Happy Horses

Riding Holiday Portugal

I believe that God did not design the horse to be ridden. Whether you call it God or evolution or nature, it is a fact that horses are not especially well designed to carry weight on their backs. In fact, they are designed for exactly what they do in nature: most of their time is spent grazing, slowly putting one foot in front of the other with their muzzle all the way down. This is how a horse in nature spends about three-quarters of its time. The biggest part of the remaining time is spent resting. A very small amount of time is used walking from one place to the next, for example to the water and, in case of danger, in flight.

When I want to ride, however, I put weight on their backs, my own weight plus my clothes and my equipment usually and then I often want to do strange things like trot around a giant sandbox. The horse, of course, sees no point in this and might actually end up suffering emotionally as well as physically from what I insist on doing. So what is the solution? Many people just give up riding, but I’m a stubborn girl and I really enjoy riding. So I try to find ways to make riding at least ok for my horse, both psychologically as well as physically. And once I’ve discovered a trick or two, I really want to pass these on. So that’s what I do at my courses at Sundance Ranch.

Riding Holiday Portugal

Here’s a quick list of all the things that I believe we can do for our horses:

Western saddles spread the weight of the rider over a larger surface on the horse’s back, thus making it easier to carry us for a longer amount of time. Western saddles also seem easier to fit.

To further protect my horses’ backs, I really work on the rider’s seat. It’s the only topic in your first lesson with me and we will come back to it again and again during the week. Only if you can sit in balance and harmony with your horse’s movements at each gait, can it possibly be ok for the horse to carry you. I see no point in going to faster gaits or specific exercises before the seat is reasonable.

Bits may be useful for higher dressage, but for most of what I do in my riding, bitless is perfectly fine. I have found that it is entirely possible to collect a horse in a simple sidepull bridle since collection comes from the hind end and not from pulling on the reins. Many people say that it’s acceptable to use a bit, as long as you don’t pull on the reins. I don’t think my horses enjoy carrying a bit of metal around in their mouths and I also do not think that I can keep myself from pulling hard when I get scared, so I doubt that most of my riders can either. So, bitless it is.

The way you communicate with your horse is fundamental for making his or her life easier. The ask should be as soft as possible, the horse should understand what is meant and the release should come as quickly as possible after the horse even starts to think in the right direction. All that is logical and simple, but the application is not, so we practice on the ground and in the saddle.

Working in the riding arena makes a lot of sense for me when I want to teach my students or exercise my horses, but the horses sure get bored with it. So do the riders and therefore I make sure we mix lessons inside the arena with rides out in nature. After all, who says you cannot teach on the trail?

The amount of work done also matters for physical and emotional well-being. My lessons don’t last longer than 45-50 minutes and my trail rides rarely reach two hours. If my bum hurts, I bet so does my horse’s back. Most of my horses work one or two sessions during the week and have the weekends off. They also get months off in the summer and winter, except when they need training. Training can be necessary to keep the body fit and flexible or to make the horse more motivated.

Finally and possibly most importantly, the rest of their lives should be as good as possible. Horses need adequate care from vet and farrier, they need adequate feeding, but mostly they need the three Fs, as specified in “The Horse’s Manifesto” by Lauren Fraser: Friends, Forage and Freedom. Therefore, my horses live in herds, out on the pasture all year round and have grass and/or hay available to them at all times. If they are this happy in their free time, I’m sure it makes it ok to work for me a couple hours a day!

These are the principles I live by and these are the principles I teach in my course. I have found that my guests really enjoy feeling a connection to these happy horses and love to learn to contribute to this happiness. In the end, everyone is happy, both humans and horses.

 

Wild Horse Rescue Center – wild mustangs, volunteer work and girl power!

Volunteer work Florida

This Christmas we were going to Florida for a family vacation, and I am always looking for an opportunity to include some horse-related activities. The purpose of this vacation, however, was not to spend a lot of time on horseback, so I had to look for something we could do as a day excursion from our base in Orlando. Through some previous searches on the internet, I had a special place in mind; Wild Horse Rescue Center. It turned out that this was only around 1 ½ hour drive from where we stayed, so we booked a day visit.

Rehabilitation of wild horses

Wild Horse Rescue Center is a nonprofit organization founded by Diane Delano in 2000. The goal of this organization is to contribute to the welfare, rescue and preservation of the American wild horses – the Mustangs. The horses come in for rehabilitation, so they can be put up for adoption as healthy and safe horses to loving and permanent homes. Most of the horses who come to the center have already been through one or more adoptive homes after being rounded up from the wild. Many of them are so traumatized after the roundup and handling by humans that they can never be tamed. Some of them have been abused and neglected to such an extent that they are barely alive when they arrive at the center. This project is very important, and Diane has dedicated her life to rescue as many of them as possible.

