Dalmatian Coast, Croatia, 2009
Plitvice Trail, Steve S.
Having arrived in Split we were promptly met by Ivo who whisked us into the town centre for a refreshing cold beer and ice cream whilst we waited for other guests to arrive. Although we were not there long, Ivo also arranged a brief tour of the city’s Palace before finally meeting the other guests and driving back to the ranch, a journey spent discussing the days ahead, what to expect and of course his horses. Whilst unloading the van Ivo asked if anybody wished to assist him in taking two of his horses to participate in a local opera and, as the other guests ran for the hills, Jane and I said “why not?” and were soon on our way to a local village. On arrival at the venue we were greeted by locals and invited into their houses to experience Croatian hospitality first hand – more food than you could ever eat and the first of the many schnapps we would encounter during our trip. Having taken Dora on stage a number of times it quickly transpired that this wasn’t just a small local opera but in fact the national opera that received coverage on the national TV and in the main newspapers. The horses were the stars of the show but this didn’t stop the local people treating us like long lost friends and giving us a fantastic start to our holiday.
The following morning we awoke with slightly sore heads and were met by a huge breakfast in the morning sun before going to the paddock and collecting twelve horses for the days trail ride. My immediate impression of the horse were they were well looked after in a natural environment, well fed and importantly, fit for their purpose. Ivo explained that all the horses were fine and the only one who was strong willed was Pandora, yet again I had that “run for the hills” feeling as my fellow guests, including my wife, ran to the eleven other horses leaving me with the temperamental Pandora. After grooming, tacking up and some an initial fun and games she soon calmed down and I quickly realised that by the end of the trail I would be the one thanking the other guests for leaving me with such a fantastic horse, she was a dream to ride and so very fast!!!
The trail ride was an ideal opportunity to bond with your horse and also to experience riding in a group where there clearly is a pecking order. This ride also gave us the chance, after an uphill climb (well worth it), to view some of the stunning scenery that Croatia has to offer whilst the horses were resting in a natural paddock. Having made our way back down from the mountain you could feel the excitement in the horses as they knew they approaching the gallop field…let the fun begin! This was a good opportunity for the group to take part in a long controlled gallop along a huge twisting path that led between fields, it was definitely the taste of things to come. We returned to the ranch where some people changed their horses but I was not letting Pandora out of my sight, she was mine!!!!
Monday morning saw another hearty breakfast before loading up and an hour drive to the horses who had already been taken to the rendezvous point. After grooming and tacking up the trail began and it wasn’t long before we were off road, surrounded by fields with not a road in sight. Half way through the ride we stopped to rest the horses and to take the opportunity to sample more of Ivo’s home cooking. This was also the time the ladies of the group used to soak up the sun before we fed the rested horses and ensured they all took on plenty of water. We were soon heading off the Nikki’s farm but not before completing a number of fast, controlled, twisty gallops and canters. Nikki is a Serb who in the old days would have been Ivo’s enemy but these days nothing could be further from the truth. He was a kind man who would give you the shirt off his back but instead chose to offer us numerous bottles of schnapps, copious amounts of food and the use of his barn for sleeping. Everybody went to bed in a schnapps haze but also with big smiles.
Tuesday was a long ride but it also gave us the chance for the fastest gallop, a real chance to let the horses go and my did Pandora go. I can put my hand on my heart and say she was the fastest horse I have ever ridden and I have certainly ridden some fast horses in my time. By the time my adrenaline was subsiding we came across an oasis in the form of a local cafe bar, it was refuel time. With horses and riders refreshed and refuelled we were off again, this time our destination was a small local hotel with the welcome addition of real beds and en suite showers.
Wednesday saw us ride to another small hotel and you could sense the excitement in the horses, it was if they knew they would only be working for a few hours and they clearly wanted to get to their field sooner rather than later. We were all taken off to the Plitvice lakes where most of us completed the four hour route which included a bus and boat ride and walks through some stunning scenery, well worth the time and effort and a good chance to stretch off the legs. We returned back to village for a fantastic hog roast dinner before another restful sleep.
Thursday and Friday were two very long days riding through forests and across mountains, at one stage we walked our horses up a long mountain pass which was a good test for our fitness and a welcome break for the horses. On many trails we would have ridden the path however the horses welfare was paramount and dismounting was the correct decision. The hard work was broken up with some great twisty gallops and plenty of chances to rest and water the horses. Each farm also provided the locals with the chance to put another glass of schnapps in your hand. The end of Thursday’s ride was completed in moonlight and we were greeted with the now infamous “OK baby” chant (his only English!) from the local farmer who allowed us to use his barns for the night. To me this farm was a real chance to see “old Croatia” and to really experience the hospitality of the Croatian people. Having woken early I was invited into the warm kitchen and given hot coffee and you guessed it another schnapps, I must say this was the nicest schnapps that I had and we managed to take a bottle of it with us for the remaining day of the ride. Friday also saw us lunch high in the mountains with stunning scenery and of course another great meal before heading back to the awaiting trailer but not before one last gallop track.
This is a great holiday and is run by very genuine people who have both the horses and guests welfare at heart. The people we met along the trail were genuinely pleased to see you and really would have given you the shirt off their backs. The days are often long but the horses are well rested during extended lunches and there was always plenty of food and fresh water for them to enjoy. There are some long walks due to the terrain but you will experience some great full out gallops. The hotels were welcome and the barns were an experience but also a good chance to bond with the other guests, although tents were available if you so desired. The horses were a joy to ride and were clearly well cared for and certainly fit for purpose. Your horse is your responsibility and you will be expected to groom and tack up although help is always on hand, I do however believe this is a good chance to form that bond with your horse. The scenery is fantastic and very diverse and you will also get the chance to learn about Croatia and the trouble that arose from the fall of Yugoslavia.
Far and Ride, who were great to deal with, are totally honest in their ride description and have rightly geared this trail towards experienced riders who in turn must realise that the horses used are from a herd and as such have the herd instinct and can be a bit lively. You must be able to control your horse in all gaits and realise why much of the riding is done “in line”. You will need to be able to mount unaided as there is often no mounting block conveniently placed whilst in the middle of nowhere. By falling into the equine trap of not being honest about your abilities you could be in danger of not only ruining your holiday but also that of the other guests, having said that our holiday was great and we thoroughly enjoyed the riding, the horses and the company.
Read more about the ride here: Dalmatian Coast, Croatia.