On January 31, in galloped the Year of the Horse on the Chinese Lunar Calendar.
A 12-month cycle, the calendar is based on archetypes of 12 animals and 5 elements. 2014’s theme is actually the Yang Wood Horse. Yang represents activity, and the year is considered to be one of high energy, production, movement, and a perfect time to travel.
On that note, I figured why not focus on destinations where horses figure predominately in one way or another.
Whether you like sitting in a saddle or just gazing at these noble creatures, there’s something about being near horses that quiets us. If you’re a horse person, then you probably have an unbridled passion for these animals and know what I’m talking about. There’s something about looking at the world from between a horse’s ears that just feels right. Some folks may say yuck to the smell of a stable but to me it’s a welcoming scent, so let’s go!
I’ve only ever seen the Carmargue wild horses on public television but their ghostly beauty is enough for me to get off the couch and book a trip. One of the oldest breeds in the world, they’ve been around since 50,000 B.C. Carmargue horses live around Saintes Maries de la Mer in southern France, within an area that runs from the Rhone River to the Mediterranean. These pale grey horses roam the marshland and salt marshes of the region and are protected by French law. Their allure draws visitors far and wide who come to paint, ride, photograph or just be near these sturdy ponies. A major tourist destination, the Carmargue Natural Park includes a UNESCO designated biosphere reserve, where each year hundreds of thousands of migrating birds rest for a layover. In addition to the wild horses, the bird wildlife, especially the pink flamingoes, is a major attraction for bird-watchers. Located near Arles, if you’ve got any time on the front or back end of your next stay in Paris, consider a side trip.
Dressage & Design
Who needs an excuse to visit Italy? The food alone is enough of a reason but when you add the opportunity to take dressage lessons in a place like Castello di Reschio, sign me up. Located in Umbria, this luxurious retreat blends modernity with classic old world aesthetic design that the Italians are oh so good at creating. If you’ve got a thing for design and architecture, these digs will have you over the moon. Depending on how many folks you want around you, the Reschio farmhouse accommodations sleep anywhere between 2 to 14 and will blow you away. Once you see them, it’s a pretty sure bet they’ll have to pry you out by your fingernails. The proximity to Tuscany and the chance to explore the towns that dot its map, or take cooking classes, is another draw. Budget wise, it’s not for the faint of wallet but if you want to learn to ride, or perfect your moves, and feel it’s time to treat yourself to an all around, out of this world experience, then this might be the place for you.
If that’s too rich for your blood and you like it closer to the bone, then Panagea Estancia might be more your speed. This working cattle ranch in the north of Uruguay attracts visitors looking for the real deal of what the life of a South American gaucho, or cowboy, is really like. The ranch doesn’t promote itself from a tourist perspective, but they do welcome travelers who like to rough it. In terms of accommodations, we’re talking bare bones here but if you want to ride, or learn how, brush up on your Spanish, and live life off the grid then this is the place to do it. For $60 a day, you’ll not only get horseback riding lessons but the room and board to go with it. A steal if you ask me.
Saddle Up On Safari
The only thing better than being on safari would be horseback riding while on safari. If you’re an experienced rider, then African Horseback Safaris can deliver that magic. With their Macatoo Camp located on the western side of the Okavango Delta in Botswana, you’ll find yourself in a mecca for wildlife as you race through floodplains, canter along side giraffes or zebra, gaze up at elephants, or follow on the heels of buffalo and antelope. With 4 to 6 hours in the saddle, you’ve got to love it and being able to ride in such a pristine environment is a dream. If your travel buddy doesn’t want to live your fantasy, no problem. Non-riders can enjoy a safari experience by boat or game drive, and whether or not you’re in the saddle the sundowners that’ll greet you at the end of the day will quench your thirst. This outfit also offers Eco-Safaris that you can tag on to your trip. If you’re looking for the ultimate riding experience, this is it.
If being on the back of a horse isn’t your thing, and you’re simply looking to get a better understanding of these creatures, consider a visit to Flag Is Up Farms. Owned and operated by Monty Roberts, best-selling author of The Man Who Listens to Horses, this farm offers courses on horse behavior, horsemanship, and how to communicate with these animals through the language of Equus. Roberts’ pioneered a non-violent approach to working with horses years ago, which he eventually coined Join-Up®. It’s a philosophy based on learning the unspoken language of horses that creates a trust-based foundation in a cooperative environment. Through subtle body movements and gestures, students work individually with horses in a high-walled, round-pen and experience for themselves this silent method of communication. It was a pretty thrilling experience for this Brooklyn girl and drinking a few juicy glasses of local red wine at the end of each night was a pretty sweet treat. Flag is Up is nicely set amongst the rolling hills of Santa Ynez wine valley and while they don’t offer accommodations, there are a variety available in the nearby towns of Solvang and Buellton. With its emphasis on communication, the real value of Join-Up® is that it can be applied to any relationship and the course attracts people from all walks of life including CEOs, veterans suffering from PTSD, abused women, children, educators, and medical clinicians. Even the Queen of England endorses Join-Up® and over the years of his providing services to Britain’s racing establishment, in 2011 Monty was made an honorary Member of the Royal Victorian Order.
Whether you want to ride or just be around horses, the inhabitants of the New Forest, in Hampshire, England, will intrigue you. Roaming freely through the land are the famous New Forest Ponies, a band of about 3,000 whose mere presence contributes to the country’s tourism. These pretty ponies have run wild in these woodlands for 2,000 years and are cared
for by New Forest Commoners (local land owners). Visitors come just to watch the ponies, attracted by their gentle nature and beauty, as well as the romance and history of these creatures. Whether you’re a novice or advanced rider, there are a handful of stables in the forest that will saddle you up for lessons, riding, or a leisurely trek. The opportunity to enjoy a car-free journey is another plus, as you can easily hop a train from London. Once there, renting a bike is one of the most popular choices for exploring the area. There’s also a coastline where you can enjoy a shoreline stroll or hop a small ferry to Hurst Castle & Lighthouse. Book a room in one of the New Forest Cottages, and you’ll really feel like you’re in an enchanted forest.
The Chinese believe that the Horse year represents freedom and that when it comes to travel the further away you go, the better.
It’s also believed that you have to act fast in a Horse Year. So if you’ve got an itch to go somewhere, giddy up!