When we pass through the main gate to the center we are met by several enthusiastic and curious dogs in all sizes. We meet Diane as we go further into the property, and she tells us about each of the dogs’ stories – most of them are adopted and have arrived at the center due to various causes. It turns out that the dogs who run around freely on the property are not the only dogs she has – there is also a group of smaller dogs but due to predatory birds, they must be kept inside of a smaller, roofed area. As she explains this we can see for ourselves several large birds flying over the area. She is not joking.

The vision of creating a unique sanctuary

Diane tells us that they moved to this area around 4 years ago, and at that time it was completely overgrown by forest. They have invested a lot of hard work in clearing large areas of the property to make it suitable for keeping and training horses. It turns out that the ground on the property, however, isn’t absorbing the water as well as desired for this purpose, and it doesn’t take much rain before they struggle with excess water and mud. Due to the large number of horses that keep coming in, there is also a problem with space and she has been forced to rent pastures elsewhere to make room for them all.

She is now looking for a larger property, so she can move the center and build the place of her dreams! To be able to realize this project she is relying on donations as well as selling the current property. The plans sound amazing, and there is already a specific property in sight. This property will have enough space to create a large sanctuary for the horses who are too damaged to be put up for adoption. There will also be pastures for all of the horses which will enable them to graze and live as natural as possible and will cut the current cost of buying hay. Future plans also include a retirement home for elderly mustangs.

The center will have facilities to welcome guests; an educational center where visitors can learn about the history of the wild horses, trail rides, cabin rental for overnight stays, museum and café, tack store, hiking trails and various workshops and clinics.

This will be a unique opportunity for visitors who want to observe wild mustangs in freedom. She talks about trail rides out in the pastures among the wild herd as well as photography workshops. We are keeping our fingers crossed for this project and that it will become a reality!

Volunteer work

The center is relying on volunteer labour to survive, and they get individual travellers and groups from all over the world. Most of them are between 18-25 years old and the length of their stay varies from 2 weeks to 6 months. In addition to the volunteers that come and go, there is one person on site which manages and coordinates them all. Currently, this is Alicia from Sweden who lives and works at the center while she is studying. Diane points out that this isn’t the first time this position is held by a Swedish girl. Her experience is that these girls are tough and hard-working, which are important qualities to have to be able to work here. The care of the animals is the number one priority, and not only do they drive a tractor, build fences, shovel muck and look out for predatory birds and snakes, they will also have to be able to handle the horses with respect and sensitivity.

Diane herself lives in a trailer at the property and has given the main house to the volunteers. This house has several bedrooms, a kitchen, living room and a large terrace with pool. They take turns on cooking and cleaning, and everyone must take responsibility for these tasks. With so many people coming and going it is necessary to follow a strict system to keep everything neat and tidy – which clearly is successful both inside and outside.

Training and gentling the horses

Only the long-term volunteers are allowed to work with the new horses who come in for rehabilitation. The reason for this is that the horses need to bond with one person in the beginning to establish trust and a good foundation. We observe a couple of girls working with the horses. The new horses are kept in paddocks until they can be handled, and the strategy is patience. The girls sit quietly inside their horses’ paddocks with a little feed on their laps. They are not allowed to touch the horses or move towards them. It is up to the horses to make the first contact, and this may take a long time. This is really a test of patience and self-discipline and there is no shortcut or quick-fix.

There is a new horse coming into the center during our visit and Diane tells us that this is a typical example of what they get. A lady has adopted a wild mustang directly from a round-up with the best intentions, but it turned out that the task of taming this horse was too much to handle. She got injured and ended up in hospital. This is where Diane steps in. She has many years of experience with these horses and takes the necessary precautions – both for herself and the volunteers. So far this has kept them away from any serious incidents.

She demonstrates one of the safety precautions to me when we are grooming the horses we are taking out for a ride. When moving behind the horses, they are always positioned sideways. Never let the front of your body face the hindquarters. She says;

“If I am positioned like this with the front of my body facing the horse, I am going to get hurt if he kicks me. If I am turned sideways like this and he kicks me, he is just going to piss me off!»

