The Problem with the Horse Trekking Industry

 Trekking in Manzanillo, Costa Rica.

Trekking in Manzanillo, Costa Rica.

This is something that has been on my mind for a while now. Horse Treks, horse tours, horse vacations and how the horses are treated or not treated and the safety level for the rider.

What I see again and again, are horses being mounted, ridden, unsaddled and either put out into a pasture or locked up in a stall. But where is the connection, the trust, the mutual respect and basic safety for both horse and rider? I don’t say that it is like this everywhere, however in most places, even the best, it is.

Guests are shown their horses, saddled and ready to go.

The horse is given various different riders, at different experience levels, sometimes none at all and told to go. Like a car, put the key in and giddy-up!

But a horse is not a machine, it is a living being and a very sensitive one at that. What happens when they are used like this, is they become totally de-sensitized and dull. Many outfits believe this is a good thing. What they don’t realize is the horse has lost his spirit and become dead inside, having had to learn to shut off from the abuse of heavy hands in his mouth, heavy weights bouncing on his weak and sore back and then day after day the same boring trail, with no stops for grazing, just made to move as a senseless machine.

Many people will say, this makes a safe horse, which is what they want to ride or have for the business.

But what of the horse? This does not make a safe horse when he is not connected to his rider. He is dulled and de sensitized, if something unexpectedly were to happen, a serious accident could enfold. A horse who does not look to his rider as a leader for safety, will take over and his prey instincts will tell him to flee. Oh, the bad horse that spooked!

So how can we change this? Most business will say they have no time, the horses must work, earn their board or they are useless.

But what if there was a simple way to make a big difference for the horse’s well-being and his spirit? To make a safer and more enjoyable ride for the human.

There is, and it is with this goal that I write this Blog, hoping to send out a ripple to make a change in the industry of the horse trekking businesses.

 Bareback riding in Punta Cocles.

Bareback riding in Punta Cocles.

What if you were to go on a horse vacation, to ride on amazing adventurous treks through beautiful landscapes or were to go to a local horse tour company for a ride on a beach, and you have this incredible experience of a connection with your horse? What if the horse was happy to meet you, and enjoyed the idea of going out on a ride together? Instead of a horse, with dull glassy eyes, that pins its ears when cinched up, that moves away from you as you try to mount, who you have to kick to keep going or that you have to be a wrestler to constantly hold him back from taking off, or just won't go where you want him to because he has decided that he needs to be in charge.

Wouldn’t it be a magical experience if you were sharing this experience in partnership together with your horse?

This can happen, this is how it should happen. As humans and caretakers of this planet, the well being of the horses we use for our pleasure, is our responsibility.

When I first started offering 1 week Trek Retreats many years ago, I kept getting guests who were used to traveling the world and “doing” different treks. They all expected the horse to be prepared and ready to go for them. They would check their saddles, stirrup lengths, girths, put on their riding hats, maybe a quick rub on the horses face (horses hate that by the way, when they don’t know you. Just like you wouldn’t like a stranger coming up to pat you on the face and grabbing your hand) and then out ready to go. The horse had no idea who was up there and the rider had no idea who was below them, but they both needed to feel safe and I believe neither did. It was like waiting for a ticking bomb to go off unexpectedly. Or at least that was how I felt, because I am all about safety, and I just felt these people were oblivious to their horse, to their surrounding and to the potential danger. I guess not good for a lead guide to be thinking, but it is what I felt and knew in my heart. Plus I hated seeing my horses being treated this way.

My first idea was to have them come half an hour before to help with the brushing, meet the horses, say hello. That went well, but it was not enough. There was still no connection, with no connection there is no trust or respect and there is no safety.

 Riding class before the trek, focusing on breath and core.

Riding class before the trek, focusing on breath and core.

During this time I was studying and learning the Natural Horsemanship Liberty training methods of Carolyn Resnick. I was having amazing results, connecting with my horses at a deeper level and learning to communicate in their language. My horses were thrilled, I was listening to them and they were listening to me, we had a two way conversation going on and I was in horse heaven. I am forever grateful to Carolyn and what I learnt from her and still do. I have studied and practiced many different methods of Natural Horsemanship over the last 20 years, but none spoke to me so completely as did Carolyn’s way. 

So I began a shortened version of Carolyn Resnick’s Waterhole Rituals, using the first 3 steps to create the bond, trust and respect with the horse before we began our weeks retreat of riding and treks.

The first day being a class where the horses are at liberty. Both humans and horses discover each other, get to know and understand one another and create the bond, trust and respect needed for a holistic, safe and fun ride together.

Its simple, its safe and it works! Happy me, happy horses and happy guests!

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So next time you go on a Trek Vacation or a local horse tour, take a look at the horse you have been given to ride. Make sure he has no girth sores, a bad saddle and sore back or an injury. Don’t let them put you on a horse that is suffering or skinny from malnutrition. Remember, it is the consumer that dictates the market and makes the change. If more and more people demand something else than just accepting, the market changes and provides.

Then, spend a quiet moment together just hanging out, asking nothing of him, just Being in his presence, enjoying the moment, the surroundings, his breath, your breath, feel the energies, feel happy in the presence of the horse. Say hello, by offering your hand to smell, not forcing your hand upon him, let him know through your intention, that you hear him and that you are ready to listen. Show him you are worthy of being a fair leader he can trust, by being present and always aware of your horse, yourself and your surroundings.  Remember to breathe, just breathe, breathe deeply to center and ground yourself. Your breath influences your horse. He will feel better, safer and calmer knowing this, and you will have a safer ride and enjoy it, together!

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If you want to learn more of how we connect with our horses through liberty work, breath awareness and body language and yoga, come visit us in the jungle by the Caribbean Sea of Costa Rica,

Happy Horse Treks!

Terry Lillian Newton.