The little adventurer or traveler who likes a slow, intense way of traveling should definitely get on the back of a horse. The more experience, the more intense the experience, in our opinion. Both for advanced riders like myself, but also for beginners like Henk.
Text/photography: Angelique van Os | Photography: Henk Bothof
Horseback riding requires fitness. Yes, your muscles really do something. Not only the horse works. Balance and a firm seat form your basis. And be alert, because in the wilderness you can encounter anything, including other animals. Horses can react very directly to this. We give six tips on destinations that are worth discovering. And we would like to add more locations in the future, because a ride on the African savannah or the Mongolian tundra, for example, is definitely on our bucket list!
Tip 1: Naukluft, Namibia
The first time Henk ever sits on a horse, starts off right away. The view consists of endless vistas of the vast surroundings of Naukluft and Sossusvlei (Namib-Naukluft National Park) in West African Namibia. The desert from this area is 55 million years old, making it one of the oldest in the world. We are on the side where the loose sand changes into rocks and lightly overgrown mountains. Every now and then I ride away on my white Arabian to make a gallop, because it gives an amazingly free feeling. As if we disappear in the wide, desolate mountain landscape. Occasionally a springbok hops past and in the distance we see a herd of zebras watching us curiously. Other than that it is quiet and not a soul to be seen. Read our report on Namibia HERE .
Desert Homestead offers various trips that run across the country. Try a sundowner: after more than an hour on the road with the friendly South African guide Meldinda van den Berg, one of the many beautiful spots is selected where a colleague waits with snacks and drinks until the sun goes down. The horses rest a bit, to return home after half an hour under a clear starry sky. Multi-day trips are also possible. A wonderful experience: alone in the world with your horse. A three-hour sundowner trip costs approximately €80 pp, including drinks and snacks.
2. Hella & Akureyri, Iceland
The surreal Iceland, with its lunar and volcanic landscape, vast plains, many waterfalls and green hills, is perfect for a horseback ride or multi-day hike. Unfortunately that was not yet possible for me, but fortunately I was able to enjoy two small, strong Icelanders for a couple of hours. The quirky horses don’t originate from Iceland by the way, but were brought along with the Vikings from Scandinavia and Great Britain. However, for centuries there has been an import ban on horses, so the breed remains pure and has developed its own character. The breed descends directly from the European primal horse: Equus Stenonsis.
Driving environment Hella
In 2009 I already visited a small ranch near Hella/Vik (southern Iceland). There I rode a temperamental dark brown Icelandic horse. We wandered over streams full of thick stones, galloped across vast fields with nothing but emptiness and the horizon before us. Unbelievable that those little hooves are so strong and carried me over the bumpy ground with ease. The wind howled and the horse snorted with relaxation. Nothing but silence.
Layers of clothing
This ride was a spontaneous activity. If you have the opportunity and can drive a bit, head inland especially in late spring or summer months. There are various providers with which you can make beautiful hikes through the unspoilt landscape of ‘ice and fire’. Keep in mind that the weather can be very changeable, so wear layers and a windproof jacket.
TIP: in September it is possible to participate in the so-called göngur, the herding of the horses, through various travel organisations. Many Icelanders live in the wild in the autumn and winter months. That is without a doubt a special experience.
Tölten and ambling
It takes some getting used to when you sit on an Icelandic horse for the first time, because these sober, intelligent animals do not have three gaits (walk, trot, gallop), but often five. The extra gaits are called tölt and ambling . The tölt gives a feeling of freedom, as if you are floating. Which is quite strange, because there is actually no floating moment in this gait, as in a regular trot. So light driving is not necessary; you can sit deep in the saddle.
Ride near Akureryi
In May 2019, exactly ten years later, I will be back in Iceland. Unfortunately, the south has been overrun by tourists. Fortunately, that does not apply to the pristine north. There is plenty to discover there. On the last day of our trip with Voigt Travel , there is the opportunity to take a road trip near the northern capital, Akureyri. I go out with young Sunneva, who helps run the horses and care for them every day. They manage more than sixty Icelanders.