Trail ride in the Orlando Wetlands

Diane loads a couple of horses on the trailer and asks us to follow her in our own car. She wants to take us to the Orlando Wetlands for a trail ride. The horses she is taking along are her own which she has had from they were very young. I can tell that they have been trained with sensitive aids as the horse I am riding responds to the subtlest signals. We ride through the lush and beautiful wetlands and during the hour-long ride we have experienced sunshine, rain, heavy winds, a rainbow, beautiful birdlife and last but not least an alligator dipping in the water surface. This was a very nice trail ride! Diane says she loves to ride out here and this is a place where she quite often brings her guests.

An important job for both humans and horses

I am amazed at how many impressions you can take in after only one day visit. I got a good look into the everyday life at the center, what their challenges are, future visions and dreams, and how much they are needed. This is a place I’d want to work as a volunteer myself and send my kids once they are old enough! The young volunteers who come here are not only contributing to an important cause, they are also learning a great deal about themselves and others. Sometimes people come here with their own personal struggles, and to them, this work and the connection with the horses may be just what they need to get past it.

The need for donations

I truly hope that Diane can realize the plans of the new and beautiful property she dreams about. It really looked amazing! This year she has found new homes for around 30 horses, and the number of horses coming into the center is even higher. Due to the high demand, there is a crucial need for more space. She points out that a private funding campaign for the Mexican wall has generated over 3 MUSD, and she would only need a small fraction of that to be able to secure the future of a large number of horses that humans have damaged for life.

I encourage everyone to take a look at the WHRC funding campaign and give a contribution here;
Go Fund Me – Wild Horse Rescue Center

The picture below gives a view of the dream property. This will offer plenty of space for the horses.

Volunteer work Florida

I want to give a big thank you to Diane who let us visit the center.

We will be happy to come back – hopefully, by then, this will be at the new location

Riding holiday in Tuscany? I have found a beautiful place!

Riding holiday Tuscany

I have been to Italy several times, but I must admit that Tuscany isn’t among the regions I have visited – yet. Based on what I hear from friends and family who have been there I understand that I have to do something about that.

The riding holiday destination I am now going to introduce you to, Il Cornacchino, is located in the southern part of Tuscany – around 2,5 hrs drive from Rome. I am picturing the ultimate combination of holiday activities; city break in Rome, riding holiday, wine tasting and some days of lazy beach life at the end.

Passion for horses

Il Cornacchino was established in 1992 by Ezio, Guilio and Fabio as a result of a shared passion for horses. They are the backbone of this place, and with over 25 years of experience they have gained a unique knowledge about what they do and they are very much involved in the day to day activities. Their philosophy «fit for all» is the foundation of the activities, and they welcome guests of all ages and experience level. They want their guests to experience a friendly and relaxed atmosphere rather than a traditional hotel experience.

Being an organic farm with a sustainable focus they are committed to using high-quality Tuscan products produced in their own region as well as vegetables from their own gardens. This is a part of their philosophy of life; Good, Natural and for Everyone.

You can find the full description of Il Cornacchino here.

Riding holiday Tuscany

The riding program

The main activity at Il Cornacchino is western style trail riding, and they have a varied program to offer.
Guests who want to use the farm as a base can participate in 2-hour trail rides arranged on a daily basis, morning and/or afternoon.

Those who are ready for longer expeditions, but still want to stay at Il Cornacchino overnight there is a program called «Taste of Trekking»

For the more experienced and adventurous riders, there are several exciting options, such as Etruscan Trail where you ride through the ancient paths of the early inhabitants of Italy, and the Maremma Trail where you get to work with cattle and horses accompanied by the Tuscan cowboys.

More information on each program can be found on Il Cornacchinos website.

An idea for next years holiday? I know at least that this is a place me and my family would like to check out as soon as we get the chance.

We are going to visit Wild Horse Rescue Center in Florida!

Riding holiday Florida

In December we are going on a family vacation to Florida, and wherever we go I am always looking for horse-related activities. Even though we didn’t plan for a riding holiday this time, at least I need something to balance out all the commercial activities. We are really quite allergic to mass tourism, so it is a little bit funny that we have chosen to spend Christmas in Disneyworld! This could be interesting.

Wild Horse Rescue Center is a place I had read about in connection with volunteer work, and it turns out it is only a one hour drive from Orlando. We can’t miss this!

Rescuing wild Mustangs

Wild Horse Rescue Center is a nonprofit organization founded by Diane Delano in 2000. The goal of this organization is to contribute to the welfare, rescue and preservation of the American wild horses – the Mustangs.

The Mustangs are descendants after the domestic horses that were brought to the US by the Europeans in the 1500/1600s. They have played a major role in building the country, but when they were no longer needed as labour they were released into the wild where they grew into large roaming herds.

