The holidays

LOST VALLEY RANCH, Colorado, USA

I have visited this ranch over 18 times since 1999 so you can tell how much I like it! I'd been put off going to the States originally, having been told that they will only let you walk and trot. At Lost Valley the rides are divided according to ability so there are plenty of opportunities to lope (canter) here. The area surrounding the ranch, but not the ranch itself, was devastated by the Hayman fire of June 2002 which burnt 137,760 acres but despite black trees it still retains the unique beauty of the Rocky Mountains. What stands out, however, is the carefully chosen staff. They are multi-talented - offering the best of American hospitality and service. They cannot do enough to make your stay enjoyable, know all the guests by name and in the evening demonstrate their skills in dancing, musicianship and entertaining.

You will have your own log cabin, some with spa baths and three hearty meals a day. There is a square dance once or twice a week and often a programme of music, sketches and entertainment. More .... http://www.lostvalleyranch.com/

ROMANIA - EQUUS SYVANIA

Imagine cantering for minutes on end, seeing mystical scenery, exploring history, flora and fauna and not ever having to open a gate. This was a riders' paradise. I'd always fancied a riding holiday in Eastern Europe lured by the talk of wild, unspoilt terrain and good horses. We stayed at an eco-lodge run by Christophe and Barbara Promberger - biologists studying the carnivores of the area. They try to take advantage of local produce, organic if possible and the accommodation and food were first class, including Romanian specialities and the most wonderful homemade bread, yoghurt and lemonade.

We rode for five days exploring the virgin forests and meadows filled with orchids, seeing bear tracks on our way. We rode out for 5-6 hours each day, on spirited, endurance trained Arabian and Hungarian horses.

Even before you land you can see the mediaeval type field strip systems and villages in the countryside of Romania. I expected an unspoilt rural landscape and apart from the amount of roadside litter I was not disappointed. As we drove out of Bucharest the problem did abate somewhat but I didn't let it put me off, as Romania is a wonderful place. It should suit walkers, historians, conservationists, sightseers and horse riders alike. The farms running along the main road in the village, which claims to be the first Ecological village in Romania, all have gates to keep the animals in but if you look over there is a small farmyard with barns and more often horses and carts instead of tractors. Each landowner has a few acres and there is common land for grazing with very few fences. Ragged robin and other flowers brighten the hay meadows along with all kinds of orchids. Hoopoe, cuckoos, honey buzzards and lesser spotted eagles roamed above us whilst we knew, although they would be hidden from us, bear, wolves and possibly lynx were lurking in the woods. Our accommodation and food were excellent and we were treated to a visit to a bear hide where thirteen bears were seen, encouraged by regular feeding. Romania also has a very healthy wolf population.

This year I am taking the trail ride option, which means a 150km round trip exploring even more spectacular scenery and for invited guests only there is the two week trail. Quite an adventure!

We flew from Leeds/Bradford airport via Amsterdam (they are quite strict as to what time you need to arrive in Bucharest) They only take experienced riders and you need to be prepared to lead your horse downhill so it is a good excuse to get fit!

Lying in bed in the early morning listening to the bells on the cows as they made their way up the lane to graze is an enduring memory that I will not forget. Do go, before it changes even more!

I booked via the excellent team at "In The Saddle"

Their website for Romania is http://www.inthesaddle.com/RidesList.aspx?c=33554432  

ARGYLL TRAIL RIDING and CASTLE RIDING CENTRE, Ardrishaig, Argyll West of Scotland

This is another venue I have visited many times and it is distinguished by the wonderful Scottish scenery, brilliant horses, many of which are of competition standard, and great Scottish hospitality. It is run by Tove Grey-Stephens and her son David Hay-Thorburn. Tove is Norwegian, a knowledgeable horsewoman who expresses her Norwegian heritage by being very forthright. The accommodation can vary from Stonefield Castle to cosy bed and breakfast. They run several trail rides, which can include jumping walls, and ditches and incorporate many historical and prehistoric sites, beloved by Americans. You can also take riding clinics and the speciality is TREC training (see www.bhs.org.uk/Content/Evt-BHS-Trec.asp) David was 2000 World TREC Champion and Tove is an international judge. The horses range from Irish Draught crosses to the rare Eriskay pony. They have a cross country course and the speciality is swimming on horseback in the sea. More ......
www.brenfield.co.uk/
 

 

Sean-Eriskay Pony
Riding on the Beach

 

LOS ALAMOS, Barbate, Andalucia, South-west Spain.

Rhiannon, Andrew and Rachel moved from England to set up in Andalucia. They are yet another group of people that do their utmost to make your holiday as enjoyable as possible. I stayed in the attractive villa, Los Alamos (the Poplars) which has a swimming pool. The accommodation is well cared for, the cooking superb with plenty of wine flowing! Breakfasts are on a DIY basis and you can make drinks and have a snack any-time. The rides are mainly through the forest of umbrella pine, eucalyptus trees and on sandy tracks and although canters and gallops are at designated places each one has a name and often a surprise element which all adds to the tremendous sense of fun here. We usually had a break at a small bar for drinks, and riding was followed by a late lunch with the rest of the day to ourselves. The evening meal was quite late. Sunday is a rest day for the horse and on Thursday there is a trip to Jerez to see the Royal Spanish Riding School. This is a great display of riding although I felt that most of the horses would have loved a gallop through the pines as we had done. The highlight of the whole week was the beach ride. The length and number of beach rides varies according to the tides but if the sand is right this is the essence of fun. Riding with the waves as backdrop with the historic Trafalgar lighthouse in the distance has to be experienced - go for that alone!

Guests can be picked up from Gibraltar or Malaga.

