Holly Anthony, Far and Ride.
Holly recently went on a long riding weekend in Wales, accompanied by several clients, in the beauty of the Brecon Beacons in Wales. Wales is known for offering interesting riding terrain and has become famous for pony trekking, though what you will find at Far and Ride’s Welsh destination are not ploddy ponies but forward-going Welsh cobs, many of whom are home-bred. The farm offers day rides, week stays (riding out from the farmhouse each day) or a point to point trail covering almost the length and breadth of Wales. Novice to experienced riders can be accommodated here and the herd of horses is an absolute delight to see as they roam the fields.
A weekend riding holiday here is a great option for those who don’t have the time or budget to travel too far but who still want to enjoy some adventurous riding amidst stunning scenery. Wales isn’t famed for its great weather but Holly’s group experienced a beautiful Saturday and Sunday (Holly wore just a t-shirt on the Sunday which is fair enough for mid October!) and just a bit of rain on the Monday afternoon. They ride whatever the weather so provided you take a raincoat and a sense of adventure then it won’t dampen your enthusiasm for the experience.
The farmhouse offers clean and comfortable accommodation, though you will find the décor quite old-fashioned (but this really adds to the spirit of the place!) with some quirky aspects. The sitting room is laden with cosy sheepskins and an open fireplace, as well as a variety of horse-related paraphernalia to catch your eye. Maria provides tasty home-cooked meals, some in Bavarian style as that is where she is from, and the food is plentiful. Breakfasts involve cereal, fruit, yoghurt, toast and often meat and cheese in continental style. Sunday was a hearty cooked breakfast and delightfully guilt-free given that the day was spent in the saddle! The riding days involve pub lunches and then tea and biscuits on return to the farmhouse… you should be prepared for the fact that riding makes you hungry and if you’re anything like Holly, you will consume at least seven biscuits at each sitting.
Guests here should be prepared to get properly stuck in – all are expected to catch their horse from the field, groom, tack up and clean the tack after each use. The hosts are meticulous in their organisation of this but provide great explanation as to how they do things and this makes life much simpler for everyone involved. It’s a super destination for people that want the chance to bond with their horse before they ride them and the care of the equipment means that it is all in lovely condition, comfortable for both horse and rider. Riders mount from blocks in the yard and groups can be split when necessary to accommodate different riding abilities or to keep sizes to a manageable number – during Holly’s visit there were ten riders and these were split into two groups which worked perfectly. The number of horses available means that changing horses is simple should you need to, though all were safe and sensible. Just two riders swapped during the weekend and both were happy with their second choice, finding them that little bit whizzier than their first mounts. Horses were all in great condition with nice temperaments – even Eddie the stallion was calm to handle and a sensible ride.
Holly has written a description of the weekend to give people an idea of what they can expect:
“Myself and the other guests arrived on Friday evening, some in time for dinner whilst others were delayed during their travel from London. Paul, the “main man” so to speak asked each guest to fill out a form and then he ran through a variety of points including yard rules, number one of which is “don’t fall off” (a rule which none of us broke!). After some socialising in the sitting room, it was time to hit the goose-down duvets for our first night in Wales… the rooms were dark (thick curtains!), quiet and delightfully peaceful. After breakfast we met outside on the picnic benches, having wriggled into our jods, before following Paul to the yard where we were designated our horses and then went off up to the field to fetch them. I was given the lovely Lord, a five year old gelding who had only been in work a short while. As Lord and the others stood tied on the yard we were given a thorough explanation of their grooming methods and the way they like to tack up here – I always find that this is more than welcome as a lot of people have different ways of doing things and it’s nice to know what the hosts prefer and expect their guests to do. It’s also helpful to stick with what the horses are accustomed to and the time spent preparing them meant that we got to know them that bit better. The tack was in excellent condition and appeared well-fitted to the horses. Each horse was checked by the guide prior to being tacked up to ensure that there were no injuries or issues.
