Hi! This is Marlies, writer for Hooves around the World and currently on a trip around the world. This time I want to take you with me on my stay at a ranch in Sri Lanka! Sri Lanka is a country known for their tea plantations, rice and curry and all sorts of wildlife like elephants, crocodiles, and many monkeys. The streets are filled with tuktuks and an occasional cow who is walking freely through the chaos. What you don’t see much, or almost at all, are horses. Obviously, they are hard to keep in the humid and hot climate and even more importantly, taking care of horses properly is expensive. As we all know. Yet, I got very lucky and found the most beautiful place where my horse crazy friend and I could enjoy Sri Lankan lifestyle from horseback! In this blogpost you’ll read all about our 3-day stay at the ranch, our accommodation, the horses, and our experience in general!
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You start your Sri Lankan adventure from the airport based in the commercial capital, Colombo at the west coast of the island. The ranch is located close to the town of Batticaloa at the east coast. It’s easy to get an airconditioned bus from the airport straight to the ranch. We decided differently and made the ranch part of our trip crossing touristic highlights in our own tuktuk! By the time we arrived at the ranch our driving skills were good enough to be able to handle the rural and bumpy paths to the secluded and very peaceful property of the VonFidel Ranch.
Tired of a long journey we enjoyed a warm welcome of our host Alfie. He gave us a tour, explaining all the details in fluent English, while we were sipping on our fresh lemon juices. Within the first minute we had spotted eagles, circling the green fields and a number of squirrels crossing the trees, it was incredible. Huge foot prints in the sand proved the visit of a group of wild elephants. Although the property is home for a big variety of animals, it is safe to say that the big, white horses are the VIP habitants of this place.
Also read: what is my horse riding experience level?
Before we got a proper introduction to the horses, we settled down in the four persons dude ranch house called “the tack room”. Where the wooden saddle stands were still on the wall, giving the room the country atmosphere. The room is suitable for four people in total with 2 single beds and 1 queen size bed. It’s a comfortable room but we did have to lower some of our usual standards. The shower has no hot water (which is not a problem in the hot climate) and the beds are all in the same common area. However, the room is spacious with some comfortable couches and provides you with everything you need.
On a very short notice we’ve asked Alfie if it was okay to come one day early. He improvised and set up the dinner table in the barn, where we gladly ate some real Sri Lankan roti with coconut sambal. Dining while the horses are eating hay behind you is not something you come across much in Sri Lanka. After a delicious dinner made with the help of a wood stove, we agreed to be at the stables at 6:00am the next morning. Ready for our first ride!
If you are looking for fast gallops along endless fields, this is not your place. However, if you can’t wait to enjoy the Sri Lankan beauty from horseback with the reassurance of healthy and happy horses, you will love it here!
At 6am we were ready to get to work! At home riding means collecting your horse from the field, brushing and put the tack on them. Here, you don’t have to worry about a thing. We got a cup of tea and watched how the guys were getting the horses ready. From baby oil in the mane to picking their hoofs. Not a single spot was missed.
With the two shiny horses, Henry and Amigo, we went out in the field. The crew of VonFidel ranch accompanied us by foot. Discovering a new trail while we went and using the elephant tracks as guidance. It was an easy, slow ride to get used to our horses. As a horse lover yourself, we don’t have to explain that everything is more beautiful seen through the horses’ ears. After a little more than one hour we returned to the ranch. Although it was very early in the morning, the temperature had risen, and we were sweating lots. The horses got a well-deserved shower and we were excited about the sunset ride in the evening!
Right now, the ranch owns two tall (1.70m) ex-racehorses coming from the mountain town Nuwara Eliya. This town is known for their famous horse track. Henry and Amigo are approximately 12 years old and both very reliable. At their naughtiest behaviour, they would get a small fright and stop. In the beginning the guys of the ranch helped us, but quickly enough we were able to manage ourselves.
