Krka Trail, Bosko’s Ranch and Croatian Culture, Croatia, 2011.
In June 2011, Sue Maling and her husband, Jon, rode the Krka Trail at Bosko’s Ranch in Croatia. Sue kindly offered to share her thoughts on the ride and here’s what she had to say about their Croatian adventure:
“The first day of the holiday was a real disaster, I’d had a puncture so we had to swap cars to get to the airport. The airport parking service was as slow as the ‘Speedy’ boarding and check in so even with running to the gate we still missed our very early morning flight to Split from Stansted. We managed to book an alternative from Gatwick so rang the ranch to tell them the new times and apologise – Dijana (Bosko’s wife) was already on her way to the airport but nothing was too much trouble and she was more than happy to pick us up later… much later! We eventually arrived at the ranch gone almost 11pm and I thought that dinner would be out of the question. How wrong can you be? This is Eastern Europe and eating is REALLY important and hey, 11pm is no time. There was a large group all singing along to a guitar, having just spent the weekend there at the ranch. We had an amazing meal, the most tender beef I have ever tasted – I never eat beef in the UK as it’s just too tough for me. Very nice with some very smooth, home-produced red wine.
The food had some elements I had experienced in Hungary, but I think cooked in a finer way. Hungarian food I found a bit heavy but not this, this was beautifully cooked. Soups, stews and hot-pots were regular features but my favourites had to be the fish nights… what a treat! Sunday was a lovely breakfast spread and then we were all introduced to our horses, nice looking guys and girls, some of which Bosko had bred, selecting the parents carefully. Others he had bought, including our two. Mia is a 16hh (ish) Holstein bred for show-jumping that he bought only five months ago. It was her first trail and my hubby rode her for the first hour or so while I rode Bosko’s daughter’s horse, a 15.2hh Hungarian bred Palomino called Franco with a heart of gold (his daughter is five years old!). He was a dream to ride, perfectly obedient and confident, independent and responsive. Franco has only been at the ranch six months and arrived badly lame before Bosko transformed him and his companion Gus, who was painfully thin at the time, into great trail horses. Bosko believes in teaching children on horses not ponies and that every one of his horses should be suitable for everything. One of his passions is racing and his race horses too are used with children, quite amazing training.
We had some keen horses on setting out for the ride, they were in great condition, fit and they were all rested before the trail. My hubby is not a regular rider and Mia was a bit enthusiastic for him so we swapped. I was pretty sad to lose Franco but the first canter on Mia and it was love – she is like a Rolls Royce – wow! Franco and Mia were very sweet together, always wanting to be close on the trail and in the field, sharing the same blade of grass.
That first day was lanes, fields and meadows and a paddle in the river – my word, Mia loves water. We all went to the beach that afternoon for a swim in the Med, much cleaner than I remember from childhood holidays around Greece!
On Monday we set off on the trail. It was a day of lovely meadow canters, how lovely to ride such keen fit horses that have no intention of trying to race, just enjoying the route you ask them to take. The canters were about five minutes long for most of the trail, and many quite a fast pace. In the afternoon we started to climb over the famous limestone rock landscape, up over the mountain and down to a welcoming lake for the horses to enjoy a splash and cool off. The lake is a manmade reservoir for the hydroelectric dam, but I had to keep reminding myself, it is such a lovely and vast feature. In fact we followed the lake all the next day and ended up staying further along in a really unique house, built as a dream project by a fascinating man who can speak dozens of languages… and brews a strange schnapps from green walnuts! It was a night to remember with singing until the early hours and, needless to say, a struggle to get up from breakfast!
The trail had taken us over a stoney plateau where we were surrounded by mountains, close to the border with Bosnia, and there was always a meadow somewhere for a canter. Most lunchtimes the horses had a paddock and every night they were free as a herd to graze. We often found one or two lying down asleep in the morning, so my guess is that they were fairly relaxed. They all responded to Bosko beautifully, Bosko’s wife says he can talk to animals and they understand – certainly true of his dogs and horses, he’s a talented man and looks after their needs with great care.
