Have you ever thought about going on a horse riding holiday? Maybe you rode horses when you were younger, maybe you’re a pro, or maybe you’re like me and you’ve zero experience. I’ll admit that I was nervous when I signed up to two days of horseriding in Saddle Mountain Ranch in Guyana.
I had only ever been on a horse once before. It was a leisurely walk into the Hollywood Hills in LA, but we never got out of first gear. What I learned that day is that being on horseback is a pretty peaceful place to be.
When I did that ride in LA, we were given a safety talk and a 20-minute, in-depth explanation of how to ride our horse. In Guyana, such formalities were given a miss. They told me to get up on the horse, pull the reins to the left to go left, right to go right, and back to stop.
On our first day out, we were told that we would be walking for a while and once we got comfortable, we would move up to a trot. It turns out that horses basically have four gears; walk, trot, canter, and gallop. Judah, our guide and all-around badass, told us that trot was the most difficult and that cantering was much smoother. The idea that going faster is safer made no sense to me at all, but Judah’s been riding horses basically since he could walk, so I nervously took him at his word.
Leaving the Ranch
Once everyone in our group had mounted their horses, we got moving down the path away from the ranch. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to control my horse but that turned out to not be a problem. The horses loved staying together, and while we were walking, they seemed to love nothing more than being right up each other’s backside.
In the beginning, my right hand was holding on to the reins and my left hand was gripping the front of the saddle. After a while, I noticed that the Judah was only holding the reins, and his other hand was hanging down by his side. He told me that they learn to ride with one hand, so they can lasso with the other. How badass can you get?
As I got a little more confidence, I followed Judah’s advice and only held the reins with one hand. He explained that this is Western style, and you use your feet for balance and grip more than anything, the reins are only for steering and you can grab the front of your saddle if you really think you’re struggling.
Moving to a trot
After a while, we moved up to a trot. While it’s true that we were going quite a bit faster, it was also a hell of a lot more uncomfortable. I was bouncing in and out of the saddle and more than once, I landed on a particularly sensitive patch…
Once again, I looked to Judah and saw that not only was he not bouncing, but he looked more comfortable than ever. He moved his body in time with his horse and it looked effortless. I’d love to say that after a while I got the rhythm, but what actually happened is that I rubbed against the back of the saddle so much that my back end looked like it has suffered a bad case of nappy rash.
Canter back to the Ranch
Coming to the end of our first foray out on the horses, the ranch came into sight. At this stage, I was sore and just about done with trotting. It seemed that the horses were just about done too, and grew a bit restless. They knew they were close to home, and once we were inside the gate with about 200 metres to go to the ranch, Judah flashed us a smile and took off.
Remember earlier when I said that horses loved to stay together? Well, our horses saw one go, so they all followed. The first moment of the canter was terrifying. The sudden jump in speed made me reach for the saddle and grip the reins. Almost as quick as I thought that I was going to die, my horse got into stride. Instead of constantly bouncing, he seemed to glide over the ground. By the time we got back to the hitching post, all I wanted to do was to go back out and canter.
Cantering on a horse
The next day, I couldn’t wait to get back out on the horses. This time we took a longer route and we were out for a few hours, leaving early and returning just before lunch to keep the horses out of the hot midday sun.
On our second time out, we cantered a lot more. The transition from trot to canter is one of the best feelings in the world. One minute you’re bouncing around and with a little kick, the horse takes off and everything smooths out. It’s a genuinely amazing feeling, almost like you’re gliding across the savannah.
The fear I felt the first time I cantered gave way to exhilaration, and eventually confidence. I rarely reached for the saddle anymore and began to trust my feet, and a little voice in my head said “You could probably gallop”.
I asked Judah how much faster a gallop was than a canter. “At least double, maybe more”. Ah right, maybe I wasn’t ready for that just yet. Still, with only a few hours of riding under my belt, I felt comfortable, and I was enjoying it immensely. A horse riding holiday isn’t something I’d ever considered before, but now it’s forced itself right to the front of my list.
If you want a similar experience to mine, you can book yourself into Saddle Mountain Ranch with tour operator Bushmasters. You can have a look at the options for ranch life adventure on their website HERE . For more Guyana travel inspiration, consider checked out the spectacular Kaieteur Falls.