Planning is No Holiday
Last summer, my friend and I set out for the once-in-a-lifetime adventure of a riding holiday overseas. We had been planning our odyssey all year, researching the Internet, examining host countries and agencies, and comparing riding vacation packages. We settled on a one-week trail ride in Scotland, a one-week clinic in Ireland, and a final week exploring Ireland's western coast by car and horseback.
Despite our efforts, the result was 50-50. One getaway was simply heavenly. The other was a nightmare.
I'd like to share what we learned from our experiences to help others avoid the same mistakes.
My traveling companion and I are experienced riders who have trained and competed for 25 years. Like most people, we want to ride nice, fit horses that are in good health and suitable to our riding level, with well-maintained tack, and under instructors who know more than we do so we can gain from our experiences. We want to be with people who demonstrate genuine horsemanship, who respect the horse's well-being and who always put safety first.
Assuming you share these priorities, I've put together eight easy tips for getting your vacation off on the right lead.
Eight Golden Rules for Planning a Riding Vacation
1. Trust your instinct. If you have a "funny feeling" about the agency or personnel, think twice. The agency is the party that you sign a contract with, while the foreign stable where you ride is an agency supplier. Since the agency is where you'll turn for help if you're dissatisfied, ask yourself now if you feel confident working with them.
2. Ask questions in advance. Make sure that you are 100% satisfied with the answers and that the package being sold is what you're looking for. Better yet, get it in writing.
3. Be realistic about your skills and fitness. Overestimating your capabilities can shortchange more experienced members, who won't get to ride on par with their level because they've had to drop down to accommodate to yours. And riding six to eight hours daily, mostly in a two-point seat up hills, can be grueling if you're not physically up for it.
4. Confirm rules and procedures in advance. After we paid, we had to sign a waiver called the Recreational Activity Release and Indemnity Agreement that began:
"This document is a full release and indemnity agreement whereby participant is releasing and indemnifying provider from various risks, known and unknown involving various recreational activities including, but not limited to, horses and horse-type activities and further releasing provider from provider's negligence, if any, and, further releasing provider from any results of the inherent risks and provider's negligence, such results including, but not limited to, property damage, bodily and personal injury, illness, paralysis, or death."
In Canada, exemption from responsibility because of negligence is illegal. My signing a contract that didn't make the agency responsible for its negligence was unsettling (see Golden Rule Number One).
5. Ask how the agency pays its stable. Both agencies asked us to pay in advance. But we didn't ask how they paid their stable partners. When we filed for compensation, we were told that "the foreign partner has already been paid in full and it would be difficult to negotiate a refund."
6. Verify before you buy. A good way to verify credentials of foreign stables is through national equestrian federations and associations, or certifying bodies like the British Horse Society, www.bhs.org.uk.
You can check a vacation's validity through its competitors since more than one agency will offer the same trip. You can also check Internet bulletin boards or magazine articles.
7. Think comfort and safety:
- Take a seat saver if you're spending six to eight hours a day in a hard saddle, or a brace to support your lower back.
- Bring a sponge and saddle soap -- rain, salt water and mud aren't any kinder to leather boots on vacation than at home.
- Bring rubber stirrup pads. I kept losing my stirrups -- especially riding on the beach -- because my bare bars got wet despite my boots' anti-slide soles.
- Catch a flight a day early to adjust for jet lag or finding lost luggage.
8. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
We thought one package sounded so good we were amazed at the price. In the end, we didn't get what was advertised but we got what we paid for.
Happy Trails To You
I hope my advice hasn't scared you from planning a riding holiday. That's not my goal. I wish we could have turned to experienced vacationers before planning our own getaway.
Yes, we had one bad experience. But we also discovered some great stables, rode some very nice horses and met some terrific horsepeople along the way.
If you'd like to ask me more about my trip, please contact me, Chantal Girard, at Chantal_in_shipshaw@yahoo.com or by regular mail, 1171 Rue des Sillons, Shipshaw, Qu?bec, Canada, G7P 1C1