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.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


Hi everyone!

No we haven't forgotten, though we've been quiet for a while (work work work). There's a bit of a backlog we're working on for some articles and two new ones in the works from Finland and Norway!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Morocco 2007

When I told them where I was going, a lot of people asked me, “Why Morocco?” I can’t say I really knew how to give a straight answer. It was a mix of wanting to go somewhere, and somewhere that was different. Morocco, with its air of exoticism and its unique blend of the Middle East and Europe, seemed to be it.  I was travelling solo, and friends and family were worried that there’d be trouble, seeing as it would not be a well known, developed country. As it turned out, it was one helluva adventure and besides being ripped off all over as an ignorant tourist, I was never seriously harassed.

In any case, I spent quite a few days taking in the sights, and the riding section of my trip was an 8 day jaunt that I booked with Hidden Trails. In the end, I was the only person on the trip, enjoying the services of a cook, a groom, a driver and a guide. Talk about extravagant. The stable was owned by a Swiss lady - Renate and her Moroccan husband, and she was my guide for the 8 days.

The horses were rough and tumble horses - small, lean, and strong. It scared me how skinny they were compared to ours but I came to appreciate that it was a build of hardiness and endurance. Mine was called Mahera, a sweet mare who was responsive and steady.  We also had with us a greenhorn called Etken on the trail, who was there to gain experience.

The trail took us through some incredible scenery and narrow trails along sharp drops that were not for the acrophobic. There were mountains and deep ravines, streams and farmer’s fields. A section even took us to a village perched on a mountain side which I was told, could not be accessed by vehicles. The horses brought us to beautiful abandoned villas, where we picked fresh figs from the trees. We watched the sunset camped next to Roman ruins and had ice cream in the holiest city in Morocco.
Our nights were mostly spent in tents and sleeping bags. Washing water came from jerry cans and light from candles and lamps. Mahera would be tethered nearby and as I lay down I could hear her chewing and snuffling at her hay. As the ride consisted of fairly long hours in the saddle, and lots of galloping and cantering, I slept like a baby through each night and could never really finish most of my diary entries!
Meals were simple and I don’t know if it was the exertion of travelling, but it was some of the most delicious food I have ever had. I put it down to the fact that their food is incredibly fresh. A chicken in the market is selected live, and then killed, stripped and plonked in front of you in a few minutes for you to take home for dinner.
 There were so many moments and so many experiences that the few photos hardly do the trip justice. They don’t capture the whooping cries of the farmers urging you to race faster as you gallop by them. They don’t show the children following you through the village (and occasionally throwing rocks!) They can’t quite express the warmth and hospitality of the people. Most of all, there’s the simple and personal joy of spending time with your horse and the rush of adrenalin as she surges forward and gives you wings.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Christchurch, New Zealand - Part 2

Day 2 at Kowhai Riding School
by Pauline Wong

We had a 2-hour lesson in the morning and a 3-hour trail ride in the afternoon. The team of 15 riders was led by the chief instructor who was an elderly lady (at least in her 60s) who rode in shorts, no chaps, and had a military-style training regime...

Riding with such a large group was already quite a challenge but on top of that we had to canter together in single file. It was fast, and at times we accelerated into a gallop. 90% of the trail was in fast canter, over open farmlands, along footpaths, up a treacherously steep cliff and down again and then charging across plains. For 3 whole hours, we cantered and galloped, with 15 energetic horses and some nervous riders, the thundering hoofbeats and howling wind behind us adding to the excitement and thrill. It was a nerve-wrecking ride and I had to admit I had my heart in my mouth the whole time, with every muscle tensed and wanting it to end.

Remember Opal the obnoxious bossy horse? I had her the day before and had such a good relaxing ride on her that the hack was a breeze. That day it was the same horse, in the same place, doing the same thing, but I didn't enjoy the ride because the instructor was yelling at us and scaring us out of our wits. In fact I was so happy to have my feet on the ground again after the 3-hour hell-ride. I thought long and hard about the vast difference between the 2 days and came to a realization: That your confidence can be taken away from you within a short encounter and we must be careful not to let that happen. I am a good rider (in my own rights) and I will always love riding.