Unfortunately, this overpopulation has become a big problem for the horses, the landowners and the American government as there aren’t enough resources for them all. The Government tries to solve the problem by rounding up horses on a regular basis and make them available for adoption by the general public. One of the problems with this is that quite a few of them end up in the wrong hands and in the worst case are abused and neglected. These are the horses Wild Horse Rescue Center aim to help, and offer a good life in captivity.

Florida holiday

Volunteer Holiday?

This is a non-profit organization, and they depend on donations and volunteer labour. They have established an international volunteer program giving volunteers from all over the world the possibility to come and stay and work with them. The volunteers stay from 1 week or longer, meaning that this can be realistic to do during a regular holiday. There is room for around 14 volunteers, and during the stay, you will work with training and caring for the horses. You also get the opportunity to take part in excursions to discover more of what Florida has to offer.

For those who don’t want to, or are not able to live and work at the centre it is also possible to book a day visit. This is what we are going to do when travelling in December.

You can read more about Wild Horse Rescue Center by following this link.

I’ll write a full review after our visit.

I can’t wait!

New riding holiday destination coming up; Cortijo Los Lobos, Spain

Riding Holiday Spain

When I found Cortijo Los Lobos in my search for horse-friendly riding holidays, there was no doubt that it fit into the concept of Rideferier.no

The place is run by the British couple June and Clive and is located in the Malaga area in Spain. Here they offer trail rides for day visitors and overnight guests.

You can visit their website here; Cortijo Los Lobos.

Rescue horses

June and Clive have saved several horses from bad living conditions and given them a new start and a better life. On their website, you can read the story of each horse, and it is not hard to understand that they are genuinely dedicated to the horses’ welfare;

«In the September of our first year in Spain, we went to a horse fair in a town about an hour away. A stupid thing to do really – it was pretty obvious we were going to want to ‘save’ all the poor horses being paraded about.”

 

Bitless and barefoot

All the horses are barefoot and ridden bitless, something they tried out as a result of one of the horses being terrified of the farrier and extremely cautious of its head. They decided to try her barefoot and bitless, and they got such good results that they transferred it to the rest of the horses as well. The horses are ridden according to the principle “less is more”, and they teach their guests to ride with “smiling reins” (long reins) and to be relaxed. This makes the horses more relaxed as well as you can transfer a lot of tension to the horse through tight reins. They can also teach you to ride without a bridle completely – only by using a neck rope (cordeo)

Riding

The trail rides vary from day to day and depend on the time of year and which riders they have in the group. During the warmest months they ride out for a maximum of 2-3 hours, but in the cooler months, they may go on longer rides. They welcome all ages and ability levels and can lead or walk alongside beginners if needed.

Riding Holiday Spain

Facilities

Cortjo Los Lobos has two traditional Spanish style cottages for rent in addition to one apartment and two rooms. There is also a heated swimming pool and jacuzzi. You can stay on a self-catering basis, halfboard or full board – whichever you prefer.

I haven’t visited this place myself yet, but based on the correspondence I have had with June, there is no doubt that this place is on my list of places I want to try out. I am looking forward to getting to know them better!

More details about Cortijo Los Lobos will be published on my website shortly.

 

Elsa Sinclair and her ways of Freedom Based Training

In May 2018 me and my family went to Portugal for a riding holiday – to Sundance Ranch. I had already had e-mail communication with Sandra, who owns the place, for a few months. We had discussed our thoughts around keeping and training horses – both in general and in connection with riding holidays.

I felt that I really had found the place that was aligned with my ideas and values, and this trip was a step in the right direction for me and for what I want to accomplish with this blog.

A couple of days before arrival she sent me an e-mail saying that I should check out Elsa Sinclair and her Freedom Based Training. She told me that they have implemented her methods of communication with the horses at Sundance Ranch, and that this is something we will go through. I must admit that I had never heard of Elsa before, so I started to search for information. I became very fascinated by this woman!

The Taming Wild project

It all started with a question; What if the horses were given a choice? Would they let us ride them? Without force or tools to control and without bribes to lure them? These questions were burning inside of her for an answer, so she initiated a project called “Taming Wild”.

The idea was to start with a wild horse with no previous experiences with humans and try to develop a method of communication based on body language. Would the horse allow her to ride without using any physical tools? She gave the project one year and documented the process. The result was an inspiring documentary that I recommend for you to see. It can be found here.

