The Neigh Club: Staybler – Back to the future or Airbnb for horses

No other animal had such a tremendous impact on the history of humankind as the horse. Horses fed us, plowed our lands, accompanied us to battlefields, and most importantly served as a means of transportation.

Less than a hundred years ago, no hotel or inn was imaginable without stables. But with new technologies, horses disappeared from the streets and trading routes. Guest houses and stables naturally transformed into parking lots. Yes, some hotels do mention “pets are welcome” in their ads and on their sites, but they don’t mean horses, or even ponies, right?

So, what if you need to travel for a competition, or wish to attend a clinic abroad, or just don’t want to part with your horse when going on well-deserved vacation? There were not many options until Staybler – an online platform offering stables, yards, and paddocks in Europe – appeared on the market.

Some say that all new ideas are well-forgotten old ones. I spoke to Jean-Baptiste Luce, co-founder and sales manager of Staybler.com, to learn more about their project.

YF: Could you please tell us more about yourself and the other two co-founders of Staybler? Where are you from, what is your profession, how did you get involved with horses?

JB: The three of us are from the South of France, with different backgrounds. Clemence is originally from Montpellier – she studied marketing and communication. She has ridden since the age of three in the jumping discipline! Guillaume and I are originally from Antibes. Guillaume studied law, and I studied aquaculture. We do not ride horses, but we really enjoy all disciplines and the equestrian industry. We have gone to a lot of show jumping competitions over the years, such as St. Tropez, Monaco, Geneva, and Cannes, to watch the best riders.

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YF: How did you come up with the idea of an Airbnb service for horses?

JB: Clémence has always wanted to work in the equestrian industry. She did a previous internship with Devoucoux, and afterward, she was always talking to me about finding a job with horses.

Guillaume and I have always wanted to create a startup in the web industry, so we started to think about a new online service!

One day, three of us were talking about a new startup in the equine industry. We started to think about what is actually missing in the horse world. Clémence mentioned that her cousins always had difficulties when looking for overnight or short-term stabling when they were traveling with their horses. That was it! We decided to create a marketplace like Booking.com and Airbnb adapted to the equestrian world.

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YF: How do you share the work? Who is responsible for which parts of the project?

JB: Clémence is responsible for all the marketing and communication (social networks, ambassadors, booth displays, communication tools, etc.). Guillaume is in charge of all the finance and legal support.

And I look after sales and partnerships.

YF: Who are your customers? What would they miss if there were no Staybler?

JB: We have two distinct kinds of customers. We have riders (professional and not), grooms, and horse owners looking for short-term stables, and we have owners of stables, equestrian centers, and yards, who register their stables online to host horses and riders. The second group of customers has to hold horse insurance to be registered on the site.

Without Staybler, horse riders would still lose a lot of time searching for the perfect stable for their horses! Before, they had to spend hours on Google to look for a stable in a specific city! The difficulty is that some stables don’t have a functional website, but only ads with poor descriptions and no pictures. Staybler offers stable owners an opportunity to have their own well-structured pages with photos, detailed descriptions, and comments. Our website increases their visibility and helps them to build a positive reputation, and offers an international openness. It’s a great management tool for booking, and it allows them to profit/benefit from their available space. And it facilitates the search that every rider undergoes when traveling for horse shows, holidays, or any other reason.

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YF: What is the most common question or request you get from your customers?

JB: Requests and questions vary a lot. Stable owners are never sure what price to set for their stables, yards, or paddocks. And riders want to ensure that newly-listed stables without comments are comfortable and safe enough for their horses.

YF:  From your Instagram account, I’ve learned that you have quite a number of brand ambassadors. How do you select them? What does it take to be a Staybler ambassador?

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JB: We select our ambassadors based on their motivation to be part of the team. If they are ready to support a young start-up and fun enough to participate in some challenges, then they are in! We also select them according to their equestrian disciplines. We want to represent every equestrian discipline. Being a Staybler ambassador means being part of a young and dynamic community.