The night after the music we arrived at the paddock to find one of the owners’ mares had just had a foal, what a lovely surprise on a morning when we were a little jaded. There was a short rainstorm as we were tacking up, the only rain of the week, but of course we got wet and riding through thick undergrowth that morning made sure we stayed that way. It was the only occasion on the trail when we had to get off and lead the horses up a passageway with some steps – quite steep but good underfoot and only about 200 yards. There were some challenging climbs for the horses that day and all around us there was thunder and lightning which they seemed oblivious to. We were quite lucky that the rest of the morning was dry, some of the storms seemed very close. The heavens opened again just as we arrived at the lunch-spot so we kept dry under the shelter and enjoyed listening as Yuri played a bit more guitar.
That night we were staying in the town centre in a small hotel, muddy boots and all we trailed in. They were very understanding considering we were hardly the only guests. It had been a hard day for the horses with the steep rocky terrain, they really must have appreciated the short ride the next day which was just two hours to a fantastic family farm producing their own wine, olive oil and schnapps. They were almost self sufficient in food and we ate fish which had been caught there. Then we all became mainstream tourists for the afternoon, visiting the national park and wandering around appreciating being amongst nature. I’ve never seen so many dragonflies, in fact I don’t think I’ve seen that many dragonflies in all my life let alone in one place.
Croatia is a country very dependent on tourism with almost 50% of the population being either directly or indirectly supported by tourism. Most of the remaining members of the population are employed by the government or unemployed. That makes tourists pretty important people and Croatians aren’t short of grey matter, nor the will to work, so they really will go that extra mile to give you a great holiday. They are a very resourceful nation so expect to be pleasantly surprised by this part of Eastern Europe. I was beginning to think this was a hidden jewel and so close to home! The final day just sealed the deal for me. We rode through the most stunning canyon, and yes, we managed to find a meadow for a good canter – now I’d really had a holiday. Personally, I need mountains and fast canters which is a tricky combination. Add to that the fact that my knee doesn’t appreciate walking on foot and I’m not fit enough for a real handful of a horse anymore. Problem solved with this destination and to add the icing on the cake… this great riding was accompanied by good food, wine and truly warm hospitality. I love to see well treated horses and well organised businesses, nothing made me feel worried about the outcome. We had our fair share of horse problems, a few kicks meant a couple of horses went lame, but there were always more on standby ready to take up the trail with the help of outstanding support. If lunch was going to be pasta cooked outside and it rained…. well there were always sandwiches as an alternative. The rest spots are great for both riders and horses, well thought out for shelter and grass – small things but important.
We met some fun riders and made some firm friends, not least Bosko, Yuri and Dijana. Bosko loves to tell stories about people who return, one famously after just one month. In fact he loves to tell lots of stories and I have never met a man with so much passion for this life. It was a shame to end this trail, but the last afternoon in the Krka National Park is quite amazing, it’s a busy tourist spot which is not generally my thing but this can’t be missed.
Mostly I choose trails because I feel you are less likely to be bored than on a based stay (I’m not a read-your-book-by-the-pool person) but there is no chance of being bored with Bosko. You have so little time to yourself it’s untrue – thirty minutes to shower for dinner is about it. I think I would do his based ride as he really will tailor it which is quite unusual in Europe. Next time I will take the train to the airport and fly Croatian Airlines – it’s my only recommendations for improvement!
There are quite a few families (a lot local) around the ranch so lots of children around.
Not many places to spend money – a pre dinner drink at the one hotel overnight on the trail, entry to the national park (95 Kuna) and boat trip to the island (50 kuna). The airport is very small – landside there is a small cafe and very small newsagents with small souvenirs, ATM and car hire booths. Airside is just duty free.”
Read more about the ride here: Bosko’s Ranch and Croatian Culture, Croatia.