The adoption of a wild Mustang

To find a suitable horse without previous experiences with humans, she chose to adopt a wild Mustang. The Bureau of Land Management manages the number of wild horses in the US, and due to overpopulation, they gather a large number of horses each year and put them up for adoption. Elsa picked out a mare that had just arrived, and that was fresh and inexperienced. She was given the name Myrnah. Along with Myrnah they also brought a second mare, so they had company in each other.

Patience and self discipline without physical tools

In the documentary we are following Elsa and Myrnah through ups and downs through the year, and it is fascinating to see the kind of self-discipline and patience she possesses, how persistence she is and what results can come of that. As she writes in her blog;

“This is the slowest possible way to train a horse, and this is the most important piece of Freedom Based Training for me. Taming that wild streak inside myself that wants what I want when I want it”

This is so true! I can recognize myself in this together with my horse quite often. I want a relationship with my horse based on mutual respect and trust, but when he wants something else than me, and when he is not motivated for the tasks I give him, it is easy to just demand him to do it. I want what I want when I want it!

Elsa worked slowly step by step, only by using bodylanguage, patience and presence with a horse that is free to leave at any time. No physical tools were used, no fences to push her against, and no treats. She reached her goal, and in the end, she got permission to get up and ride.

In my opinion this can be achieved by all of us, but we have to think outside of the box and accept that it takes time – a lot of time! We may not have this time available, or we might not want to give it the time it takes? Even though it is not realistic or necessary for everyone to follow this method, I’d wish that we at least could implement some of it in our daily routine with the horses.  Spend more time together without making any demands and give the horse time to think and react when asking for anything.

Clinics

Elsa Sinclair has clinics around the world, have on several occasions been to Sundance Ranch where her principles are practiced. If you don’t have the opportunity to take part in her clinics, you can learn it there. I just got a little taste of it when I visited Sundance Ranch as I only had a couple of days available, but I got a lot of inspiration and want to learn more!

I recommend that you take a look at her blog; https://equineclarity.org/

What is a horse-friendly riding holiday?

 

Hestevennlig

Many have had their first horse riding experience ever when on holiday, often along sandy beaches in exotic destinations. Unfortunately, there are many providers of these activities out there that don’t look quite as good behind the scenes, and you should be aware of what you are supporting when participating in such activity.

Do some research before you book

A couple of years ago we went to Thailand for our summer holiday and found that there was a riding center nearby. Here they offered beach rides at a really nice and secluded beach. We considered to make a booking, but before doing that we decided to take a closer look to at horses and their living conditions. We were very disappointed. The horses were small, skinny and were tied to trees eating dry stubs of grass. Now, I don’t know what kind of feeding routines they had, and neither if they were tied up temporarily, but these were not horses we could ride with a good conscience. The following day we saw them walk by at the beach carrying large and heavy riders in the summer heat.

We need to make demands

I understand that this is a complex problem and that the local community in poor areas does what is necessary to create an income for themselves and their families. This can’t be an excuse for neglect. We rather have to work on raising awareness around horse care and support initiatives that can help improve the conditions for both locals and animals. We as tourists have the power to decide what we want to pay for, and maybe we may also be willing to accept a higher price if that is what it takes?
If you plan to ride when you are on holiday, there are some things I think must be in place to be able to call it horse-friendly;

Living conditions

Horses are herd animals, and their natural behaviour is to wander over large areas and graze the largest part of the day. Sandra at Sundance Ranch introduced me to the 3 F’s, which I think is a good reference to use when judging the quality of the horses living conditions; «Forage, Freedom and Friends» It may not be realistic to expect that all have the possibility to have their horses in one herd on endless pastures, but it should be covered to a certain extent. At a minimum, the horses should be outside the  largest part of the day with enough room to move freely in all gates. They should also have company by other horses and be given forage at least 3 times a day. The closer to the ideal the better. I would not consider a riding establishment that keeps their horses stabled most of the day as being horse-friendly.

Physical condition

The horses should be of normal weight, injury-free and be fit enough to handle the workload that is given to them.

Equipment

The equipment must be in good condition and fitted to the horse. This is both for safety and comfort for the horse and rider. If the horse is ridden with a bit, there should be a clear emphasis on riding with a light hand. Ideally, the horses are ridden with bitless bridles.

Values and beliefs

The staff and their attitude towards horses is very important. A horse-friendly riding establishment will be genuinely interested in the welfare of the horses and respect each one as an individual. Pay attention to how the staff talk to the horses and also the horses’ body language when they are handled. This can reveal a lot!

What are your experiences? Do you have any good examples of horse-friendly riding holiday destination?