Five years ago, after one false start, Natalie Allen fell in love with trail riding and the combination of tranquility and excitement that comes with exploring new places on horseback. She dove into her life as a globetrotter headfirst with the Touch of the Highlands Ride in Iceland, an experience that she says ‘opened up a whole new world of possibilities for exploring the world!’ Read on to find out what inspired Natalie to travel to the other side of the world for her first ever horse riding holiday – and where she plans to ride next!
What is your day job?
You might think that would be an easy question to answer. A couple of the ladies I work with laughed when I told them that this was one of the questions. I’ll do my best anyway. I am a biochemist/scientist/regulator/nerd, but I don’t work in labs anymore. Instead, I work in the pharmaceutical industry, where I make medicines available for patients by registering them and keeping them registered with the relevant government health authorities in Australia and New Zealand. Part of that is writing the technical dossiers that describes the medicines’ chemistry, manufacturing, controls, studies on how the medicines work and outcomes of clinical studies. I also write the product information documents that describe the medicine, how to use it, what conditions it’s used to treat, and safety information for patients and healthcare professionals.
One sales professional in the industry once asked me, quite incredulously, if I liked my job? I said yes, I love it. Much snickering was had by the lawyer with us at the time. Each to their own.
How have horses influenced or changed your life?
My first horse trail ride was only about five years ago in Australia’s Blue Mountains, and I was paired with the world’s grumpiest horse who carried on a treat for the entire two hours, and I simply got bored walking from one paddock to another. I thought I would give it another go at a different place and fell in love with it (okay, the horse too).
I now get to go outdoors into the great unknown and enjoy spending quality time with a beautiful animal. That brings me a lot of happiness and peace. Now with Globetrotting, I have discovered the wonders of riding off the beaten track not just in Australia, but overseas as well. I hadn’t travelled much previously, so when I was looking for something to do this year, I headed off to the amazing land of fire and ice, Iceland, and had the best holiday ever. It has opened up a whole new world of possibilities for exploring the world!
What is your earliest memory of horses?
My mum had some friends with a farm in regional Victoria that we went to stay with for a week on one school holiday. They had a couple of horses – one that was a bit of a handful, and another bombproof one – that’s the one you can see me ‘riding’ bareback, in shorts, thongs (flip-flops for the international readers), no reins and no helmet. Ahhhh, those were the days when survival to adulthood didn’t mean getting wrapped up in cotton wool – we were tough!
What was your childhood pony called?
I wasn’t lucky enough to have a horse or pony growing up, even though we lived in a semi-rural area with horses and a chicken farm across the road. My father said they’re too expensive, and of all things, he’s allergic to horse dander! There were a few occasions when we would be slowed down on the bus on the way home from school because a horse had escaped from somewhere and was having a happy trot up the road. I had a sort of rocking horse, though, when I was little – does that count?
What does riding or being with horses mean to you?
Peace, excitement, tranquility, exploration, and fun, fun, fun!
What have horses taught you the most?
To be consistent with my communications and assertive from the second I get on – those wily trail horses are knowing creatures and if you let them think you’re a beginner or a bit soft, it’s going to be a long ride.
What was your first Globetrotting ride?
Iceland – Touch of the Highlands Ride. I loved Iceland, its people, nature, food, lifestyle, history, and of course the wonderful, unique Icelandic horses. If you ever go, make sure you call them horses and not ponies (they may be short, but they are classified as horses, and boy do they go!). So basically, I loved everything about Iceland.
What made you take the plunge and sign up for a Globetrotting holiday?
I used to ski every season – that was my fun annual trip for the past 20-odd years. However, I haven’t been able to ski since a skiing accident that basically destroyed my knee. So I started looking for a holiday that would still be my kind of fun, i.e. not sitting on a beach getting crispy fried and bored out of my mind. Enter Globetrotting… I had seen them online and picked up the extra cool coffee table brochure at last year’s Equitana. It was sitting on my coffee table looking forlorn for months, slowly wearing me down… I was initially looking at The Margaret River Ride because seeing the spring wildflower bloom is on my bucket list, but alas, it was already booked out. Scandinavia was also on my list, so I checked out the Touch of the Highlands Ride and it looked perfect. I had seen a couple of Icelandic horses at Equitana and completely fallen in love with them, so I really wanted to check out the tölt and their general awesomeness. I didn’t really know much about Iceland, but when I started doing a little research, I realised that this country was full of amazing unspoiled nature and some of the coolest things to do on the planet, the highlight being riding with a herd of beautiful horses up into the highlands over the course of a week. Horses are a huge part of Icelandic culture, so it was pretty special being able to be part of it.
What Globetrotting rides have you since completed/planned/dreamed about?
Next I’m planning on doing either BC, Canada or one of the rides in New Zealand or Australia, like The Margaret River Ride, or one of the outback adventures. My problem is that there are too many from which to choose!
Why choose this type of travel? As in exploring a new country from the back of a horse?
Because… HORSIES!! They are the best way to travel, in my humble opinion – they can take me to places I would never walk, are great fun, and I get to be a solo traveller without worrying because I’m with like-minded horse lovers from around the globe. I used to do a bit of hiking, but since the skiing accident, my knee is never going to be up to long miles again, but horseback riding was actually encouraged by my surgeon (no twisting movement through the knee). I liked my surgeon!
What is your most memorable Globetrotting moment?
The most amazing feeling when experiencing the Icelandic horses’ unique gaits – the tölt and the flying pace. What a rush!
Who is your favourite trail horse of all time and why?
That’s a really tough one – I have ridden so many horses on trail rides of many different breeds and mixtures. For responsiveness, I would have to give it to a horse I rode in Victoria’s alpine back country who neck reined – I could literally direct him with the slightest pressure on my pinkies. He was just amazing. For personality, I’d give it to a horse that I affectionately named Farty Pants in Iceland. No-one wanted to get stuck riding behind him for obvious reasons, but otherwise, he was extremely comfortable to ride in the tölt (much like riding a couch!), he was responsive and he was very polite – when I led him over the sometimes incredibly uneven ground of Iceland’s lava fields, he never once tried to walk too close, push me or rush me. I wanted to let all the air out of him (not that difficult I’d imagine, given his gassy guts!) and take him home with me.
A tip that every globetrotter should know before going on a ride…
Expect the unexpected and try to remember that the best stories come from when things don’t go to plan. My trips both to and from Iceland were a complete nightmare, with plane cancellations (as soon as I arrived at the airport, my first flight was cancelled and my whole multi-leg journey had to be rebooked), lost luggage (I now hate Heathrow Airport with a passion), a fellow passenger elbowing me hard in the middle of the night (dude had no manners), planes with broken engines, and delays, delays, delays. The total travel time for my homeward journey was 32 hours and I know the outbound journey was longer, but I didn’t count. But hey – it’s a great story!
Finish this sentence: Don’t leave home without…
Ladies – an excellent sports bra, especially for riding in Iceland.
Everyone – at least one extra change of clothes in your hand luggage (for when your checked baggage inevitably gets lost at Heathrow).
A seat saver for riding the Icelandic horses. I was bruised in my seat after a week in the saddle (some of them have a bumpier tölt than others).
Thanks to Natalie for sharing her amazing stories and tips with the rest of the Globetrotting world! If you’re feeling inspired to discover Iceland for yourself, check out the Touch of the Highlands Ride here.