Eight-point check list when you book a horse vacation
Written by Claudia Flisi
Here are some points to consider when choosing your equestrian vacation:
1.Are horses featured on the website?
If you see horses individually described on the website, with a different member of the herd each month, the owner probably takes his/her animals seriously and is proud of them. Same is true if the breed or breeds used by the stable are described in loving detail. These sections suggest that the featured horses are well cared-for.
2.Are the horses you will be using raised and/or trained by the owner or organizer of the trip?
An organizer who breeds his/her own animals has a vested interest in their long-term welfare. He or she also knows them personally and can match their personalities to your needs as a rider.
3. For multi-day rides, is there a practice ride in a ring before you go out for the first time? Is there a local ride of several hours before you leave for the actual trek?
Anyone who throws you on a horse for a multi-day ride without checking out your ability first is irresponsible at the very least, and completely indifferent to both your well-being and that of the animals. Do you trust the skills and professionalism of someone like that?
4.Do you have to fill out a preliminary questionnaire? Does it ask you only about your height, weight and age or does it ask about the quality of your previous riding experience and your preferences about your horse – e.g., forward-going, independent, highly-trained, etc.
A questionnaire helps match you to the appropriate mount, not only in terms of size but temperament. Attentive owner/managers will start by reading your answers and will question you personally as a follow-up to make sure they understand your needs and abilities. For example, one of the riders on my horse trek in Mongolia was an expert horsewoman, much better than the rest of us. Naturally she was offered the youngest, liveliest horse in the group. But she explained that she was vacationing and didn’t want the stress of handling a horse so green and hyper. So the leader took her horse and gave her an equally young but calmer animal, in keeping with her wishes for her holiday.
5.Does the owner or manager ride with you?
It’s always a good sign when the owner or trainer of the horses accompanies you on your trek. He/she knows the horses and what to do if a horse falls ill or a substitution must be made. Plus there are the unforeseeable emergencies . . . . For example, in Ecuador a horse bolted, taking another horse with him and leaving his cowboy rider in the dust. Our leader/owner conscripted a guest and took off after them, since he knew how to catch the runaway. Meanwhile, his assistant led the rest of us to our campsite (and the cowboy followed us on foot).
6.How big is the group? How is it divided?
All responsible horse holiday sites will tell you how many people will be in your group – for lessons, day trips, or overnight treks. Once out of the ring, you should expect a leader or assistant for every six riders. If you don’t have that kind of support, you are probably sitting hacks rather than riding horses.
7.What is the equipment like?
You often don’t find out what equipment you will be using until you arrive at your holiday venue. However, some websites do tell you about the saddles you will be using, and may suggest bringing sheepskin for added comfort. Choice will obviously be limited in remote locations, but some operators allow you to choose among saddles. In Ecuador, we could choose among five different saddle styles and three kinds of stirrups.
The quality is an unknown until you mount up, but be prepared for problems if, for example, you see wire being used to secure a horse’s harness. That happened to me in Mongolia, and – not surprisingly – it was a harbinger of problems to come. Soon after, someone fell off when a girth broke. By the end of our trip, every single horse wound up with saddle sores.
Do make sure that someone checks your saddle and girth before you ride out in the morning, especially if you are using unfamiliar equipment.
8.What attention do the horse handlers pay to the animals before, during and after each day’s ride?
Whether or not you are accompanied by the owner/manager, you should have confidence in the staff of horse handlers. Are the horses tended to immediately at the end of each ride? Do they have enough to eat and drink? Ample rest and shade? Are the animals treated with kindness or cruelty? Are whips in evidence?
Sometimes good handling calls for imputed cruelty. Once in remote Kyrgyzstan, a horse got caught in mud and panicked, trapping himself more deeply. Our leader, who owned and had trained the horse, waded waist-deep into the muck and beat at the gelding with his whip while other horse handlers pulled at ropes that had been wrapped around the animal. Between rope, whip and vocal exhortations, the horse was encouraged to break free. Otherwise, it would have died.
In conclusion, follow these eight check points, follow your leader, and do avoid mud holes.
For more advice on horse riding travel get in touch with one of World Reviewer's Horse Travel Specialists or our list of some of the World's Best Riding Holidays.