How do I communicate with my guides if I don’t speak the local language?

When you are super interested in joining a horse riding holiday, you might be slightly worried about the cultural differences and especially the language barrier with the place you will be riding at. The cultural differences are incredibly interesting and it’s fascinating to learn about new cultures in a place where the trail riding guides are of course used to teaching horse riders about their culture! The language barrier can be scary but absolutely should not stop you from going on your trip of a lifetime. In this blog post I will tell you all you need to know to best prepare for this and that it actually isn’t scary, but interesting!

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Horse language

Every guide you’ll ever have on your horse riding holiday will speak the same language as you, horse! We all want the best for our horses, and most of us are very experienced riders. When you ride somewhere as a beginner, there will always be someone there with good enough English to explain everything about riding and tacking up of course. As an experienced rider, you’ll notice that guides don’t always speak very good English. That does not matter at all though and even creates some hilarious scenarios, trust me! Your guide will also be a very professional horseman or woman and you just have to point at your girth, stirrups or a log you desperately want to jump and they’ll understand exactly what you mean. Everyone also speaks some words of English nowadays and especially at stables offering horse rides to international guests, your guide will be able to communicate with you, albeit not in correct or fluent English.  

Imire volunteers at sunset
Katie from Essex, UK (right) and myself at Imire, it took be about 3 days to understand anything Katie says but we had some laughs about it and became friends!

Different accents of the world

Especially if you haven’t traveled all that much before, it can be difficult to get used to different accents when you’re horse riding overseas. I’ve seen (and been) a native English speaker struggle to understand another native English speaker because of the different accent. If this happens to you, just ask someone to please speak a bit slower. Explain that you are not used to the accent and that you would love to understand everything they are telling you. You won’t offend anyone by doing this and it will make your trip so much more pleasant. People are often nervous to say anything about not understanding someone’s accent, but chances are they also can’t understand yours! Have a short and friendly conversation about it and this way during the next days you spend with your guide, you’ll get better and better at understanding their accent. Speak slowly and clearly at a normal volume, just speaking louder won’t make anyone understand your accent better!

Translation apps

It never hurts to download an offline translation app from English to the local language at your destination. This way, if you really need to communicate something clearly without misunderstandings, you have a good backup. The Google Translate app is free and has an offline option. 

Language courses

Don’t worry about taking an extensive language course unless you’re very interested in it. However, it is very useful to learn a few short sentences in the local language before heading there for your horse riding adventure or holiday. It is a fantastic icebreaker and the local people usually love it when you try to greet them in their language. Also, some useful words to know when riding are walk, trot, canter, left, right, and “is this our lunch spot?!”. It doesn’t have to be grammatically correct in the slightest and I usually just say singular words and shrug so that my guide understands that I’m asking them if we are going to walk or gallop up this hill/down the beach. Or whether we are going to be going flat out towards the left or the right of this massive field… You might want to learn the word for bathroom, dinner, times and some other essentials too. 

If you're headed to the following countries you might want to take a small language book, click on the country to buy yours!
Mexico and Argentina at Rancho Las Cascadas and our cattle drive
Zimbabwe at Imire
Egypt at Luxor Stables
Turkey at Ride4Far
South Africa at the Ultimate Horse Riding Experience

Horse riding in Mexico
Our guide Alejandro in Mexico! Despite the language barrier we all became friends as the week went on.

My own experience with language and accent barriers

When I first arrived in South Africa, I could not understand a single word that anyone said. There are so many different accents within the country and between different people that I felt completely lost. I went to an international school and am a native English speaker, which only made me feel worse! I was scared to tell people I couldn’t understand them and just nodded when someone spoke to me. When I finally did work up the courage to let people know that I was very sorry but couldn't understand their accent, they didn't mind at all and spoke slower for me. Within a few days it already started to become easier and I was able to adapt to different accents quicker and quicker. 

During my first horse riding trip to Mexico, I quickly realised that our guide and I weren’t going to be able to communicate much. My 20 words of Spanish and his 20 words of English weren’t getting us very far conversation-wise. However, we quickly started learning words from each other, and over a few beers we actually had some conversations! I don’t want to say that they were very in-depth conversations about politics and climate, but we did discuss our favourite horse breeds and our favourite horses to ride at the ranch! By the end of the week we understood each other very well and had actually managed to become friends despite the massive language barrier. 

The accent that I struggle to understand the most isn’t African accents or Spanish accents at all, it’s UK accents! I’ve had to tell dozens of British people to please speak slower because I can’t understand a word. To this day, I still struggle with all the different accents that people have throughout the UK. However, as soon as I ask someone to speak slower, I get used to their accent and after a day (sometimes a few days) I am able to understand everything! 

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