Giddy’up, Bon Voyage

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By Jec A. Ballou

My colleagues sometimes ask about my commitment to overseas riding holidays. Why would someone who rides horses all day travel overseas to do more of the same? Why not go sit on a beach in Cancun and sip fruity beverages? Let me answer that, but first I should confess that as I write this, the buttery evening light slants across the trellised hillsides of a classical riding school in Tuscany wrapping up a good day in the saddle.  

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Since first leading students to Portugal 15 years ago — and then subsequent travels to Brazil, Germany, Holland, Hawaii, and Italy — before developing my own riding retreat here in California, I have encouraged equestrians of all levels to adopt the habit of educational holidays as their budget will allow. Here are my top reasons why anyone who loves to ride should consider taking that love on vacation.

First of all, by taking yourself far away from your ordinary routines, you are able to immerse yourself fully over a focused period of time without the distractions of daily life. You are able to get on a nice horse and just ride and enjoy it. This is the most efficient way to learn new skills deeply or shed nagging habits.

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Additionally, when you’re finished, you’re finished. There is no dirty work or chores that follow, no errands to the feed store, no dinner to fix. You get to entertain that child-like pleasure of riding without any other drains on your enjoyment or energy. It is critical to experience this on occasion to stay fresh and inspired in any pastime.

Second, riding holidays allow you to ride horses other than your own, which is necessary for refining your skills. Many students ride only the same one or two horses for years, which sometimes hides holes in their skills and sensitivity. I always encourage students to ride different horses when they’re able. The caveat to this, however, is to ride horses that are going to improve you. Your friend’s bucking youngster, or sister’s crazy former racehorse, probably won’t sharpen your dressage skills. A riding retreat offering well-schooled, mannerly horses will help you reach your goals faster than riding the same horses day after day.

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Next, these kinds of riding vacations typically bring some challenges along the way. While maybe not blissful in the moment, these are productive. These hiccups might include a difference of opinion with your instructor, a philosophical divergence, a confusion of language, or struggle with a particular horse’s canter cue. These challenges force each of us to get outside our own box. They cause us to take a wider lens, perhaps rethink our own ideas or skill sets. In the end, we might choose to trust more deeply what we already know; but we might just as likely opt to throw away some preconceived techniques or notions to adopt fresh ones. Having things shaken up a little helps us stay fresh rather than just pedantic in our approach to riding and training.

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Learning to ride well involves developing feel and timing. There is no better way to do this than by honing it on numerous different horses. I was so inspired by observing the huge leaps in progress my students made on our overseas riding trips that last year I launched my own program here in coastal California where riders can come stay and ride for a week. Offering riders good schoolmasters to ride and a relaxing environment free of daily stresses is a magical formula for gaining skills, confidence, and pure pleasure.

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And to that, I say Bon Voyage.

For more information, please visit my website

This information was contributed by Jec Ballou.

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Jec A. Ballou trains in Santa Cruz, CA when not giving clinics around the United States. She is the author of 101 Dressage Exercises for Horse and Rider, Equine Fitness, and 101 Western Dressage Exercises for Horse and Rider. 

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