People often think that equestrian travel is about travelling on horseback over a very long period - sometimes months - and covering hundreds of miles on a single journey. But this is not necessarily the definition of equestrian travel.
Equestrian travel is not about how far, how fast or even ‘how’ you get there The true spirit of equestrian travel should not be any goal, other than to ride.
CuChullaine O’Reilly, founder of the Long Riders Guild, describes equestrian travel as follows:
“What none of the equestrian magazines and horse whisperers are ever going to tell you is that travel on horseback brings with it a special kind of wisdom, helps you see through the world’s pretensions, and opens you up to the adventure of self-conquest. Equestrian travel is not merely about covering vast amounts of mileage. It is the journey you and your horse take together to reach the borders of an otherwise invisible place. It is a journey you see from the top of that altar of freedom, your saddle. It is an antidote to the world’s obsession with speed because the three-mile-per-hour pace of your horse forces you to slow down your body, which in turn results in the opening of your spirit. Thus an equestrian journey does not merely transport you along the physical road stretching ahead, more importantly it allows you to ride on the secret trail traced deep inside your soul.”
Travel on horseback is one of the most authentic, culturally and spiritually enriching experiences. It allows us to rediscover the bond we have with nature and what really matters in life.
Moreover, having a horse as a travel companion adds something very special to a journey. The horse is a living symbol and teacher of unconditional friendship, loyalty, trust, honesty and zest for life. It is always eager to go, and willing to carry us on his back, even if the terrain is difficult and full of obstacles. The nature of the horse is to always move on, without any specific purpose other than to eat and survive; without overthinking why, where, when and for how long; without the fear of getting lost. It is his natural instinct, an unexplainable inner voice, that tells him to roam the world, explore new places and to feel free.
For us humans there is no better travel companion, nor a better life coach, than the horse.
Traditional vs Contemporary Equestrian Travel
In the ‘old days’ people would travel on horseback for weeks; sometimes months. During these long journeys there was often an insufficient quantity or quality of forage to be found, and so the horses were fed with whatever was available. Sometimes there was only grain, carrying the risk of colic, and sometimes not even that. Horses may have suffered injuries along the route, with no vet in the vicinity to examine them or medicines to cure them. Travellers had to carry on with a lame horse, in the middle of nowhere, to try find a place for shelter and recovery. Those long journeys may sound very adventurous and exciting to some of us, but the reality was often far from that. Horse and rider suffered.
The risk of accidents especially in unknown mountain terrain is considerably high as the terrain is always full of surprises. When I started my riding business I explored new routes deep and high in the Andes all by myself. Just me and my horse. In retrospect that was pretty stupid (’loco’ in Spanish) and irresponsible. When you can’t oversee the trails ahead, a mountain trails with steep drops can without warning suddenly become so narrow that there is not even enough space to turn your horse and go back. I learned to never explore high mountain trails alone again, but always with a fellow rider who can help when things go really bad.
Equestrian travel in the old days was full of danger, hardship and struggle. With our modern views on ethics, morals and animal welfare it would certainly not win a prize in the category ‘responsible travel’. But back then there was simply no other way.
I consider ‘contemporary equestrian travel’ as a reinvention of the old and traditional way, but in a more pleasant, more enjoyable and above all in a more responsible way, for both horse and rider. With good logistics and a support team, traditional equestrian travel can be done differently and without unnecessary suffering - like using a 4x4 support vehicle that can drop food, water and whatever is needed along the journey. Equestrian journeys can be done without even sacrificing the simple joys in life: a delicious and refreshing Pisco Sour after a long days ride, a nice lunch prepared by Maria around mid day, or a nice hot shower and soft bed at the end of a riding day, while our grooms take care of your horse at the spot you have left it for the night. Why not? It provides more jobs and income for the local economy.
Today most equestrians or avid trail riders are hardworking people with busy lives. They don’t have time to spend weeks or months on horseback, nor the time to get a horse or themselves physically fit to do so. So we shorten the time of the journey to make equestrian travel more accessible, more enjoyable and suitable for more people, while still covering a considerable distance. We carefully choose and plan the most interesting routes off the beaten track and with breath-taking scenery, avoiding boring busy roads or trails that are too dangerous to ride. This contemporary approach to traditional equestrian travel has proved to satisfy a tremendous need and sparked a growing interest worldwide amongst equestrians, both young and old. Times have changed, and so did traditional equestrian travel, but its true spirit is still very much alive.