Thursday, November 26, 2009

Singapore Turf Club Riding Centre (STCRC)

After months of anxious anticipation, numerous phone calls and admin hiccups, we finally got a chance to ride at STCRC last Sunday. I must admit, the facilities are indeed world-class. The sheer size of the indoor arena was utterly luxurious, if not a little overwhelming.

In any case, I’m glad I don’t have to worry about glove tan-lines or wet weather riding anymore. And talk about being spoiled- even the sand on the ground was made out of some synthetic material which was virtually dirt-free but hell to get out of our clothes and boots (it came out in weird clumps). What more- the syces walked our horses right down to the arena, helped us mount, and then took the horses back to the stables for us after we finished our ride. Personally, I'd prefer helping to tack up / bringing my horse back to the stables... but unfortunately the riding school's policies don't allow for that...

The horses were all a little fresh and excitable. Mine was ultra sensitive and kept bolting at a certain corner of the arena and wanting to break into a canter, probably a reflection of my inexperience in riding highly-trained, non-school-master type horses rather than a problem with the horse’s schooling. The other advanced riders seemed to have pretty good rides, and the instructor seemed competent as well. It was just a little unnerving watching two riders (both kids) fall within the span of two lessons- one of whom was a novice rider who had a syce holding onto her pony when it bolted.

That being said, the horses and ponies are very new and will need time to settle down before they get used to the new place. Hopefully things will improve when all the teething problems get worked out (including the extremely vexing lesson booking policies).

Unfortunately, riders are not allowed to visit the horses at the stables unless they book stable management classes. That means no post-ride carrot-feeding, showering the horses or hanging around the barn after lessons- a huge pity imo!


Check out their website for more information

Type of riding: Mainly dressage. Jumping for Advanced riders only.

Riding fees: $60 per 45 min for public riders ($15-35 for students, see website for more details).

Location: 10 Woodlands Avenue 3. Map

STCRC is a 10 to 15 minute walk from Kranji MRT. If you’d like to take the bus instead of walking the whole way, cross the road (from Kranji MRT), take almost any bus and alight after 1 bus-stop and walk.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Can Jou in Catalonia, Spain (2004)

Some of these accounts go back a few years and there’s a little catch up going on with older travel journals. One of these was a trip I made to Spain in 2004. This was the first big trip I’d made solo and I think I went a little overboard in making sure everyone knew where I was going and what I was doing – just in case anything happened.

After a look around the internet, I found a company called Hidden Trails (incidentally I’ve used this company for two trips so far and found them reliable and good with service.) and I picked the Mountain to the Sea ride in Catalonia, Spain because... it was on special due to it being a low season trip.

Flying into Barcelona, I spent my first three days exploring the city, gazing at Gaudi’s masterpieces and eating seafood. On the fourth, I was picked up from the airport in Barcelona and was joined by two Swedish ladies travelling together and two German ladies who were also going solo.

It would be too long to do a blow – by – blow account of the trip. My first night there was spent in the beautiful country house of Can Jou, the ranch where we started the ride. We were introduced to the horses who would carry us over six days, (mine was a bay pony called Estrella) and our guide Rudy.

Memorable moments included going up the hills on the first day and getting rained on – a cold, slushy rain, with frost gathering on the ground. Having wine, cheese, bread and ham on the side of a meadow in the hills and then catching a flu from being soaked and cold.

But I think one of the amazing moments of the trip happened on the second day. We started our ride from the mountains to the Bay of Roses and we passed through the forest and a village, our horses’ hooves ringing out on the road. After a short stop in the village to pick up provisions for lunch, we left through the surrounding fields. The village was on the floor of a valley and as we rode across the valley the wind began to pick up. The fields began to sway and the rush of wind whistled past us. The horses were alert, their ears pricked. The sun still shone into the valley through the clouds, creating a bright glow across the floor. On top of this golden glow, dark grey thunderheads sat and we knew that they would soon be sweeping down on us. Rudy called us to gallop – we had to make it to the other side of the valley before the storm came down. With a cry of “Allez!” we were off, six horses and riders, racing across the swaying fields with a storm bearing down, illuminated by the air.

The ride description advises that riders be in fairly good shape for this ride, and they are not joking. We were on horseback for at least five hours most days, and one day we were on for eight hours! For a part of the trail we got off the horses and hiked uphill and down, leading them for about half an hour. We had long gallops that made us groan for the ache in our backs even as we were exhilarated to race down the trail.

