Monday, December 10, 2012

Reviews to come!

Watch out for the following reviews in the weeks to come:

  • Bali Island Horse (review 2) and Kuda P Stables in Bali, Indonesia
  • Grampians Horse Riding in Victoria, Australia
  • Arthayasa Stables in Jakarta, Indonesia

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Week In Portugal 2010

What a crazy number of years! I hadn't realised that this trip happened so long ago until I looked at the dates again. I promised myself I'd have the review up and running but I guess I was distracted. Portugal itself was a beautiful country but we're here about the horses so...

Portugal - December 2010
After seven days of intense training, we had done more dressage movements than we ever had in our lives. We were at the Escola Equitacao de Alcainca – a riding school dedicated to classical dressage located in a small village in Portugal. The owner of the school is Georges Malleroni – in his biography on Hidden Trails he is written up as a student of classical dressage master Nuno Oliveira. We were mainly tutored by Paulo who seems to have been with the school for quite a while. Our daily lessons were filled with his exhortations as he pushed us and our horses into movement after movement.
Shoulder-in, shoulder-out, piaffe, passage, travers, renvers, flying changes – we did them all under their tutelage and on the backs of the most beautifully trained Lusitano horses. We wouldn't even have thought of doing these kinds of movements under ordinary circumstances in Singapore! The quality of the horses and their training is very apparent.

We started riding on the older and more experienced stallions, but eventually, Rufiao (Ruffian) and Vingador (Avenger) became our favourites. There is no doubt that the instructors know what they’re
about and there is a high quality of instruction. We were not the only overseas visitors taking advantage of it either – while we were there we encountered a lovely lady from Japan who was there on her own, as well as two people from France.

Vingador the horse with Dickie the dog.

We had two lessons every day. Once in the morning after breakfast and once in the late afternoon. We rented a car and raced around doing some quick sightseeing each day in between lessons. The lessons are one and a half hours long and you truly realise how short our forty five minute lessons in Singapore are after that, and how fit their horses are! Every lesson started with a warm up, followed by exercises in walk, trot and then some canter and it was far from boring. On one of our first lessons, I did some rearing (I like to think it was close to a levade :)  - description found here: Airs above the ground) on one of their most experienced stallions – Napolitano. In our later lessons, we began to try the movements in canter! We also had the opportunity to ride out into the countryside. The school not only gives riding instruction, it also breeds horses and there were some very sweet foals. 

Accommodation is a pretty little cottage extension that looks out onto the stables, nicely appointed and cleaned every day. Meals are hearty and homey - cooked by their lovely housekeeper who kept our bellies full every day and always accompanied with carafes of wine. The experience was such that we’re already making plans to return someday. Till then, we’ll have to sustain ourselves with the memories of classical dressage on those gorgeous horses.

We booked our riding through Hidden Trails but you can also contact the school directly.
Their Facebook Page: Escola Equitacao de Alcainca

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Bali Island Horse

Text and picture courtesy of Cindy and Lindsey

Lindsey and I had a 2 hour ride with Bali Island Horse at Yeh Gangga. The driver picked Lindsey first then came to pick me up from my villa in Seminyak. It was about 40min drive to Yeh Gangga from where I was so we had plenty of time to chat. Natalie, one of the owners was there to welcome us, show us to our horses and check helmet fitting (they had helmets to lend). A big group arrived around the same time as we did and Natalie was nice to get us on quickly so we wouldn't be slowed down behind the group.

The horses looked really well looked after. Nice condition, shiny coats.

Initially our guide (on a smaller pony) had Lindsey's pony, Black Ice, on a lead rope. When he was sure she was comfortable he let her off the lead and we all trotted along, very relaxed. Our guide took very good care of Lindsey and knew the horses very well as they were in his daily care. He was also really happy to take photographs of us with our own camera.

We rode on a beach with black sand (like Kuta's beach). It was really close to the stables and a very easy walk to get to. The beach was really gentle sloping, wide and fantastic to ride on. The frothy waves were beautiful and we enjoyed the sunset and atmosphere very much. Horses were super. I rode in front as I was on a (super quiet) stallion and he liked to be in front, a really gentle personality with a super easy trot and canter. Linds who had not ridden since she was a kid was on a paint pony (about 14.1hh so not a tiny one), really cute looking.

We also took a relaxing walk through the village, with many little trucks and motorcycles but the horses were unfazed. Lots of little kids waved at us.

