Globetrotters, we’d like to introduce you to Mike Barker, a man whose ‘mid-life gap year’ took him to the Maasai Mara in Kenya to gallop alongside giraffes, get up close and personal with lions and elephants, and most importantly, rekindle his love of horses. After learning to ride as a young man, Mike had been out of the saddle for 20 years before his daughter bought him a polo lesson for his 50th birthday. And that was that – he’s been riding (and playing polo!) ever since! Read on to discover what inspired Mike to take his first ever Globetrotting holiday in the Kenyan wilderness.
What is your day job?
I am currently looking for a new role after a 12 month mid–life ‘gap year’ and decision to make a change in career direction! I have been a corporate lawyer for most of my career, with an interlude into accounting early on.
How have horses influenced or changed your life?
I grew up wanting to ride but not having much opportunity to do so as a child. In my early 20s after starting work, I took riding lessons in the UK, where I am from, originally starting at Ealing Riding School in West London. This provided me with great fun and a complete change and break from my corporate city job, which was stressful at times.
Horses have now become a big part of my life in the last two and a half years, after an almost 20-year break from riding. Having watched polo in the UK and dreamt of playing (but never thinking it would come true), my daughter bought me a polo lesson in Sydney, where I now live, for my 50th birthday. I was hooked and have been playing (read: learning to play) for the last two years. Horses, riding and playing polo is clearly now my passion and gives me pleasure, excitement, exercise and social interactions. Horses and polo have taught me the importance of having and pursuing hobbies and your dreams.
What is your earliest memory of horses?
Watching the ‘Black Beauty’ TV series on BBC in the UK and getting an ‘Action Man’ black stallion horse toy with an ‘Action Man’ in Royal Household Cavalry uniform sitting on it!!
What was your childhood pony called?
What childhood pony!! Unfortunately, I did not have one.
What does riding or being with horses mean to you?
A team. I love knowing we have to work together and trust each other. It allows me to get out into fresh air and learn from them about their personalities. Whilst I fear other things, when I am riding, fears disappear, even though I know there are dangers.
What have horses taught you the most?
That taking time to get to know someone (whether a person or a horse!) is the way to build trust and get a meaningful relationship. I love that horses can sense human feelings and changes in them and similarly, horses have different moods and behave differently each day.
What was your first Globetrotting ride?
To Kenya’s Maasai Mara region in July 2019.
What made you take the plunge and sign up for a Globetrotting holiday?
I had been thinking of doing a horse riding holiday to get more riding experience, and friends who had also been learning polo went on the Globetrotting ride in Iceland and raved about it. Within my ‘gap year’, I then resolved to go on one, and treated myself to the Maasai Mara trip.
Were any of your Globetrotting rides celebrating or marking a significant moment/milestone/achievement in your life? And if so, would you mind sharing?
The path back into riding and learning to play polo started around my 50th birthday and then, regrettably, my marriage breakdown and divorce. All this led to my decision to make the career direction change I had been hesitating on for a while and leave my job for a ‘gap year’. Riding horses, playing polo and a Globetrotting trip were the first things I arranged!
What Globetrotting rides have you completed/planned/dreamed about?
I’ve completed the Maasai Mara trip.
I wish to go on the UK rides in Ireland and Scotland. The rides in France are also appealing. The Mongolian ride looks like a real adventure, also!
Why choose this type of travel? As in exploring a new country from the back of a horse?
It is an amazing way to see the natural landscape of a country, its wildlife and habitats. I like that it combines exercise with being away. You meet lots of people from different backgrounds, which I find enjoyable and energising. The trips often allow you to be in places or do things that typical tourism holidays don’t offer you.
What is your most memorable Globetrotting moment?
On the Maasai Mara trip, cantering alongside a number of giraffe as they ran across the African plains.
Who is your favourite trail horse of all time and why?
Sorrell was the first horse I rode in Kenya. She was very stable and seemingly quiet at a walk and trot. But boy, did she go when we were cantering – my arms got a work out more tiring than at a gym! She also carried me safely as I started jumping fallen trees on the plains on the trip after a 30-year break!
A tip that every globetrotter should know before going on a ride…
Trust the Globetrotting packing guide!
Finish this sentence: Don’t leave home without…
A good camera for the trip, as the photos will be stunning on any Globetrotting holiday.
Wise words, Mike!
If this story has inspired you to see the Maasai Mara for yourself, check out all the details here.
You can also read Mike’s feedback on The Scottish Borders Ride, which he completed in 2022.