Yet despite riding with a cold, and aching from the physical exertion, it was an incredible experience that was well worth it. The accommodation was in very comfortable country style hotels and the meals were excellent. There were lunches in the countryside, and the meal I remember best was a lamb stew dinner at an old farmhouse hotel we were staying at.

After riding through the old villages and forests, and galloping across the grey beach and into the waves, we ended with a champagne celebration back in Can Jou, a bubbly finish to the adventure.

Amigos Horse Riding- Pasir Gudang, Johor

Cantering through the lalang on calm, collected horses in the company of great friends (and a little dog!) – who could ask for more?

When I first heard about Amigos, I was just a tad skeptical about riding at a Western place. What would an English rider like me do at a ranch? Ride on a funny-looking saddle with a saddle-horn and sit to the trot all the time? Nah. Not really my thing. (Or so I thought!)

What more, I haven’t exactly had the best experiences on trails. Horses tend to like taking off with me or galloping away when I least expect it, leaving me clinging on for dear life and/or screaming my lungs out, much to the chagrin of my poor riding companions, who usually have to chase after me or wait until my horse tires out and comes back.

Amigos Horse Riding dispelled some of the weird notions I had about Western riding, and gave me the confidence to really enjoy a trek through the jungle for the first time in a really long time. For one thing, the Western saddle grew on me. It is way comfier than an English saddle and the saddle horn does come in handy at times. Just remember, don’t lean forward and impale yourself! And besides, you *can* rise to a trot in Western saddle. You probably wouldn’t want to if your horse doesn’t have a bumpy trot though, since it’s pretty comfy to sit to a trot in a Western saddle.
In any case, the owner of the place, Mousouloo (or Mos) combines techniques from both English and Western riding.

He also prides himself in his “herd” of well-trained Thoroughbred trail horses.

His motto? “Don’t worry, enjoy!” He has full confidence in his horses, and his confidence is definitely well placed. His horses are true-blue trail horses- they follow Mos’ horse to the tee. Which really isn’t a bad thing- you don’t have to be worried that your horse will run away with you or decide to race with the horse in front (which incidentally, always happens to me!) Mos also managed to find a fine balance between fun and safety- he let us canter a fair bit but was always mindful of each individual rider, turning around to check on us from time to time throughout the trail.

We usually go for the Jungle Trail ride, which takes you through the oil palm plantations to a vantage point where you can see the Johor Straits and Pulau Ubin.

The best part? Experiencing the sheer exhilaration of cantering through the lalang, with the wind whipping on your face as your horse leaps through the tall grass.

Amazingly, the little doggie that follows us on the trails manages to jump through the grass and keep up with the cantering horses- without getting stepped on.

The only downside? The trails are a little limited. We went on the same trail all 4 times we rode there. Unfortunately, there’s quite a bit of construction going on as well. The horses were completely unfazed though!

Amigos is not just for experienced riders. My novice friends had a great time walking and trotting through the trails under Mos’ guidance. Mos also conducts a 8-session riding course for beginners.

Happy riding!


Location: Amigos Riding is located within Tanjong Puteri Golf Resort, in Pasir Gudang, Johor. It takes about 45 min to drive there from Singapore.

Price: Jungle ride –rm100 for 45 min to an hour. Basic riding course – rm800 for 8 lessons (45 min each)

Getting there: We usually grab a cab from the checkpoint, near City Square. It’s around rm30-35 per way and roughly a 30-45min cab ride. Alternatively, Mos can help you arrange for transport from JB or Singapore.

Contact information: you can call Mos at +6012-7966 806 or email him at

Monday, November 16, 2009


We have a few reviews coming up, we've just been so bogged down with work lately that they're taking a bit of time to write! Watch this space for rides in Spain and more in Malaysia! :)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Umalas Equestrian Resort Bali

Repost of Original Article: Used with Permission (MANY THANKS! :) )
Photos courtesy of Noreen

How to Look Good Riding

by Rachel Lin

Task: Four days on horseback in Bali. Watch sunburnt tourists flee in your path as you gallop down Seminyak beach and get yelled at in what seems like a friendly fashion by villagers.

Equipment: New riding stuff for the Boyfriend, old riding stuff for me. Sunscreen, the fabled striped Stussy dress and an emergency supply of lip balm.

The Team:

Rachel "I've been bitten" Lin, who seemed to attract all manner of blood-hungry insects.

The Intelligent Boyfriend, who decided to splash out on an all-polo outfit but was unable, in the end, to escape with his lower body entirely unscathed.