We crossed a stream on the way back which was short but fun. The water came up to just below my stirrups.

We were taking it easy so we mostly trotted and walked but I had a canter on the way back. Our guide was careful to warn us in advance of the end bit where families were watching/playing football in the evening. The horses were quiet. We were just looking out as we didn't want to be hit with a stray ball but nothing even came near.

Fantastic ride, highly recommended. We really loved our horses and mine was just such a special personality. I was sad to say bye. There's another riding place nearer to the main tourist area but I'm glad we tried this place. The owners (Natalie and Leanne) are Australian. They're riders themselves although now that the horses are busy they don't ride to let the horses have a day off when they can. We had a nice chat after the ride with a drink until the driver took us back.

Oh yeah, they had 2 pet monkeys. One is really friendly and the other one bites so don't touch the monkeys unless you check which one is ok. The friendly one really took a shine to Lindsey and groomed her ponytail looking for bugs and everything. It was so unlike the aggressive monkeys I see when riding in Singapore!

The 2 hour ride was about 50USD (booked through the internet) and included transport 2-ways. You can pay in USD or Rupiah.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Happy Ranch (Siem Reap) 2nd Review - with pictures

I planned my trip to Siem Reap in part because of the good feedback about Happy Ranch I've been getting from my friends (see Rachel's review here) and from tripadvisor (see here).

Having ridden in several places around the region (and many beyond), the Happy Ranch was definitely one of my favourites. I did a 1 hour trail ride on the first day and a 2 hour sunrise ride followed by a private jumping lesson on the second. On the first day, I rode Brin, a 3-year-old who was born on the ranch. It was his first time out on the trails with a guest and he behaved impeccably- he was responsive and calm almost throughout the ride. I fell in love with Cambodian ponies there and then- they are really such intelligent, hardy animals with easy-going temperaments, comfortable gaits and smooth canters.


The sunrise ride is the one I'd really recommend. We went past paddy fields, waded through small streams and rode through the local villages and caught a glimpse into the lives of the farmers.
Riding past a lotus pond. Boy did I hone my horseback photography skills!

Wading through a stream

Paddy fields

We rode through a field of cows that were peacefully grazing and didn't flinch even though we were an arm's length away from them. It was a very surreal experience for a city girl like me and probably the closest I've ever gotten to farm animals (other than at the zoo!)

We got so close to the cows we could touch them. Thankfully they minded their own business

Water buffaloes

Watching the sunrise over the paddy fields was breathtakingly beautiful- it was quiet and absolutely serene- a stark contrast from the crowd and bustle of watching the sunrise at Angkor Wat the day before.

Sunrise over the paddy fields

Jay (Jai?) was an excellent guide as well- he spoke very good English and answered all our questions about the people living in the region, having grown up in the village himself. The only downside was that I didn't get a chance to canter as much as I would have liked to as a lot of the trail involved going past villagers' houses and through water-logged terrain.

Jay leading the way

We also made a quick stop at Wat Athvea, a 12th Century Hindu temple built by the same king who constructed Angkor Wat. It's quite a small temple but worth visiting simply because there were no other tourists around. Unlike Angkor Wat, there are relatively few carvings on the walls, other than a few very well preserved devata (sacred female images).

Wat Athvea. Riding Baloo, another young pony

Inside the temple- a devata

Unfinished carvings on the walls- they must have known there'd be horses passing through!

The lessons are perhaps more suited to beginner or intermediate riders, although more advanced riders can pick up a couple of good tips as well. The horses are not trained to a very high level so if you are looking for more advanced dressage or jumping lessons perhaps you may want to go somewhere else.

Information about the Happy Ranch:

Prices (payment in cash, US dollars only):
Trail Rides: 1h ($19), 2h ($36), 3h ($51), 4h ($64)
Lessons (1h): Private ($22), Group lesson up to 4 ridesr ($16)
Cart Rides (1h): $12.50

Bookings: Tel 012 920002 or 016920002, email:

Website: click here

Location: 1.5 km away from the centre of Siem Reap (see website).

Monday, September 6, 2010

We were in the news!

Riders Without Borders featured in the Straits Times on 20 April

Karin, Denise and Noreen

Riding in Iran, featured in the Straits Times on 13 April

6 Days at the Fly Spur Ranch, Oregon USA

by Marketa Flossova

These had been some most beautiful 6 days of my life – every day with horses, from dawn to dusk. I have spent half a year in the States, where I did an exchange program at the University of Oregon and I decided that it wouldn't be a complete American experience without staying at a horse ranch. Here in Oregon, there are so many of them and people seem to be keeping horses here as pets or companions, at the backyard of their house.

