Something I haven’t really touched on so far is horse riding.
I have to be honest, it’s not really something I had been that fussed about primarily becasue over the years I have had a couple of exes who were more interested in what their pony was up to than anyone else (bitter perhaps?)
Having said that, pony trekking can be exhilarating, exciting and incredibly rewarding. Being at one with nature while with feeling the freedom on being at one with an animal is a unique experience. There is a genuine sense of respect and attachment between man and beast, especially as every step you take can lead you further and further into the wilderness and more and more astounding scenery. Camping out under the stars with your horse tethered up next to can dredge up a feeling of nostalgia reserved for times gone by.
Very often there is a level of horsemanship needed for these trips. At the very least you will need to know how to tack up but you defintiely don’t need to be ready to step out at Badminton!
So the first option is something called unguided trail riding. You get given a horse, a map, directions and the somewhat vague promise that dinner, your bed and perhaps more importantly your luggage will be waiting for you at the designated B+B… The beauty of this is that you have to do everything yourself. Open the gates, manoeuvre through, past or round other livestock and also sort your horse out in the evening.
So where is this happening? Over in the Welsh Hills of Radnorshire. There is a company called “Free Rein” who sort everything out for you and are an absolute joy to go with too.
The horses themselves are incredibly well trained and are tolerant of pretty much everything whether that be motorcycles, other animals and tractors.
As you set off the horses easily get into their stride and it all pretty much all your can do to remember that you are the one that needs to offer directions. Map reading skills are a pretty good added bonus as depending on the weather the hills can be a pretty bleak place to spend the night! Having said that you are given a load of directions that should help out if your year 8 geography has slipped your mind.
The Roast Ox Inn, in Painscastle, is a delightful place to have a bit of refreshment and the fantastic thing is that there are more horse parked up than cars!
Throughout the day you are likely to see red kites effortless gliding in the sky, cross rivers and streams, pound through fields full of sheep, cross farm yards and down bracken strewn paths.
Your over night stop off is in Rhulen where you will find buckets of food and grooming brushes for the horses already set out in the stables. Once the most important creatures have been dealt with (the horses obviously), you can then look after yourself with a hot bath over looking the stunning scenery followed by a delicious three course meal that is strongly reminiscent of being at home. What more could you want after a long day in the saddle?
After a long and incredibly deep and peaceful sleep day 2 sees you heading back to your starting point to be reunited with your luggage and your car however it would be pretty dull if you went the same way you had come. Instead you head to Llanbedr Hill via rocky outcrops and glassy pools. Lunch is once again in Painscastle (there are 5 different pubs to head to) and then back home. Talk about a rewarding, tiring and exhilarating weekend away.
So, if you want to go further afield and somewhere slightly different where should you head to:
1) Botswana would be a good one although you need to be a pretty good intermediate level.
The vast plains of Botswana are perfect for the extra speed and distances covered by horses. You can go on a four day riding safari across the Kalahari meeting bushmen, learning how to gather food, have a go at animal tracking and even going hunting. You are accompanied with a “San” bushman who will guide and track all sorts of animals from springbok, leopard, wildebeest and even cheetah. If you are interested then check out Equine Adventures.
The second option is Morocco.
Although not strictly horse related how many people do you know have been trekking on a camel? Something different for sure, especially as you would be making headway through the seemingly mystical Sahara Desert. 7 hour days savouring the unique ambiance of the desert ploughing through sand dunes and kasbahs and spending nights under canvas. Unlike other trips you are required to have a good level of fitness. Conveniently enough head to Best of Morocco for more info.
Moving on from Africa I would also have a look further west in South America. There are so many great things to do in Costa Rica and riding is defintiely doable, although perhaps not quite how you thought. This trip is a family friendly one for kids and adults alike. Imagine the kids reactions as they plod on through cloud-forests, Savannah and plantation lands. You can also stay on a ranch allowing you all to try a loud of different activities including kayaking, snorkeling, wild life spotting and canopy tours. A real all action activity packed trip. Its not cheap but Equitour will sort you out.
For those of you who want to learn how to ride why limit yourself to doing it in rainy England? And while you are at it have a wee go at dolphin and whale watching coupled with some other fantastic excursions on the little known and visited Portuguese islands the Azores. While learning to ride you will stay in a traditional local quinta that has the riding school attached. To book have a look at In the Saddle.
Last up, riding but not quite how you or I would really imagine it….How does sitting astride the biggest beast of them all sound? Becoming a “mahout” in Laos learning to ride an elephant! Becoming a Mahout though is more than just riding, you become responsible for its upkeep including feeding it, bathing it and looking after it’s every whim. The 3 day course takes place in the ecolodge in Luang Prabang under the careful guidance of experienced Mahouts. If you are interested in something as different as this then head to the aptly named Mahout Lodge.
Remember if you decide to try any of these or other activities then please get travel insurance as it is pretty easy to fall and hurt yourself.