Four days is definitely not enough time for a fully featured Bali trip. There were many things we missed out on: the traditional dances, the beautiful temples, the cultural and artistic excesses of Ubud or the verdant slopes of Gunung Agung. Despite waking up obscenely early in the morning and going to bed obscenely late at night, we hardly made a dent in the island's sights. We didn't manage to thoroughly explore even Kuta or browse through the shops in Seminyak. We rushed in and out of Denpasar with no time at all to visit the museum or take in the hectic, dusty town. There was no time to trawl the bars properly, though we did drop into this delightfully squalid dive called the Espresso bar, which featured a fantastic local band performing odd renditions of popular rock hits in a strong Indonesian accent and sarong-clad waitresses doing their cheesy utmost to cozy up to overweight and slightly drunk white patrons. There was no time to investigate the infamous Double Six club, with its very own bungee jump, though we did loiter outside and soak in the night-time beach.

But what we lacked in breadth of experience we made up in sheer equestrian overload; it was a riding holiday after all, and ride we did. Oh, how we rode. We rode till the Boyfriend's knees went funny and he managed to get abrasions on his arse, pained patches on his bum that I tried to bandage before he revisited his mounts for yet another go at a trail or a lesson. We rode till I winded myself doing jump after jump after jump on this pretty palomino horse named Romantis during a much-anticipated lesson, trying hard not to look too tired because my efforts had attracted an audience of Japanese tourists. We rode for hours every day, crossing rain-swollen rivers, scattering chickens in charmingly rural villages, passing roadside stalls selling "100% halal" petrol, galloping down the beaches to the accompaniment of crashing surf - and my word, the surf was truly gorgeous - and frolicking feral dogs. Wales was intense, yes, but this was somehow crazier.

The horses at Umalas:
Zorro- Big, black and beautiful.


It was crazier because Bali has that frenetic riotous edge to it that you get when development steams ahead like an express train gone haywire. Villas, shops, stalls, random buildings were springing up everywhere, for rent to whoever would believe the promises of "beach view" or "close to rice fields". Signs along the road beckoned you to all sorts of businesses: massages both dubious and delightful, food both delicious and diarrhea-ific, car repair and motorcycle repair and sofa cleaning and laundry and god knows what else, all advertised on bits of board with painted letters scrawled on them. Random vehicles stood by the roadside with a makeshift "for rent" sign on them; there was even a well in a courtyard with a "for rent" sign balanced over its mouth. It was calmer, more organised than Siem Reap, for sure, but you could almost feel the thirst for development, the burgeoning possibilities of cash and business and enterprise. The waitress at the restaurant at which we breakfasted every morning asked us if we wanted to hire a motorcycle from her. The taxi driver who took us to Denpasar one afternoon gave us his name card in case we needed another ride.

And then you had the contrast between tourist comforts and local life. Next to trim, landscaped resorts that stank of sleek money there were ramshackle huts housing sun-bleached fishing boats. Walking down the beach from Canggu we passed tanned Australians surfing in the wild waters on one end and a browned Indonesian father and his two sons splashing in a small river on the other, passing a lovely Vesak Day celebration along the way. It seemed so otherworldly, the Balinese dressed in their religious best having a feast on a rock perched right next to the roaring waves, sharing the same beach with surfers and bikini-clad strollers. Riding through the villages around Kerobokan - one of them was called Batu Belig, I think - we saw small family-run provision shops, usually with one or two barely-dressed children tumbling around the place shrieking with laughter, right next to swish villas with imposing stone walls and full security features. From the window of our room we could see the farmers at work in their plots, digging new trenches in the field or, more puzzlingly, shooting hay at a screen.

To cut a long story short, it was magnificent. It was great. I've wracked my brains and sincerely cannot think of something that went seriously wrong, apart from the Boyfriend's sore bum, and even then it was a source of more mirth than misery. Most of it was thanks to the lovely people at the Umalas Stables and I have no hesitation in plugging them here. We had the opportunity of staying at the stables during our whole trip, just above a row of horse boxes: there's something to be said about hearing equine snufflings at night! The room was really pretty and had windows that opened out onto a road. Even better, the arena was nestled in the midst of some rice fields, which gave us a lovely view every time we went for lessons; random villagers also tended to walk past in the evenings, some carrying firewood, others pushing fluffy dogs around on baby strollers, of all things. They gave us breakfasts too and we had fantastic bacon and eggs at the attached restaurant, the Lestari. And it was also at that restaurant where we had an amazing all-you-can-eat grill. We stuffed ourselves absolutely silly on the food, which was mind-blowingly tasty; I also had my first taste of arak there, a most potent dram which put everything in a kind of pleasant haze from the start.

