While we were getting ready to go for a ride along the Wild Coast in South Africa, I had the pleasure of meeting Tony. He joined us for a half day ride and would afterwards go on the famous 7 day trail along the beaches of the wild coast, for the 5th time! He told of his horse riding trips all across the globe and in this Q&A you'll be able to read all about Tony, his passion for travel and horse riding, and his favourite places with the best horse riding trails.
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I am a retired Production Operations Manager for an American multinational. Now living the dream, playing golf, tennis, going on riding trips about 4 or 5 times per year, and long distance walks in the UK of 200 to 300km.
Not thought of this really, but counting back I got to 21, might have missed one or two though (my carbon footprint doesn’t look good!).
Several things here. Firstly, my all-time favourite horse is here, a super Arabian/thoroughbred cross. The ride itself is by far the best beach ride anywhere, with endless miles of wide, pristine, deserted beach which you can freely ride along. There is also variety as some days you ride inland before returning to the coast. It is one of the few rides where you have the opportunity (it is optional) for a full 1km flat out gallop (pass the guide if you can). The ride pace overall is fast-ish with plenty of canters, but not super fast (like Wadi Rum or Namibia for example). The overnight stops are all in idyllic locations, mostly right on the oceanfront giving a real ‘end of the world’ feel.. The places you stop at have character, are small, isolated and intimate; comfortable but not luxurious; the food fine, but not haut cuisine. This trip is all about the riding, remoteness and stunning scenery, not luxury accommodation.
Also read: horse riding at the Wild Coast South Africa
In my view, the perfect horse depends on the ride. In general, I look for a keen, forward going horse with a smooth canter and a strong walk (I actively avoid slow walkers that have to regularly trot to catch up with the group, or persistent joggers). I take a lot of photos, so I also like a horse which is comfortable walking away from the group to take photos, when the guide allows this. For the faster rides I favour Arabian/thoroughbred types, but for slower rides involving a lot of uneven terrain and steep ascents/descents, local breeds which might be a bit slower, but are sure footed tend to work better. I like a horse with personality, but it has to listen ; I don’t want to spend my holiday in constant negotiation with my horse as to which of us is in charge. As already mentioned my all-time favourite is an Arabian/thoroughbred cross on the Wild Coast trail. She is super fast, and yes, I am a bit of an adrenaline junkie, but she is also very responsive to the lightest of touches and it often feels like we know exactly what each other is thinking and wanting to do; horse and rider in perfect telepathic harmony! However, she will let you know if you do something she doesn’t approve of, and I am told she doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and if she takes a dislike to a rider (not an infrequent occurrence), she lets them know in no uncertain terms !
They do a 1 week trail ride in the remote east of the country (Transylvania) which overnights in very pretty rural Saxon villages. There are no walls or fences so you can ride freely along rolling hills and plateaus. There is little or no tourism in the places you ride through so you really get immersed in the fascinating culture and history of the area. The horses are excellent (the operation is run by a German couple who ensure high standards) and the ride is at a good pace, while not super fast. You see more horses and carts than mechanised vehicles in the fields; it is how I imagine England several hundred years ago; a time capsule that has long since disappeared from most of Europe. Watch out for the Palinka!
I tend to avoid centre based rides, but this is the exception. It is located in a beautiful valley surrounded by rolling hills and wildflower meadows. The day rides are very different in nature and the ride is exceptional value. It is all very relaxed and the guides are great characters.
This is not for the feint hearted. You get VERY close to the big 5 (lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard, rhino). Once you have been in this position on a horse, miles away from any mechanical vehicles , you will never want to go on a ‘truck’ safari again.
Go at the best time of the year (Sept/Oct) and you can canter through the crystal clear water of the Okavango Delta. The camp is in the middle of nowhere and the accommodation should not be viewed as camping as they are permanent high quality buildings, just with a canvas roof! Each day you ride out to see what wildlife you come across, and each day reveals a new adventure. Lots of wildlife in and around the camp as well!
The Namibian desert is huge and perfect for fast riding. It is one of the few rides where there is plenty of opportunity to spread out and ride freely without having to follow right behind the guide all/most the time. It is so remote that camping is essential, but the organisation is so efficient that you don’t feel any deprivation at all; indeed sleeping under the milky way and eating great food round a camp fire is an unforgettable experience; you even get beers, wine and G&Ts after the days ride. Bucket showers and loos are also erected at each stop.
A bit embarrassing, but I will be honest! I have never been one for beach holidays (after 10 minutes sitting on a beach I am bored out of my brains), so I have always been on the lookout for active holidays. In my mid 40’s I read an article in a travel newspaper about a guy who had just been on a horse riding holiday in the USA . This really interested me as I love the outdoors and have always had an empathy with animals. Back then I was rather over-confident (maybe even arrogant) so I thought, “great, how difficult can this be? The horse does the work, I just sit on it and enjoy the ride. Sign me up". So I booked on a ride in Montana. I was very honest and told them I had not ridden before, so they gave me a VERY steady horse. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and decided I wanted to do more. So when I got back I took 6 lessons so that I could ride without hurting myself or the horse, and then booked more riding trips; starting with the easy ones, and learning from the better riders on each trip. As my riding ability increased, I went on increasingly challenging rides.
I don’t ride at all in the UK as I live in the South East of England, have no interest in dressage, and any riding available here is very tame compared to the rides I have been lucky enough to do around the world. I also have many other interests, so owning a horse in the Uk would just be too much of a time commitment. I stay generally fit through other activities such as regular running, long distance walking, tennis and golf. However, there are certain muscles that are specific to horse riding, and for these I just accept the fact that parts of me will ache a bit for a day or two. The end of day 2, beginning of day 3 is usually the low point, and after that I am fine.
It's been a long time since I went on a beginner ride, and things can change over such a long time, so I am reluctant to recommend specific rides. My one piece of advice to inexperienced riders is don’t exaggerate your ability. If you book on a ride which is beyond your real ability, you will not enjoy it, and you will ruin the ride for the other riders on the trip. All too often I hear from ride operators of people booking on rides claiming to be experienced riders, when, as soon as they go near the horse, it is clear they are virtually complete beginners. It’s a mystery to me as to how they think they will get away with this.
Also read: horse riding in Drakensberg, South Africa
Too many to recall; nearly every trip turns up something unexpected. However, a few are:
Being in the middle of the bush on a horse less than 20 metres from a pride of lions with no vehicles anywhere near. Horse, rider, and lions staring each other down. Visceral. Big 5 Horse Safari trip in South Africa
Galloping at 62kph along an endless deserted Wild Coast beach. Wild Coast Beach ride
Cantering side by side, almost within touching distance of a cantering giraffe through crystal clear water in the Okavango Delta. Big 5 Horse Safari trip in Botswana
If Tony's stories have inspired you to book your horse riding holiday, have a look here. If your dream destination is not included, make sure to send through a message or email so we can find you your perfect trip.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions!
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