Fly Spur Ranch

I decided to stay at a Fly Spur Ranch which is at Bend, central Oregon. Because huge dude ranches were out of my budget, I offered my help at this ranch for an exchange of discounted stay and free, unlimited riding. This ranch had 16 horses and was specialized in western, leisure riding on trails.

The Barn

Sisco, a beautiful Palomino

I have been riding for 5 years prior to the stay at this horse ranch, but my previous experience consisted mainly of dressage riding and a bit of jumping. This was totally different. I would say that the main difference between English style and the western style is that in the western style, the focus is more on the horse and less on the rider. I have learned some amazing horsemanship skills and things about horses that I had never really known before. For example, there are so many exercises which we can do with horses on the ground, without even riding them in order to build a deeper connection with them and a mutual respect. They are so much nicer to ride after that. It is not all just about getting the horse 'round', 'on the bit' or 'collected', which I used to think when I did dressage all the time. There is so much more to it, so much going on just between the horse and the person. There is also no such thing as a horse 'misbehaving' or 'doing things on purpose'. If they are, it's just because they have not been given enough training, love, attention and care.

The horses are kept outdoor almost all the time and they consume mainly hay and grass and sometimes other supplements if they had done more work during the day. I fed them twice a day and it was the most tiring and at the same time the most touching moment of the day. I would wake up before 7am to feed them and the horses would greet me loudly while shaking their heads. They were so excited each time I would bring out the hay. They were just so cute. I would then clean and oil saddles in the morning and ride later in the day. I must say that western saddles are really so complicated, heavy and nice looking. They were so heavy that I would pull my muscle each time I tried to swing it up the horse. I would then groom the horses and got them ready for rides.

Getting Ready to Go

Then there was the riding. I would spend around 3 hours each day in the saddle, mostly going out on trail rides which would consist of walking, trotting, cantering and occasionally galloping.

Riding Buddy, an Arabian

Therese, the ranch owner, and I on our favourite horses

My favorite horse was a brown Tennessee Walker. I totally fell in love with this breed. They have very smooth paces and feel so comfortable to ride. They do not have a trot, only a somewhat fast and extended walk which feels like a moving boat, their canter is smooth and comfortable and they can gallop really fast if they want to. This breed was created for traveling long distances across the natural landscape and so this breed needed to be comfortable to ride and enduring for hours of riding. The Tennessee Walker also has a very mellow and friendly nature and these characteristics make him a great trail horse.

Two very cute Tennessee Walkers- Scout & Rhythm

I told myself that I definitely need to come back to this ranch some time in the future. The 6 days at the ranch have been a transforming experience for me and have shined a light on what I would like to do in the future. Setting up a horse ranch is definitely on of my future goals. I would also recommend a stay at a horse ranch to anyone as a form of therapy. Living on a horse ranch, spending so much time with horses and doing a lot of physical activities totally draws one into the experience and makes one forget about anything else. It therefore effectively works as a form of psychological and emotional therapy.

If you would like anymore information about the ranch, please facebook me (you can find me on facebook under Marketa Flossova) or e-mail me at

For more information about Fly Spur Ranch, click here

Equine Adventures in Iran- Featured in the Straits Times on Tuesday, 13 April

Headline: Equine adventures
Publication: ST
Date: Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Photos courtesy of Karin Lai

We called him Space Mountain. He was a tall bay Arab stallion, long-legged, his neck gracefully arched.

Space Mountain- not for the faint hearted

Of course, Space Mountain was not his real name, but it was an apt description of his personality. He was what riders call a “hot horse”: volatile, sensitive, spirited – and very high-strung.

Riding him was like taking a lesson in applied physics. When he took off, it was in a burst of explosive acceleration. The subsequent velocity was heart-stopping.

Space Mountain’s stable-mate was a white Arab gelding we called Roller Coaster. The name, I think, explains itself.

Roller Coaster

These two equine speed demons live in Nur Ali Beyg stable not far from Saveh city, 100km from Teheran. The ranch is run by Mr Hossein Ali Khani; his stable manager, Mr Saeed, leads groups of would-be adventurers out on day treks in the surrounding desert.

We had learnt of the stable by way of Mr Y. Mousouloo (Mos, in short), a 46-year-old Iranian who runs Amigos Horse Riding in Pasir Gudang, Johor. Eager to introduce riders from this part of the world to Arab horses in his native country, he volunteered to be our guide and resident cowboy.