The landscape here is gently sloping and borders a small lake. We stroll through the fields, towards a clear blue sky. After riding different gaits for half an hour, Sunneva asks if I want to ride her beautiful chestnut. Elsa is a nine-year-old mare and daughter of a national champion. After a few minutes Elsa walks a wonderful tölt. She feels perfect to me with minimal aids.
Arriving at the main road (where a car passes once an hour), we can increase the pace considerably. Parallel to the road is a light sand path of several kilometers. So give it gas. Elsa switches to ambling and I feel like I’m floating. What a special feeling! Just before we return to the ranch, the horses are cooled down in the fresh water to relax their muscles. Then saddle, reward and roll in the meadow.
The family business of the likeable Sunneva and her father Ólafur Adalgeirsson Skjaldarvik Ferdapjónusta is a very pleasant place and easily accessible from Akureyri. It is far enough from the main road, on a lake and surrounded by hills. They also offer multi-day tours and are accessible to all riding levels. In addition to horse riding, you can also spend the night here in the attractive rooms that have been beautifully decorated by the lady of the house. You can eat in the restaurant, there are beautiful (but pricey) regional products and clothing for sale. You can also rent bicycles. But as a horse lover you of course prefer to sit on the back of an Icelandic horse. Look HERE for more information about Icelanders. And look HERE for a beautiful photo book about Icelanders .
3. Abruzzo, Italy
In the heart of the rugged and authentic Italian Abruzzo , near the village of San Stefano , it is possible to go horseback riding with guide Claudio Mecoli. For several years he has owned a small herd with which he takes groups out on a daily basis. I frown when he approaches with two small, slender horses. Do those narrow hooves have to brave the rugged rocky landscape? Within five minutes, the concern turns out to be false alarm, because despite their small feet, the animals move with ease over steep paths and rough stones. They are used to it and are bursting with energy. Slump back in the saddle, reins loose in hand and blind faith in the horse.
Info: Claudio Mecoli | firstname.lastname@example.org | +39 3476073353|
Not a living soul to be seen here either. However, Claudio is haunted by his faithful companion, Budino. When he feels like it, this donkey goes along on the road. On his dead field he trudges after his owner like a loyal dog, grazes a bit and then keeps up with his herd with an exuberant sprint.
After a steep climb, the view from Rocca Calascico over Gran Sasso Imperatore and Castel del Monte is breathtaking. The village is at the heart of yellow and gray mountainscapes that seem to fade into the horizon. The winding roads are quiet and deserted and all that beauty is just one of the many driving opportunities in this area. In the booklet The Sibyl, the Saint, and the shepherd , by Rodolfo Lorenzi, more than 839 (!) kilometers of riding trails are described that run through the national parks of Abruzzo.
4. El Cedral Llanos, Venezuela
The inhumane political climate may make Venezuela not a much-visited destination, but the untouched nature is beautiful. Henk visited the country for a month in 2018, six months before the economic crisis broke out and millions of residents had to flee their country. The swamp landscape of El Cedral Llanos (the haceinda) is easy to explore from the back of a horse. This wetland area of over 53,000 hectares is inhabited by anacondas, caimans, giant anteaters, red howler monkeys, pink river dolphins, pumas, jaguars, capybaris and more than 350 bird species, including the flamingo. So be careful where you send your horse.
Wild west feeling
Henk spent half a day on horseback across the steppe with a nature guide. He passed rivers and drove straight through the low water. He felt completely free: “Driving here gives an authentic ‘wild west feeling’. Because I don’t have much driving experience yet, I had to be very careful not to fall. And I’ve had saddle soreness for a week. But the horse was super well behaved, and easily walked along and through the water where caimans and birds were sunbathing in the distance.”
From the Hato El Cedral Llanos ranch it is possible to explore the nature reserve.
In addition to horseback riding, you can also take a game drive or a boat trip from the ranch. You can also spend the night here. To get a good impression of the area, you should allow at least three days for it.
5. County Wicklow, Ireland
Just half an hour outside of Dublin, the beautiful green rolling countryside of County Wicklow beckons. In the backyard of the Irish capital there is no hectic pace, no busy city feeling. There are only small, authentic villages with pubs and churches that form the central meeting places of the local population. As if time has stood still.