Day 3 - Rubicon Valley
I returned to Christchurch and called up another horse ranch at Rubicon Valley to book a 3-hour trail ride for NZ$120. They provided free return transport to Christchurch City Centre. The owners were a nice friendly couple who owned only 18 horses.
I had a standard-bred named Monty. I’ve heard a lot from my friends about how awkward riding such horses can be because they “paced”. I soon got a feel of what they had been talking about! Instead of trotting in diagonals, he sort of went parallel, so it felt like he was wobbling and it was impossible to sit to the “pace”. But I soon got the hang of it and stood up when he paced and then kicked harder to make him go into canter. They used a stock-saddle (similar to a western saddle) and the horses go on a loose rein, so once Monty knew I was game for a fast ride, it became a breeze getting him to canter. Oh how we cantered! Besides myself there was a Canadian rider who last rode many years ago and was both rusty and nervous. But she was soon smitten by the cantering bug when she saw me having a whale of a time charging across acres of farmland, amid scattering and bleating sheep, until we reached the gate and Monty would automatically slow down. Yes, there were many gates, and the guide had to keep hopping on and off her horse.

The weather had taken a turn for the worse that day and it began to pour minutes into our ride. But it became a rare treat because we got to wear the famous "dry-as-a-bone" raincoat. It was a long trench coat and there was a buckle at the calf. Besides the thrill of looking like real cowboys, it also kept us dry and out of the wind. I don’t think I could have continued the ride without the coat because despite wearing a jersey and a windbreaker, I was shivering and my hands were numb in my soaking-wet gloves. My nose was also runny by then. But we kept going and decided that nothing was gonna stop us! The trail was much more rugged than the one at Kowhai; there were broken branches strewn everywhere, prickly wild plants sprouting up here and there, and most interestingly, we occasionally ran into sheep and goats. They were really a playful lot, dashing around us as we approached.

We stopped midway to take pictures and to marvel at the long winding Kamawari River(I think it means freezing cold). The guides had packed scones and hot cocoa in their saddle-bags and we were supposed to stop by the river for tea. But because it was raining quite heavily, we just stopped for a short while and only had tea back at the barn at the end of the ride.

Because it was the rugged outback, it was inevitable that we had to be careful not to have our eyes poked by prickly branches and to have to duck low-hanging ones. So alertness was of paramount importance. At times we had to trust our mounts and let them gallop up the cliff and other times, we had to sit far back with long reins to let them manoeuver their way down the cliff. We had to maintain our distance between horses and at the same time, ensure that they did not run down the slope because they would tumble head down and we would all be a mangled mess if that happened. (Ok, that was a bit of an exaggeration.)

All too soon, we were back at the barn - cold, tired and hungry. They had prepared tea for us and what a lovely treat it was to warm our hands and body with some piping hot cocoa and home-made scones! We lingered a while longer, took more pictures with Monty and the guides and then we hit the road again, with cold feet in wet boots, and warm hearts...

What's Up Next!

We are working on a review of Morocco, and hopefully one on Gallop stables in Singapore (depending on work!)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Christchurch, New Zealand- Part 1

Equestrian Adventure- Part One
By Pauline

I took off for NZ Christchurch at a whim on New Year's Eve last year with boots, crop and helmet. I stayed with a host family in Oxford which was only an hour's drive from Christchurch City Centre and a 10 min drive to Kowhai Riding School which I chanced upon on the internet. Being accessible was one big draw, being inexpensive was another. A day’s ride ( 1 lesson+1 trail ride) including lunch cost NZ$215.

Day 1: Kowhai Riding School

I arrived at Kowhai (which is the name of a small yellow flower) at 9 am and it was back-breaking hard work from then on !

There were about 30 riders that day as it was a public holiday and we were put into groups of 4 to 6 according to age and/or riding experience. First, we each had to catch our own horse from the paddock. Under the guidance of our instructor, we each grabbed a handful of barley and a halter and went looking for our assigned horses. It was indeed overwhelming for riders like me who were so used to stabled horses and were always waited on hand and foot by stable helpers. There were some 80 horses in the paddock and they were amazingly peaceful and harmonious! We did not have to worry about being kicked or bitten so it was so exciting to be in such close proximity with so many horses. We soon located our ride and the instructor gave us a demonstration on how to put the halter on the horse’s head while they were happily munching on the barley. This was but the first of many more demonstrations to come.

