Equitrekking: Off the Bus and into the Saddle
By Kathleen Broadhurst
Equ-,Eque-, Equi- Latin- horse
Trekking- (from Afrikaans trek n.) v. a long journey undertaken on foot in areas where common means of transport is generally not available, done for pleasure not for sport, a form of adventure tourism.
Grab the reigns of adventure and get ready for the time of your life!
Imagine yourself riding through the countryside of Europe, or up the Rockies in the American West, across a Caribbean beach or through the deserts of Africa. This morning you shopped in an open market or visited a museum and at lunch you ate delicious local food.
Now you are headed back to camp to stare up at the stars far from any electrical lights or perhaps to rest your head on a soft pillow in an old Irish castle. This is equitrekking and its way more than just dude ranches.
A Wild Ride
“We are really the pioneers in this area,” Darley Newman tells me, “ Nobody has really done this before.” She is talking of course about Equitrekking a new form of travel that combines adventure, horses, and eco-tourism.
Darley is the host of PBS’s series Equitrekking and the brains behind Equitrekking Travel and she knows a thing or two about the business. If you watch the show you already know that you can go just about anywhere on a horse, from Costa Rica to Iceland and the deserts of the Middle-East.
People have been riding horses to get from one place to another for thousands of years, traveling and horses naturally go together. But equitrekking is not just about transportation. It's about experiencing the land, the culture and horses in a whole new way. It’s about exploring places that no guide-book talks about.
When Darley says that it’s off the beaten path, she means literally. “Hikers often can’t get to some of the places we go because of the terrain,” Darley said. “In Montana you could ride for hours and not see anybody else.” Exploration is at the heart of equitrekking and traveling on horseback is catching the eye of adventure travelers who want to experience something unlike anything else.
Oh the Places You Can Go
Horseback riding tours operate all over the world and there’s a trip for everyone. You can spend two weeks riding though medieval Irish villages, or through the Tuscan countryside. If you prefer more adventure you can ride through the Wadi Rum Desert in Jordan and get a unique perspective on Petra or for relaxation check out some of the dude ranches in the U.S and Canada which often have spas attached, the perfect way to wind down after a long day in the saddle.
You don’t have to be a champion rider to enjoy equitrekking, many places cater to beginners and in some places you can take lessons. For those who are traveling with non-riding friends and family, or if you are a non-rider yourself, you can rest assured that there will still be tons to do and see. Often where horse trekkers are other adventures are and whether it’s kayaking, hiking, fishing, or snorkeling, there is certain to be some type of activity to entertain.
Alongside the more adventure-focused destinations are ones that seek to explore new cultures. Ride around the moon-like landscapes of Cappadocia and get to know Bedouins in Jordan. Many of equitrekking destinations are steeped in history, and on horseback travel takes on a forgotten pace of life.
For coinsures of the finer things, ride through California’s wine country or travel from inn-to-inn in Provence or take a luxury horse safari in Tanzania. There’s nothing like horseback riding on a Caribbean beach for bragging rights.
With equitrekking travelers do not bring their own horses, they are provided at the destinations, which means you can still go even if you don’t own a horse. Central to the equitrekking experience is the chance to ride local breeds. "I find it fascinating how horses are a reflection of a culture and land." Darley says, "Horses really are a reflection of people.”
For the equestrian getting the chance to ride different breeds can be a treat or a terror, whether it’s the stocky, mild mannered Icelandic of Iceland or the feisty Arabian beauties of the Middle-East, each breed has a specific temperament and has adapted not only to the terrain and climate but to the people. Tip: Whenever you get on a new horse you need to learn to ride again.
Eco-tourism is the practice of journeying to places to explore nature and culture in a way that supports both while being environmentally sustainable. It strives to do more than just sight-see or entertain and hopes to enrich, engage and educate the traveler in some way.
“When you are on horseback you just see so much more of nature” Darley explained. “ Riding horses is eco-friendly, it helps promote local people and local businesses. When you equitrek you use local outfitters and you help people who are trying to support their culture.”
Equitrekking gets you in close with a culture in a way you would likely never experience otherwise. “You definitely get to know the locals, spending so much time on the trail. They point things out to you, a bird nesting or something else you would have missed otherwise,” she said.
Equitrekking is a great way to meet locals and other travelers who enjoy sharing and learning about culture. “I’ve liked almost everyone I’ve met,” Darley said. “ But then again we are all horse people.” And while its no guarantee of friendship sharing a mutual interest goes a long way to forming cross-culture bonds.
Equitrekking is a great way to see the globe while having minimal impact on the environment. Horseback-riding brings people closer to nature and many of the trekking tours are eco-friendly as are many of the lodgings horseback riders are likely to stay at.
I asked Darley what some of her most memorable destinations were. “ I love Ireland, the scenery the people, it’s top of my list. Jordan was most challenging for me, the terrain was so extreme, but once I got settled I had a really amazing time.”
If you would like to get in the saddle consider browsing through Equitrekking Travel’s website for details and links to tours, lodgings and trips. There you will find suggestions and tips and be able to search though the listings based on preferences like ‘beginner’, ‘budget-friendly’, and ‘kids’. You can also find more information about the show Equitrekking as well as read Darley’s blog and get ideas for your own get-away.
Equitrekking airs on PBS.
For more information about riding holidays consider these sites:
Riding Holidays: One of the most comprehensive websites which includes information on destinations around the world.
Riding Tours America's Oldest and Largest Horseback Riding Vacation Company.
Equine Tourism UK based website which strives to create good relationships between riders and horses and to promote equine activities and holidays.
Kathleen is a writer and photographer based in Boston. She focuses her lens around the globe on issues of sustainability, tourism, and the environment. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @kat_abroad