Plitvice Trail programme, Dalmation Coast Ride, Summer 2008
What an adventure. My head is filled with magical memories.
I arrived late on Saturday evening. I was awaited at the airport and warmly welcomed. After a three quarter of an hour drive we arrived at the ranch. I was greeted as an old friend by Ivo, the owner/organiser. Sitting round the terrace table were the rest of the group, a group of German girls from Munich who knew each other from their riding club. I felt far from being left out, we all began chatting immediately (they all spoke extremely good English). A few drinks and some getting to know each other later, we all retired in order to be up fresh and early for our first ride.
The first day, we were all asked what type of horse we were looking to ride. I of course shouted out that I wanted one with plenty of peps and lots character ! We saddled up and off we went. Through fields and up and up a long ochre compacted stone road, getting used to the feel of the horses and the beating sun. We arrived at a little green house in the middle of now-where, unsaddled the horses and left them in a natural “crater” surrounded by rocks, had a wonderful lunch and then went off to climb up to 1509m to see a beautiful view of the mountains and lakes. Back to the ranch afterwards, a trial gallop on the way. My horse was an ex-racehorse, 15 years old, called Fletcher and plenty of peps and character he certainly had. I ‘d never ridden a racehorse before so the first gallop was a little scary. I had a lot to learn about riding this type of horse but decided not to change horse for the trek, my stubborn side coming out that I WOULD learn and get to know him.
Off we all went the next day after yet another convivial evening at the ranch. We drove about 60 km to the start off point of the trail. Saddled up the horses and we were off for a 5 day adventure!
Day one the weather was very hot, it must have been in the 38 degree (every day of the trek was very hot). Sun-cream and insect repellant were absolutely essential all throughout the ride. After several good gallops where Fletcher started teaching me all about riding a racehorse we arrived at our lunch spot, where all was ready and waiting for us. Just after lunch, snoozing in the heat of the afternoon came a massive thunderstorm that seemed to last and last forever. We all jumped in the horse-truck to wait it out. Finally the sun came out again and we continued on. A couple of gallops later Fletcher and I just seemed to fuse. He had the biggest heart and when we arrived at our evening destination he spent ages rubbing his big head against me.
That evening’s stop was an lovely little farmhouse with well mown lawns and flowers everywhere, all tended to by a man who lived totally on his own. A welcome glass of schnapps was obligatory ( in all the places we stayed, or even stopped for water). Dinner was then served and we chatted and laughed until one by one we went off to bed. We slept in a house that was under-construction, some of us on camp-beds and others on mattresses on the floor. The outdoor shower was impeccable, despite the not very warm water.
Day two began with another hearty breakfast and a goodbye schnapps! On the way to our lunch break at another farmhouse, we galloped through fields of mown grass. Ivo even let me go in front and test Fletcher’s speed. WOW. For lunch we were served home-made bread, cheese, lard, fruit juice cakes…….and after all that, came out a type of stew- that was delicious but we all ate too much!
Each day we had a break of a 2 or 3 hours after lunch to avoid the worst heat of the day and let the horses recover. On the second afternoon we walked along an ochre path,spotting small farm dwellings right and left until we got to our next evening stop. Same routine, unsaddle the horses and….glass of schnapps. This time those of us who hadn’t had camp-beds got the beds and vice-versa. We all faded pretty quickly that night.
Day three began with a long ride through the fields until lunchtime where we unpacked our stuff in a small hostel (the German girls had asked to change the program to have a little more comfort). Lunch in a little roadside restaurant and off we went to visit the famous Plitvice lakes. They were stupendous. The colours were amazing and the water so clear, my only regret was not being allowed to swim. One lake flowed into the next by a series of waterfalls. After a long walk round we went back to the hostel and prepared ourselves for a specially ordered dinner, – roast suckling pig.
Each day just got better and better but day four got my vote. We went off lounging the side of a mountain and through forests and reached a natural lake. The water was clear, the horses were as dying to swim as were we. We stopped there for quite a while, had lunch and then continued on. It was a long ride to our next stop, the scenery changing at every moment. A 600m scrabble up the mountain leading our horses nearly finished us off but then we galloped through rolling hills and the fresh air was just bliss. Water stop in a small woodland area and rest for an hour but we still had a long way to go. We started off again down a stony road, the through a forest path that looked as if it had never been used. (The scenery throughout was like something out of Lord of the Rings). Rolling hills of green green grass gave a us a chance for a long and totally exhilarating gallop. A pack of dogs came at us and not one of our brave horses shied or moved a muscle. Night began to fall and we had yet a long ride to do through the forest before arriving. There were glow-worms shooting in all directions like mini fire works and when we could see through the foliage huge bright stars above us. Soon it was pitch dark and a total communion and trust was needed in your horse. I’ve never felt or experienced anything like it. At last we arrived and were greeted by an old man shouting “OKAY BABY” at the top of his voice. It was the code word for the next 12 hours, the only words he know other than Croatian. That night we either slept in tents or in a barn full of fresh hay. I choose the hay and it was just a huge experience.
Next morning we had fresh farm eggs, heated but un-pasteurised “domestic” milk and the usual big breakfast. It was day five and we were making our way home. A very long day’s ride with a water stop (and schnapps of course), lunch and then the afternoon’s ride. We finished the trail tired and happy and then drove back to the ranch where we had our last evening meal together.
I cried when I said goodbye Fletcher the next day. It was a fabulous experience.
Read more about this ride here: Dalmation Coast Ride