YF: You are in your first operational quarter. How does it feel so far? What drives and motivates you?

JB: It feels great because we have more and more challenges and new goals every day. We launched the platform in January, and since then we have hundreds of stables and horse riders registered. In the second week after opening, we celebrated our first booking, and it keeps going on with the horse show season starting as well as holidays coming soon. It is growing fast, but we want to make sure we are offering quality services. Our team is also growing little by little, and we are already working on new services (but we prefer to keep them secret for now).

YF: Booking.com and Airbnb have quite complicated rating systems. Do you have anything similar? Can customers share their thoughts about locations? Or can property owners rate their guests?

JB: Our grading system is similar to the Booking.com and Airbnb ones. Customers have to leave comments and rate each other.

YF: It’s mentioned on your site that property owners verify horse owners’ profiles before accepting requests. How is this done and how long does it take?

JB: Once a request is received by the stable, the owner can check the profile of the requestor. They can see all the information provided by the rider: photos, disciplines, horse information, ID, phone number, and previous comments, if any. It does not take more than a minute to check – it’s really quick! If the stable owner is satisfied with a rider’s profile, then they can accept the request!

YF: You have 24-hour support on your site. I wonder, what was the most interesting, memorable, weird, or funny request you ever received?

JB: Luckily, for now, we have not yet had any weird requests. People are more curious about the service itself, such as how it works, what the benefits are, whether it is free, etc.

YF: You participated in the Salon du Cheval and Equita Lyon last year. Where can we meet the Staybler team next?

JB: For sure, we will go back to the next Equita Lyon. We don’t know yet for the future booth, but we are always at big horse shows! We can meet all people curious about the service there. We were at the CHI of Geneva, the Saut Hermès in Paris. We will be at the GPA Jump Festival in Cagnes-sur-Mer and many others.

YF: Give us some statistics. What are the cheapest and the most expensive properties one can find on  Staybler?

JB: The cheapest is €10, the most expensive – €65 (€70 including rider’s accommodation), and the mean is about €25–30.

YF: What is your most popular destination so far?

JB: The South of France for the beautiful weather and great shows, I guess!

YF: Right now, Staybler services are provided in Europe only. Do you have plans for expansion?

JB: Sure, we want to expand and grow internationally, but it takes time.

YF: I wish you the very best in your journey.

And to our readers – ride on to your dreams!

Useful links:

Staybler site: https://www.staybler.com/

Staybler Instagram account: @stayblerbnb

 

 

 

 

 

The Neigh Club: The Beginning

My Equigeo project started six years ago. It has been a thrilling and eventful journey so far, and I have no intention to stop. In fact, right now I’m planning my international rides in Luxembourg and Denmark.

Traveling to different countries and riding dozens of horses taught me a lot. And probably most exciting part of my adventures was meeting extraordinary equestrians along the way. Be it an old Iraqi man, who despite all odds operates a riding school near Mosul, or Real Escuela riders devoting their lives to keeping the Doma Vaquera tradition alive, or an Icelandic family that for three generations has provided riding tours to thousands of tourists every year, or the real-life horse whisperer from a Czech forest. The list can go on and on.

Talking to these people, I couldn’t stop thinking that their stories couldn’t wait to be shared. That’s how the idea of “The Neigh Club” came to life.

Each month, I will interview a remarkable equestrian. And I invite you to join me on that journey. Learn what makes these people special, get inspired by them, and discover what it takes to pursue your passion.   

Stay tuned and ride on to your dreams!

 

Country #35 – Poland: Extended Airport Connection or Let it Snow

Our ride in Poland can be easily added to the list of Christmas miracles.

Less than a week before our trip, when I was almost desperate to find a ride in Poland, I got a message from my Instagram friend Magdalena Zoladek asking if I’d already found a place to ride near Warsaw. It was a true blessing, as not only did my Google-found contacts not reply, but I also had a very short stay (less than 10 hours) in Warsaw on my way from Helsinki back to Bahrain.

