by Teri Weronko, DVM

How Horseback Riding shaped Wyoming’s History…

Though horses originated in America, there was a 10,000 year hiatus in the history of horses on this continent because it seems that about that long ago Native Americans hunted them to extinction, along with the hairy mammoth and the giant buffalo.  Fortunately before that happened, some horses had migrated across the Bering Straits to Asia where they quickly spread. History would have been very different if the Indians had domesticated and ridden horses instead of simply hunting them.

The lack of horses greatly hampered the Plains Indians in Wyoming and elsewhere because they could only depend on dogs and themselves to move their equipment from place to place and it was very difficult for a man on foot to hunt the fast moving buffalo in open country. Thus the acquisition of the horse in the early 18th century transformed their existence. After their arrival the Spaniards had long jealously guarded possession of the horse as a vital advantage in maintaining control of the vast territories they had conquered in the Americas. Their monopoly was shattered in 1680 by the Pueblo Indian revolt in Santa Fe when about a thousand horses either escaped into the wild or fell into Indian hands. These horses were some of the finest in Europe and were mostly of Arab and Andalusian blood. The wild ones found an ideal habitat in the Great Plains and multiplied quickly in numbers. The captured ones were great trade items and usually fetched a far better price than the most attractive bride.

By the 1730’s horses had reached Wyoming and vastly increased the living  standards of Plains Indians there causing a population shift toward the west where, thanks to the horse, people could now hunt and move so much more easily. Of course, as with so many technological advances, horses immediately became a key player in tribal warfare which made it possible to make raids at much longer distances. They were also a most attractive and comparatively easy prize for horse thieving which was refined to a fine art and became a constant source of friction. The heyday of the Plains Indian horse culture lasted nearly a century and a half before its collapse. The famous defeat of Custer in 1876 was a last gasp in reality. The buffalo were nearly exterminated, depriving them of their livelihood, and they were ignominiously relegated to reservations.

The Indians were not the only ones to profit from the fabulous supply of magnificent wild horses which had proliferated to 3 or 4 million by the early 1800s.Trappers used them extensively during the first half of the 19th century to carry their supplies into the wilderness and to carry out the furs they collected.

rendezvoussite2

The mountain man rendezvous.

These were the days of the picturesque mountain man rendezvous of the 1830s and 1840s in Wyoming and Utah. The Pony Express riders (among them Buffalo Bill), who famously carried mail in as little as seven days over the 2,000 mile trail from the Missouri River to San Francisco, used relays of these fine horses to accomplish this extraordinary feat.  Later the cowboys used them for those legendary cattle drives from Texas (where there were lots of cows, but no market) to Wyoming and other states on the Great Plains.  What gave these drives their impetus was the completion of the transcontinental railway in 1868 which made it possible for Texas ranchers, who had plenty of cows and little market, to ship their cows to the East Coast. Wyoming ranchers also wanted to establish herds so that they could raise cows themselves to satisfy the growing demand for beef in the East. In the peak year of 1884 it is estimated that 800,000 cows crossed the Red River between Texas and Oklahoma on their way north. The colorful era is celebrated in numerous books and songs and in movies like “Red River” and “Lonesome Dove”.

Buffalo Bill

Fantastic feats of horsemanship in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Shows captivated audiences worldwide.

From 1883 to 1913 the Wild West Shows of Buffalo Bill Cody captivated the Western World and enthralled the crowned heads of Europe as far off as Russia. The fantastic feats of horsemanship in these fabulous shows were performed mainly on these wild horses or their descendants. The town of Cody, Wyoming today preserves these traditions of the old West more than any other place and it is now home to the magnificent Buffalo Bill Historical Museum which contains many fascinating exhibits depicting Western history.

Today horses are still a vital part of ranch life in Wyoming. It would be difficult to raise cattle on these huge areas of land, which are often inaccessible to vehicles, without horses. Today mining may be more important that ranching to the state’s economy, but ranching still dominates the culture. Rodeo is still the main attraction in most Wyoming towns. For over a century now, dude ranches in Wyoming have played an important role in preserving the old culture of the West and in offering people from all over the world a taste of what cowboy life is like. Dude ranch vacations at their best offer a more or less authentic opportunity to actually experience this tremendously appealing way of life by participating in ranch activities and working cows on horseback. Wyoming has also preserved huge areas of unspoiled wilderness and guests can take pack trips into these uninhabited areas just as the first explorers and the mountain men did. One can often travel like that for a week without seeing other humans.

Article by Bayard Fox

Additional articles on the History of Horseback Riding by Bayard Fox may be found under the following links:

History of Horseback Riding in France

History of Horseback Riding in Spain

History of Horseback Riding in Utah

History of Horseback Riding in Arizona

History of the Horse and Native American Culture

Dr. Livingstone, I presume?

Tree Lodge was the perfect location to recover from the long haul flight New York to Johannesburg and on to Maun. The charming raised tented cabins surrounded by the bush made us feel at home in Africa right away. The lodge is set in the grounds of a small game preserve. Well marked walking trails meander through woods and open grassy areas where chance encounters with zebra, giraffe, ostrich and vervet monkeys keep you on your toes.

Kalahari pix

Cantering over the pans

The following morning we left for our ride in the Kalahari, a place I had always wanted to experience after reading Laurens van der Post’s books and Mark and Delia Owens’ “The Cry of the Kalahari”. We were based for several days at the surprisingly luxurious Camp Kalahari, quickly settling into a routine of a morning ride followed by a late lunch and an evening game drive. The sandy soil provided good footing for the horses, the islands of palm trees were visually appealing and the pans were perfect for long canters.

Bush ride meerkays

The curiously meerkats showed no fear of us at all. In fact, we served as elevation platforms.

The highlight was encountering a group of habituated meerkats. Dismounting from our horses, we moved with them as they foraged for scorpions and other tasty morsels. They were very busy and totally unafraid, climbing upon us as convenient look-out posts if we sat in their path.

Bush ride history

Dr. Livingstone was here as witnessed by this mighty baobab tree.

We moved to a fly camp through thicker bush and passed by two enormous baobab trees which had been signed by some of the early explorers (including Dr. Livingstone) before they set off on an arduous trek across a thirty mile pan to the next waterhole. It was awe inspiring to experience the history of this wild, unspoiled place. The following day we had some good, fast riding on the pans culminating in a night spent out in the open under the stars. Cantering along in the dark as a super moon was rising to our left was an unforgettable feeling.

Bush ride sunset

Evening comes to the Kalahari.

The Kalahari has a haunting beauty and appeals to those who want to experience Africa in more depth than the typical tourist on the game reserve run. David Foot, leader of these rides, is a veteran guide and one of the best. English born, he was based in Zambia and Malawi before moving to Botswana and even after years of guiding tourists, retains his sense of freshness and fun.

 

Ride Review by Mel Fox