Besides this they didn’t blink an eye to anything we encountered on the road. From an entire herd of cows to a bus passing us fast. This makes the ride perfectly suitable for all levels. On top of that, Alfie and his team take safety very seriously, so it’s a great opportunity to get some extra experience in the saddle.
The trail riding business has just started for the VonFidel ranch and we were the first guests. Soon they are planning to buy 4 more horses and they are busy to create more exciting and reliable trails.
This trail takes you to places where tourism is relatively rare. While walking through a couple of local villages, people ran out of their homes to get a glimpse of these beautiful horses. Along the way we got escorted by 2 staff members on a motorbike. We are from the Netherlands, where the horses in general are afraid of motorbikes. Also, people get excited when they see a horse (especially children), but here they gather their entire families and not long after we had an entire delegation behind us. A unique experience for sure!
After a while you leave the village behind, and you ride on a dirt road with paddy fields on both sides. Since my friend and I are experienced riders, Alfie was perfectly fine with us trotting the parts where the road let us. The duration of the ride was approximately 2,5h and ended at a lake. The horses got their well-deserved rest under the palm trees and even though daylight was almost gone, our impressing day wasn’t over just yet.
Surely, we’ve watched the sunset and when it got dark, we made our way to the lake bun. Alfie and his team set up a fire and warned us not to wash our hands in the water. There might be crocodiles. While dinner got prepared on the fire, we couldn’t stop watching the sky filled with stars and the hundreds of fireflies dancing around us. The setting was super romantic and almost surreal!
Pretty soon the early morning and being in the saddle for 3,5h that day made us sleepy. So, we headed back to the ranch in our own tuktuk with a chance to spot wild elephants. This sounds like something you want to encounter, but you don’t. When they block the road, you and your tuktuk are no game. We got home safe and sound and fell asleep right away.
Since we were the first ones doing this amazing sunset ride and diner at the lake experience, they named the trail: the Marlies trail. Isn’t that the coolest thing?
Also read: horse riding in Canada - written by Marlies!
The last day we didn’t start riding before the late afternoon. This was our own wish, because we needed some rest, since our departure date from Sri Lanka was coming close. We mounted Henry and Amigo and felt comfortable now that we’ve known them for a bit longer.
The first part brought us again through nature and the horses were so good! For them these rides were the start of the season, so they needed to get the hang of it again. Unexpectedly we didn’t return to the ranch by taking the back roads, but we took the main road.
Accompanied by the staff members we guided the horses through Sri Lankan traffic. Noisy buses, tuktuks and motorbikes were passing us while everybody couldn’t get their phones out of their pockets fast enough to take pictures and videos. Henry and Amigo didn’t bat an eye. Apparently, they are used to getting all the attention. We weren’t, but what an experience.
Halfway we stopped to drink coconut juice and also the horses got their share. There we were, standing at the side of the road, next to a juice stand, while we were offering our horses coconut juice. Not long after, a small crowd had collected around us. Alfie later explained that a lot of people have never seen a horse in their life. Let alone such a pretty, tall one being ridden by tourist girls.
Coming home to the ranch the barbecue was already on and the crew installed a picnic table at the prettiest spot of the ranch. They prepared delicious, fresh fish which we ate next to their own pond. This was the perfect way to end our trip.
Like I mentioned in the beginning of this blogpost, Sri Lanka is in general not a horse country. People who would like to go riding are reluctant due to doubting the animal welfare. At the VonFidel ranch we’ve witnessed with our own eyes that these horses are treated very well.
So if you are looking for:
This is the place for you!
Alfie just started to set up the trail riding business. I’m completely sure he will add extra trails on short term and expand his herd of horses.
Lastly, if only a part of the group wants to ride, that’s no problem. Staying at the ranch is a unique experience, also for non-riders. Alfie is very easy to talk to and he and his team will go above and beyond to make your stay memorable.
Also read: riding holidays with non-riders
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