Chachani waiting patiently while Eddy explores new trails high in the mountains.
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 without doubt one of the most authentic, culturally and spiritually enriching experiences.
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.
Equestrian travel in the old days was full of hardship and struggle. With our modern views on ethics, morals and animal welfare it would probably not win a prize in the category ‘responsible travel’. But back then there was simply no other way.
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 Peruvian Andes all by myself. Just me and my horse. In retrospect that was pretty dangerous, foolish and irresponsible. When you can’t oversee the trails ahead, a mountain trail 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 or get help during emergencies.
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 4x4 support vehicles 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 'Pisco Sour' after a long days ride, a nice lunch around mid day, or a 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 and the horses are well fed and watered throughout the journey.
Today most equestrians 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.