If riding through a world famous wine region on a bitless, barefoot Arabian sounds like your idea of a perfect horseback holiday, then consider this edition of Saddle Up a must-read! Globetrotter Sam Rees was kind enough to share the write-up she penned for her local Pony Club and it is seriously drool-worthy. Check it out below.
You know those nights when you’re a bit bored and simultaneously clicking away on the internet and watching The Man from Snowy River (again)? And you get to the scene with that cracking horse chase off the hill (or maybe it’s a cliff, it’s steep enough), and then 10 minutes later you stumble across a website listing horse riding holidays? So you book into a holiday that you think will let you be the Man from Snowy River?
Okay, so maybe that’s just me…
It was 2018. I hadn’t yet bought a horse and I was having riding withdrawals, so I booked The Grape Horse Adventure. The itinerary looked great (ride, eat, drink wine, ride some more) and the scenery incredible. Whilst I had travelled to South Australia a lot for work, I’d never actually been to the famed Barossa Valley. And given how popular the rides were, they were all booked out until 2020, but I figured that would give me something fabulous to look forward to.
Little did I know there was to be an extended period of anticipation. The ride was planned for April 2020, and well, we all know what happened, don’t we? In a world of Covid, cancellations and toilet paper shortages, Globetrotting kindly told everyone that they’d roll their holidays over to 2021. Now there was more anticipation than a kid experiences on Christmas morning! And in May 2021, my friend Mel and I FINALLY boarded a plane and headed off on our ride.
Our hosts Jen and Jeremy run a herd of incredibly well trained Arabian endurance horses, bitless and barefoot. Each autumn, they move from their base in Tasmania to the Barossa, taking their horses with them.
Imagine if you were completely consistent with your horse, in a way that they understood and respected, and you never deviated from that. That’s what these horses get. Give them the right command, drop the rope, and they won’t move from their spot. This gives the guests a huge feeling of confidence – you have a sense that if Jeremy yelled ‘STOP!’, they’d all stop. The rides are so popular that Mel and I were the only newbies – everyone else was a repeat traveller, many having done this ride or the Tassie Tiger Trail multiple times.
So on day one we arrive, get settled in and change into our riding clothes. Then off we go to meet our horses, and to get ‘trained’ – a great induction into how the horses have been taught, and how we need to work with them and ride them. And then we ride for a couple of hours through the vineyards so we can get a feel for our steeds ahead of the eight hour ride the following day. For someone who owns a 17 hand high warmblood who likes to conserve his energy (read: a completely lazy dude who I adore), this was a real change of pace. I got partnered with Gem, who is an Arab x Standardbred, about 15.2 hands high, and loves nothing more than striding out to lead the pack. What a way to kick a holiday off – riding through row upon row of vines as the sun sets, then sipping on bubbles once you slide off the horse…
This set an impressive and enjoyable tone for the four days ahead. Waking up each day to a cooked breakfast, being taken to different locations to ride out (to cover as much of the Barossa as possible), stopping at different wineries for lunch, wine tastings and tours, then back on the horses for another few hours of riding. We got to cross Jacob’s Creek and ride some of the most magnificent hills I’ve ever seen, with views across to Adelaide in the distance. We ate lunch over a fire at a 150-year-old cabin on the grounds of one of the oldest family farms in the region. There was a breakfast visit to a local farmers market, full of wonderful, fresh produce and baked goods.
The rides were over hill, over dale, and through all sorts of different forests. Every day had something different to offer in terms of scenery and terrain. And, wow, do those endurance horses know how to cover ground! It took me until the second last day to get used to the speed and rhythm of Gem’s trot, not to mention her love of speed walking. It was really interesting to learn how to ride bitless, and compare the differences and similarities between the aids.
And this was all just during the day! At night, there was a mix of activities. There were early, delicious dinners cooked for us at the homestead, accompanied by plenty of the local vintages (early was necessary, we were all in bed by 8pm!). There was an amazing night out with a degustation dinner. And always, there was wine and a fire. At the end of the five days, we were begging to stop eating and drinking.
We were very lucky to have been able to slip in such a great holiday in 2021, and are looking forward to lots more chances to ride in different parts of the world when things open up again.
Thanks again to Sam Rees for sharing her wonderful write-up! If you’re keen to experience the Barossa Valley on horseback, check out the ride page here.