To completely relax and experience the landscape slowly, I traveled through this beautiful area like a gypsy with a horse and carriage. Maximum speed: 5 to 10 kilometers per hour. Buster, a very strong Irish Cobb (Tinker), walks in front of the green-red wooden covered wagon. Gypsies traveled through Ireland with this breed until the 1980s. Buster doesn’t mind the water-cold weather of early spring. He’s used to it. The cold gets under your skin on the goat, so take a blanket with you and put on thick (thermo) pants and a jacket.
Buster leisurely trudges through the rolling no man’s land of Cronybyrne, but needs some encouragement. “Come on boy; let’s go! And here we go again. We cover between 10 and 15 kilometers per day, which takes about four to seven hours, including a few stops. The open nature of the Wicklow Mountains around Sally Gap is breathtaking. Nothing but vast yellow-green hills, rugged rock formations complemented by dense forests below, fast-flowing rivers and large lakes.
Suffering in the cold
In the evening you can suffer in the covered wagon. The temperature drops quickly and staying warm is difficult. A cup of tea, thick pyjamas, four blankets, a jug and the gas lamps provide lighting. J Just like the peace and quiet; no social media or other distractions. A good book and the view make you forget the cold.
The next morning rigging without help takes a lot of time, while as an experienced rider I am used to something. A whole harness is different from a saddle and bridle. Buster is good and waits patiently. After three days of intensive working together, Buster and I have developed a good relationship. Confidence has grown and rigging and steering are almost self-evident. The Irish Cobb works hard, but the last kilometers can be stolen from him. He’s steaming with sweat. But suddenly he regains his energy, because he recognizes the imposing meadow full of cows and calves, embraced by mountains. He knows he’s almost home. Time to rest and graze.
You don’t have to have any experience to go out with Buster or one of the thirty other horses or donkeys. In advance it is explained step by step how to communicate with the horse, and how the beating and beating works and what to look out for.
For more info: Clissmann Horse Caravans & Donkey Walking Holidays .
6. West Coast South Island, New Zealand
Horse & carriage beach ride
On New Zealand’s South Island, you can travel back in time by horse and carriage. The enthusiastic Sophie Allen, together with her Clydesdale giant Duke and famous dog Pearl, takes you in tow for almost three hours, to the beautiful and quiet coastline around Glen Road and Barrytown. When I made the trip at the end of December 2017, the meek and hard-working Murphy was still leading the way. Unfortunately he passed away. Together with my family I had a nice trip with Murphy.
A Dog’s Life
Dog Pearl sits faithfully next to his owner on the box. Once we’ve crossed the main road and headed for the beach, Pearl jumps off the cart every few minutes to sprint for the shoreline. The dog known for her tricks and featured on the cover of the award-winning book A Dog’s Life by Graig Bullock (2015), constantly challenges Murphy. The horse doesn’t care, however, and strolls leisurely through the wet sand. Meanwhile, Sophie talks about the early pioneers who settled here and the gold rush that reigned here for some time.
Looking for Jade
After an hour we arrive at a beautiful ‘hidden’ waterhole where many birds rest, breed and look for food in the grassy surroundings. It is pleasantly warm and there is a sultry sea breeze. Murphy gets a cooling ‘water bath’ while we look for Jade stones.
The famous ‘Green Stone’, which originally belonged to the Maori people, is still found on the beaches of the west coast. The protective gem is said to attract good luck, prosperity and wealth according to legend. Of course this takes patience and time and after fifteen minutes we have collected beautiful stones, but of course no Jade. For that we have to go to the town of Hokitika, which is known for the best quality of Jade and is also located on the South Island.
Murphy is charged again, so we keep going. We don’t meet anyone. The beach and the sea are ours. We end the beach trip with a small beach picnic, where we roast our own marshmallows and sandwiches over a homemade campfire. Completely zen and satisfied with this wonderful afternoon, we say goodbye to Sophie and her special four-legged friends.