Once we were all sorted, it was time to mount and head off on our first adventure. The group split into two, one group going with Paul, and myself and the other ladies heading out with Trez. Each group went a different route and therefore stopped at a different pub. Trez was an excellent guide, always clear in her signals to us, friendly and helpful, and she rode Viking who appeared to be a great lead horse. We enjoyed riding along quiet country lanes, across the moors to see beautiful views and along wobbly paths lined with ferns. We stopped at the Farmers Arms for a tasty lunch of fishcakes, chips and salad… the pub being particularly quiet due to Wales’ defeat in the Rugby World Cup that morning (the landlord told us that everyone was at home crying). We had fun, speedy canters on the way home and Lord took excellent care of me, despite only being young himself. He was responsive and sure-footed and I felt safe but exhilarated. The sun shone on us as we returned to the farm, sponged the horses down and let them loose in the field to see them enjoy a well-deserved roll. Once we’d cleaned the tack and put things away it was time for tea and biscuit-scoffing before some relaxation prior to dinner. Turkey schnitzel, dauphinoise potatoes and salad, followed by baked apples. We settled down in the sitting room for a spot of X-Factor viewing but none of us managed to stay up late as the riding had worn us out!
Sunday was the same layout but the two riding groups switched routes – Trez led the other group to the Farmers Arms and we went with Emelie who was riding the rather speedy Mr Pugh! Emelie was wonderful company, making plenty of conversation, but was also responsible ensuring that we were all alright with our horses. Pugh certainly set a good pace for us! We stopped at the Red Lion for baguettes and tasty chips (or in Chris’ case… just a big dessert instead!) whilst the horses stood quietly parked in bays in the car park. During each stop the horses had their bridles removed and girths loosened so that they could rest their mouths and tummies. During the afternoon we did some serious climbing (standing in the stirrups is great for burning chip calories!) and the horses took us high up to catch beautiful views of the land around us. We stood for a while to let them catch their breath before we began our descent and our return to the farmhouse. Half the group was set to leave late that afternoon so after a final tea together we said a fond farewell to them and relaxed before our Sunday roast dinner and another peaceful evening.
Monday was our final day of riding and I rode Eddie the stallion. Lord had done me proud the days before but it was hard work for a youngster, especially one so willing, whereas Eddie needed the exercise and was happy to get out and about. Although people like to think of stallions as being somewhat wild and uncontrollable, “Steady Eddie” was quiet to handle, well behaved and a sensible ride. He was quite happy at the back and even though we had two mares on the ride, he behaved like the perfect gent. He was true to his nickname and offered a steady ride, but still kept up during the lovely canters and I enjoyed riding him. He was also rather handsome and devoted to his truest love, a beautiful mare called Nicole, and their foal Bob! Paul was our guide for the day and he did a fine job, as you’d expect, moving back and forth between the ride ensuring everyone was OK and making an effort to chat with us all. We enjoyed another lovely lunch and were joined by Emily who fell in love with Paul during a riding weekend here in 2007. Their children, Nye and Nesta, came along too and Nye helped us eat the sandwiches and, of course, more yummy chips. Despite the fact that Neptune didn’t want to remain tied up in the car park, far preferring to munch on the surrounding trees, the horses were patient as they waited for us to come back outside. The afternoon saw us ride more hilly paths at a fun but controlled canter, sometimes leaping the odd little ditch (depending on your horse – less experienced riders are given horses happy to trundle through any ditches!). We crossed open fields of sheep, meandered through the ferns and enjoyed wandering past remote farms or through pretty villages. Although we spent quite a bit of time on country lanes, there was rarely a vehicle passing and we could ride alongside each other and in any order. Raincoats were needed for the afternoon but we all returned to the farmhouse with smiles on our faces and some great riding behind us.
We sat down together for the last time and were joined by Paul and Nye and Paul’s parents, Mike and Maria. As we chatted about our day and slowly demolished their biscuit supply, we realized it was time to pack and head home to our normal lives… which unfortunately, for most of us, are not set in a beautiful valley in Brecon Beacons National Park where a herd of super Welsh cobs await their next riders. I guess that’s what made this wonderful weekend such a treat!”
Riding weekends here are running throughout November and beyond so please do get in touch if you’re up for an affordable, hands-on riding holiday with willing horses, great guides, cosy accommodation and tasty home-cooked food. In the words of one lady who joined Holly for the weekend – “Great weather, good company, beautiful location, lovely horses, tasty food, welcoming hosts – what more can I say.”
Prices start from as little as £250 per person for two nights of accommodation, two days of trail riding and all meals.
To read more about this ride: Brecon Beacons and Beyond, Wales.