The riding was excellent: it was such an experience cantering or galloping in the froth and spray of a beautiful beach that stretched for miles, navigating the streets of Batu Beling and exchanging smiles with the innumerable construction teams at semi-work or stealing glances at the emerald green rice shoots as we ambled past the paddy fields. Even the lessons in the stable arena, which more than anything else worked to tire me out, were fantastic; the Boyfriend learnt a massive amount and even got to cantering by the last lesson, while I tried my hand at jumping after a hiatus of way, way too long. The horses were wonderfully well-tempered, though each had their own endearing personality quirk. Apart from Romantis I rode Asgan, who was technically the Boyfriend's horse for the four days, and Manny, who rather irritatingly disliked being on the beach and charged straight into the beachfront lawn of some hotel, a move that earned me a rebuke from the elderly gardener and much embarrassment. The Boyfriend had Asgan, who put him through his beginner's paces with a surprising amount of drool; Kiko, an even-tempered chap who had no problems being put on a lead rope; a skewbald horse whose name I forget, but means "two-toned" in Balinese; and Jawa, who traumatised the Boyfriend on the last day by being a bit too forward-going and bouncy. But they were all lovely mounts and the Boyfriend is now as assuredly a riding addict as I am. On the Seminyak beach I met an Australian couple who had lived next to the Olympic dressage coach; they paid me an immense comment in saying that I looked lovely on horseback, which was very unexpected and gave me a happy glow for the rest of the day.

Everything else seemed to wonderfully charmed as well. The food was mouth-watering and one of the only reasons why my brain registers that I'm back in Singapore is that my meals suddenly aren't as tasty as they were in Bali. The gargantuan rijstaffel in the Poppies Restaurant, the insanely delicious lemon meringue pie in the Kopi Pot, my first sampling of Balinese style burbur ayam in Made's Warung - my word, I get hungry whenever I think of them. The highlight, though, was our search for babi guling, something that the Boyfriend had insisted upon from the beginning. The nice people at the stables recommended us a warung in Denpasar, one of those roadside dives that was sort of like a kopitiam around here, but more claustrophobic. As for the food: well, what can I say? I have no idea what spices they used or exactly how they cooked it, but my word, it was one of the most delicious roast pork dishes I'd ever eaten in my life. Even the Boyfriend gave it his "Wong stamp of approval", which coming from a Cantonese man is high praise indeed.

The people there were really nice, so nice I almost felt bad for being a decadent tourist. I mean, I really didn't feel like I deserved to be pampered so thoroughly in a spa, given flower petal baths and rub-downs with herbs. I didn't feel like I was entitled to have a nice woman lather my hair in cream and massage my head, only to encounter a nice man who then blow-dried it all and complimented me on my piercings. The spa experience was all so blissful that I felt distinctly guilty even amongst all that relaxation. At the stables, the staff were nothing short of encouraging and helpful. They called taxis for us, helped the Boyfriend with his laundry, were always ready with a smile and a greeting. Some of the stable lads looked positively dashing and had an easy informality about them that made everything somehow breezier: Kadek in particular was quite the roguish character who rode a horse named Ben Hur and somehow ended up calling the Boyfriend "Eliot"; while Churliyanto (if that's his name) definitely broke the mould of scary, demanding riding instructors that I was used to. He was so calm and friendly during the lessons that it was a positive joy being taught by him.

What more can I say after all that? It was a thoroughly enchanting four days and I had lots of trouble tearing myself away from the place. I mean, it had loads of lovely horses, fantastic people, delicious food, wonderful scenery, that crazy mix of city and country life, that clash of cultures that keeps things interesting. Nothing more that I could ask for, really. There was so much left unexplored, so many nooks and crannies we hadn't poked into, that I feel as if I've left unfinished business behind. And there was just something about that place, the chilled atmosphere and the unforced cheerfulness of the people there, that made the whole thing feel so dreamlike, so wonderful, that I couldn't find it in me to go back to Singapore.

I seriously have to visit Bali again. This time, we'll probably strike out further north and see the bits we missed: that is, if we can find the time or the resources next to all the other destinations we have planned!

For Information and Rates:

The Umalas Equestrian Resort Bali

Rates and packages (from the website):
US$369 (S$517) for 2 nights (riding plus accommodation) to US$952 (S$1,334) for 7 nights.

Lessons offered:
Dressage, jumping and beginners’ lunge lessons.

Trail rides offered:
30 min rice field tour (for beginners and children)
2 and 3 hour beach tours.