We led our horses back to the yard and I had a big tall dark bay mare named Opal. I soon learnt that she was like the Alpha female and both of us have something in common- greedy and obnoxious! More on that later... We had to learn to tie a special knot with the halter rope around a pole at the yard and attach it to our horse. We had to be careful to attach it to the raffia string (which tears easily) and not to drop any metal part on the horse or they might injure themselves if they spooked and tried to pull away.

After spending a long time figuring out how to tie the wretched knot ( they call it the butterfly knot i think), we had to go to the barn to collect a brush, a curry-comb and a hoof-pick to groom the horse. It was literally back-breaking trying to do Opal’s hind legs. She would rest her weight on me and swish her long thick tail across my face! I swear she was giving me two tight slaps across my face, left then right, and it hurt! I proceeded to put the saddle pad on, then the saddle (you had to be quick yet gentle because the saddle was both heavy and expensive) and lastly the bit which soon became a tangled mess in my hands. The instructor helped me with it and finally we were ready to mount. We had taken a total of 1.5 hours doing all that!

The lesson lasted about 2 hours, in an arena which was just hard ground and not sand-filled, so I had a good mind to stay on the saddle no matter what... It was a pity that the lesson soon became boring and laborious for me because they actually put 2 beginner-riders with me and another experienced rider. The experienced ones were asked to canter in the later part of the lesson and boy, that alone made all the hard work in the morning plus the boring bit all worth it! Opal was very forward-going and she had such a lovely gait that it was almost effortless cantering her and we just went on and on, for some 10 rounds, on both the left and right rein. Unlike those horses we get so often in the regular riding schools where you have to kick and push so much, especially round the corners, horses at Kowhai are a joy to ride! They are so lively and so well-schooled that it’s no wonder many of their relatively new riders are able to go on a cantering spree in the open farmland as compared to our local riders who probably had to take many many lessons before they could even get to transit into canter. That’s why people often say a good horse actually teaches you a lot more than you teach the horse.

After the ride, we had to untack the horse, give it a sponge bath, clean the tack with soap and water, and feed our horse. After a quick lunch, we went out to prepare for the afternoon hack and we had to do the morning chores all over again! Yes, everything and this time Opal decided to give me some variety: she pooped! Oh my! it was such a huge mound that I had to empty the shovel (which was darn heavy) 4 to 5 times before the ground was clean again.

My group went up the Canterbury hills and it was simply delightful! While the morning was blazing hot, the afternoon was cool and breezy. In fact, it got rather chilly up on the hills and the wind was making a ghoulish howl. Opal was her usual greedy self. She simply had to eat all the way, all the time! If I so much as paused for one second, she would pull the reins out of my hands and stretch her neck for whatever she could stuff into her mouth. Then she would chew on the grass as we moved along. There was no point trying to resist her, she did not take “no” for an answer; she would bend her ears and show you how mean she could be when she got upset!

I had brought along my new Canon Powershot waterproof camera and was merrily snapping pictures with one hand while holding the reins in the other. This was a big no-no but I didn’t want to go home without any evidence of my wonderful time with Opal and my new-found friends. It was extremely relaxing as we trotted up the winding path to the top of the hills. The view was breathtaking; all we saw below was large squares of farmland and as we were lucky to have a clear sky that day, we could see miles ahead to Christchurch! Canterbury Plains has the the flattest land in NZ, so we had an unobstructed view all the way to Christchurch.

I did some good cantering, though not as much as I would have liked. The trail lasted about 2.5 hours and after that, we had to repeat the chores yet again! After the horses were sponged and clean again, we released them in the field by the river. There was a trough of water in there and that obnoxious, bossy horse of mine actually chased away 2 others who were drinking there. She simply bent her ears and “elbowed” her way between them and the 2 horses briskly moved away; they didn’t even try to “argue” with her. Opal got her way, all the time, but I was so proud of her and also felt such an affinity with her. She could have been my twin!

For more information and rates:
Kowhai Riding School