Dream Vacations and Horses
So it’s a rare thing to take a dream vacation. Not a few days here and there, but an REAL vacation. Airport, passport, new country with a different language and a totally different culture.
But here’s the thing - can you take a dream vacation and stay away from horses the whole time? I know I can’t - which is why I spent some time around the local horses while I was in Costa Rica. Here’s what I learned! The horses in Costa Rica are small! Not necessarily pony size, but more like a thinner, smaller Quarter Horse or Appaloosa. Which, are very common breeds that the native gaited horses are crossed with. There is a Costa Rican Saddle Horse, developed from Spanish horses. The Costa Rican Saddle Horse is a high stepping small horse, with obvious baroque influences.
As you drive through the country, the roadside farms are gently rolling hills peppered with cattle and horses. I was there during the rainy season, so the hills were lush green, the grass often tickling the livestock’s belly. Most of the fencing is barbed wire, and the posts are existing trees or transplanted tree trunks, I saw very few actual manufactured fence posts. The landscape remains natural!
I chose a guided trail ride in Central Costa Rica near the Arenal Volcano (gulp) to see the countryside and also explore a waterfall. When I arrived, our guide DiDi showed us to our mounts after we were given helmets to wear. And by helmet, I use the term very loosely. These are also the same helmets that you would wear zip lining, and are designed to be a one size fits all. Something on your noggin is better than nothing!
Our group’s horses were tied to the fence by a rope halter with a built in lead rope. They also wore bosals (no bits anywhere). All of the horses stand perfectly well behaved squished up next to each other. I’m pretty sure that most of the horses I know would have no idea what to do in this situation.
Each horse’s saddle was a sort of modified western saddle, with an embroidered seat and horn, and small fenders for the stirrups. There were no big skirts or jockeys on these saddles, and the saddle pads were thick wool. I was totally impressed about how comfortable my saddle was!
Once mounted, we proceeded up the trail, and by trail I really mean rocky road. And big rocks - all piles up. It was at this point that I realized my little 15 hand gaited Quarter Horse cross was really more of a billy goat. The ride was about 35 minutes up a grade, and I had a chance to ask our guide DiDi a load of questions! Here’s what I learned, in no particular order:
-Didi is in love with horses! He and the other guides consider the horses part of his family, and know everything about them.
-Horses in Costa Rica eat hay (local), grass during the rainy seasons, finely chopped sugar cane, and honey. Some of the horses also eat a commercial pelleted feed. As a treat, they eat bananas and carrots. Apples are not native to Costa Rica and are hard to find and expensive. Bananas and sugar cane are everywhere!
-Most of the horses are gaited. This is great for the non-horsey tourist that would be bounced out of the tack during a trot.
-I didn’t see a single horse without a roached mane and forelock. Ticks are a huge problem and keeping the manes roached helps the Grooms and caretakers see the ticks. (Yuck!!)
-It’s customary to start a horse in his career at around age 3. The horses on our trail ride were about 8 to 10, and each one knew their job!
-Didi also does farrier work. He explained that farriers are usually also the owner or caretaker, although there are a few farriers that travel to farms as they would in the US. Didi’s horses that he cares for are trimmed and shod every four weeks. The shoes are decidedly thinner than a shoe you would see in the US, and the rocky terrain that we rode on takes it’s toll on shoes.
-Horse trailers in Costa Rica are not like horse trailers in the US. The photo below is a two horse trailer.
I also had the distinction of sharing with Didi some of the differences in saddles - It was tricky to explain a dressage saddle to someone who had never heard of dressage, but explaining the jumping and racing saddles was a bit easier. Didi almost fell over when he heard how big some of the warmbloods could be!
The group made it to the end of the trail, and the horses were turned out into a small paddock as we made the hike down (and back up) a crazy hike that included 475 steps. The waterfall at the end was worth the effort!! After swimming and a long hike back up the trail, we hopped back on the horses and headed back to the “barn”!
What exotic places have you ridden??