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