He had gone to Saveh a week earlier to recce the ranch. His report: The saddles and bridles were in good condition and there were enough horses for our team of five. The price: $35 an hour a horse.

Mos’ plan was to have us go out on three day-treks, lasting three to four hours each time. In between, we stayed with his Iranian relatives.

The stable was done up frontier-style.

White-washed stalls each held one or two horses.

The breeding stallions occupied their own row, stamping and snorting every time a mare was led past.

All the stable-boys were expert riders. We saw one leap onto a pacing, bucking stallion and attempt a series of higher and higher jumps, defying all his horse’s attempts to throw him off.

Just outside the ranch was a long stretch of flat ground where we tested our horses. One of our group soon discovered that her horse had an unbalanced gait; this was the result of a birth defect, Mr Saeed told us.

Another found that his horse – we called him Polo Boy – had a bad habit of tossing his head. The rider compensated for this by adjusting the reins, to avoid being jerked forward.

But no amount of riding “on the flat” would have prepared us for the experience out on the arid kavir, the Iranian word for desert.

Nur Ali Beyg is ringed by a series of steep hills, covered in rocks and tumbleweed. With no trees or buildings to break the skyline, the whole prospect looked like a vast desolate sea. It is almost too much for the eye to take in.

In the distance, Saveh city shimmered like a mirage. I could imagine what it was like centuries ago, mud-brick buildings almost floating on the sands, a welcome sight for Silk Road merchants steering their caravans through Persia.

The fickle early-spring weather added to the drama. It was March. On our first day of riding, the temperature was 18 deg C; on our second trek a week later, it dipped to a chilly 5 deg C.

Above all, the silence. Apart from the occasional snort and tramp of hooves, the stillness was absolute. It was very real, very tranquil isolation.

With nothing but rocks and scrub, with no sounds of civilised life to guide us, it was easy to get lost – which we promptly did, on our second day trek out. By then, dusk had fallen and it was as dark as pitch. We had to pick our way back to the ranch by following the dim outlines of the white horses.

And it was in the desert that the horses really came into their own. Arabs are built for speed and endurance and a four-hour ride up and down steep, rocky slopes did not faze them.

Mos took the two more experienced riders off on canters and gallops. Roller Coaster hurled himself up hillsides like a manic albino, kicking up dust clouds as he ran, grey mane flying.
Space Mountain’s speed made me think of a particle accelerator. I swear, if the Americans ever needed proof of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, they had only to look that horse up.

On the second trek he was too much for me and after he spooked and bolted twice, nearly throwing me off, I decided to try another horse in case I got smashed to atoms.

But that was not enough adrenaline for Mos. As we left Saveh to make a loop around the Caspian coast, we made a stop at Langaroud, a seaside town with riding on the beach.

The horses we rode on the beach were Caspian ponies, a small breed native to Iran, more densely built and stolid. They had grown scruffy over the winter and their tack was of the rough-and-ready variety: rope for bridles, blankets for saddles.

It was, essentially, $30-an-hour bareback riding. A somewhat more challenging proposition, since there were no saddles or stirrups to anchor us on the horse.

It was also more perilous for the men, anatomy-wise.

A bomb could have gone off in front of those horses and they would not have noticed, they were so accustomed to human traffic. The Caspian coast is one of the Iranians’ favourite holiday spots and, given that we were there over their New Year vacation, it was packed to the brim with picnickers.

Despite car boom boxes cranked to full volume, gunning motorcycle engines, screaming children and impromptu football games, the horses gamely trotted on up and down the crowded beach. It was, perhaps, less a scenic ride than a chance to make a sociological study of the average Iranian holiday-maker.

I found myself missing Space Mountain, but I knew better. Riding without the ability to control a horse with confidence endangers the lives of all riders on the trip.

It is not as easy as it sounds. Basic lessons in a riding school are definitely not sufficient preparation.

Our last morning in Iran was spent on horseback. I had a new horse this time, a white mare which was, of all things, in heat. She was not as skittish as Space Mountain, but she also loved to run.

As I guided her back in a lively trot, the first of the spring rains started to fall, coaxing some of the desert shrubs into tentative bloom. The silhouette of Nur Ali Beyg mountain was dim in the mist.

Man, I thought, it is for times like these that I would gladly risk my life. Even on a crazy horse.