2007 - this outfit is shortly moving to a nearby village so minor details will be different - please refer to their website.
www.losalamosriding.co.uk/

 

WYOMING, Brush Creek

Having read ‘Green Grass of Wyoming' by Mary O'Hara as a child I just had to experience it for myself. In October 2004 as part of a special birthday celebration my third week in the States was set aside for Wyoming. I was met in Fort Collins for the three hour drive to the ranch. The scenery gradually changed from the foothills of the mountains to grassy plains and back again. There was quite a lot of snow and wild antelope grazing in the grassland – a big hunting area.

I was greeted on my arrival by the larger than life Kinta and shown to my room in the lodge. Having come from a 4 diamond ranch this was much more basic and traditional but comfortable and warm.

The following day I was introduced to Zoë my riding guide from Scotland. As I was the only guest, after the first day, I ate breakfast alone with only the magnificent view for company. All the food was simple but beautifully prepared. Kinta was very keen for me to try out all her best horses and I really enjoyed this opportunity. The riding was fairly steady whilst in the meadows, as Kinta pointed out – this is prairie dog country, but the pace hotted up on the tracks and all the horses were forward going yet very controllable.

 

Even though I was the only guest Kinta and her staff made me feel at home and they even took me out for a breakfast cookout ride, but it's not quite the same when part of the holiday experience is meeting other riders. However, I did eat one evening with 6 hunting men which was different!

We were intending to trailer the horses out and do a day ride but the weather rather spoilt our plans. After thunder, lighting and torrential rain the weather turned cold and the tracks were too slippery to canter so we were limited to walking. However the highlight of the whole trip was seeing a moose, which made my day. To make up for the bad weather I was taken to lunch in Saratoga – a really great western experience and looked around all the western tack stores and the local grocery store, which had stuffed animal heads on its walls!

The scenery at that time of the year was truly spectacular with the aspens in all their autumn glory. This was a good introduction toWyoming and there are plenty of outdoor actives for non-riders.

Update March 2009 - Sorry Brush Creek Ranch has now closed down.

 

HURUNUI

I corresponded with Rob Stanley by e-mail to book this trip and never actually met him as he was away guiding another group. As I prefer a bit more comfortable accommodation to sheep-shearers’ quarters they arranged for me to stay in farmhouses along the way, which was a great experience. I got to meet the station owners and have some great meals and conversations. As I was a confident rider we did a 4 day trail ride in 3 days with just me and a guide, Jenny, which added to the special nature of this ride. The riding was generally slow and we got off to walk down hills (do take comfortable boots which you can walk in, as well as ride) but the scenery was unspoilt and beautiful.

Hurunui can be booked by most of the riding holiday agents. I visited Hurunui in 1998 and it has now been taken over by Liam and Heather Naden. Their website features an article from Horse and Hound which you can download and so obviously the standard is just as high.
www.horseback.co.nz

 

EQUITREK

This is a company run by Nelly Gellich from Sydney. On my "big trip" to Australia and New Zealand I was lucky enough to meet and become friends with Nelly. She organises riding in Australia and New Zealand and in other places worldwide, notably Iran! Her trip through Iran was filmed for Australian TV. Much of the riding in Australia has been curtailed by very high insurance costs but Nelly can advise on the best places to go.
www.equitrek.com.au/equiFrameAbout.html

 

YORKSHIRE DALES TREKKING CENTRE, Malham, North Yorkshire, England.

Zana Jackson and her mother Angela run this enterprise specialising in the Dales pony. To those who know their geography, the Dales pony is obviously the local breed and is known for its steadiness and weight carrying ability. Not only do they have the most beautiful limestone countryside but Zana is an inspiring teacher and dressage rider. There is always laughter and fun at the stables but watch out for Freddie the wolf on dark nights. They are also developing their network of trail rides which can take in the racing town of Middleham. Do visit their web-site, if only for some of the zany comments on the message board!!

As well as 1 to 3 hour rides do try the Friday Night Flyer. This is an hour ride with lots of cantering using routes and fields not on the bridleway network. Zana has negotiated with local landowners, who had a hard time during foot and mouth, to use these fields for a "per rider" fee. This is a great way to end the week and often we end up in the local pub for a fantastic meal. More ....
www.ydtc.net/
      

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RANCH RIDER

Now with a more detailed web site you can choose a ranch to suit yourself. As there are so many ranches in the States it's great to know that Tony has visited each one and can advise on the difference between guest, resort and working ranches, as well as the individual differences. He can also arrange travel and hotels if necessary.
www.ranchrider.com/

 

IRELAND, County Kerry

I visited Ireland in the Spring of 2006. I found the smaller, less formal stables much more fun than the others! I took my teenage niece with me and she seemed to enjoy herself too although she didn’t say so!!! I visited Dingle Horse Riding, just outside this town made famous by Fungie the dolphin. We had a two hour ride with a short canter on the beach and then couldn't resist a whole day ride so we could ride on the beach again. The horses were very sensible and the ride leaders friendly. We had lunch in a unique pub visited by all sorts of famous people before our beach gallop. They also do trail rides which I am keen to try.

 

Dingle Horse Riding Ltd. The Stables, Baile na Buaile, Dingle, Co. Kerry, Ireland
Telephone +353 (0)66 915 2199
www.dinglehorseriding.com/

 

Then I found, almost by accident, Burke's Activity Centre at Glenbeigh. This is a very low key enterprise but as there were just two experienced riders, myself and a New Zealand song writer, we were able to enjoy the beach and the dunes whilst being educated about the local area and its history by Mr Burke. Non riders can also enjoy this new centre offering a willow hedge maze, animal farm, and crazy golf.

Burkes Horse Riding & Activity Centre.
Mobile: 0872379110