But Magdalena made the impossible. Not only did she find two horses for me and my friend, but she also picked us up at 6 a.m. from the Warsaw Old Town so that we could beat the busy Warsaw traffic and have enough time for a ride in the frozen forest and also later dropped us back exactly on time for us to catch our planes.

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And oh boy, what an eventful ride it was!

First, we were introduced to our horses—a Friesian cross mare and a Hucul pony gelding. As much as I wanted to ride the half-Friesian mare, I was absolutely sure that it might be my only chance to ride a Hucul horse. (This breed is only present in Ukraine, Romania, and Poland) So, I ended up with Rusłan.

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While I brushed his thick coat and mane and picked his hooves, Rusłan made all possible efforts to find sugar or carrots in my pockets and even chewed my sleeves as a last desperate attempt. I felt very guilty for not having anything for him :-(, so I attempted to bribe him with some hay.

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Magda, Agata, and I had finished saddling our horses when Katya confessed that one woman’s strength was simply not enough to buckle up a single girth strap of Western saddle around the enormous Fryzia’s barrel. All four of us tried to do it in turns—with no luck. We tried combined efforts—one pulling the leather up while another tried to push a pin in the hole—zero effect.

A strange thought came to my not fully woken-up mind: Fryzia, whose shape reminded me of a Dala horse at a first glance, was indeed made of wood.

We thought that it might work if we changed positions: Magda pulling, while I pushed; Katya pulling, while Magda pushed; me pulling, while Agata pushed . . . but as you can imagine, six of one is the same as half of a dozen. :-)

Eventually, team human won. Agata climbed the stable wall and mounted the mare, while three of us in a combined pulling and pushing effort managed to buckle that sturdy girth on the completely indifferent Fryzia. Hoorah!

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And on the road again!

I’m sure that in spring and autumn, this place can serve as an inexhaustible source of National Geographic photos, but even in the middle of a snowless December, it looked pretty awesome. It was like nature had a degree in design and color combinations and had deliberately selected complementary colors on the color wheel to make the best possible combinations.

img_2353I enjoyed looking around so much that I missed the moment when Rusłan stumbled and I made an unexpected somersault over his neck. I landed right in front of him, still holding the reins in both hands. Surprise!

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Luckily, my fluffy mount didn’t have any intention of running away and just shuffled to the nearest bundle of last year’s grass and started munching it apathetically. Magda helped me to mount back on, and we continued our ride.

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We cantered deeper into the forest when large, fluffy flakes of snow started to pour from the sky. That was the moment when I finally realized that New Year was just around the corner, and the time of Christmas trees, gingerbread cookies, carols, and gifts in rustling wrapping paper had come again. Although, I thought, some of the most memorable gifts come without any paper and bows. They come covered in dried mud and inspect your pockets for treats, take you to yet unknown places on their backs, and turn their black, hairy ears back to you as if trying to listen to your thoughts. These gifts are among some of the most valuable ones in my collection.

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Suddenly, my blissful meditation was interrupted by Katya’s horse, who decided to add some adrenaline to our so-far tranquil ride.

Fryzia picked up a canter and rushed across the resting field towards the stables, paying no attention to Katya’s attempts to stop, or at least turn, her. Magda’s Quarter Horse Magik and Rusłan followed her. Only Agata’s ¾ Hucul Punio was calm and mature enough to stay on the track.

Later, we learned that Fryzia’s owner likes to canter her back to the stables. So, according to Fryzia, she behaved like a really good girl and an amazing host. :-)

If you think that was enough for one day, think again!

Thanks to Agata and her trusty steed Punio, I tried something that I had wanted to try for ages but didn’t have the heart to do on an unprepared horse.

Agata told me that Punio is used for hypnotherapy so he is absolutely bomb-proof and is ready for anything. For example, he is okay if a kid sitting on him tries to catch a thrown ball, he is fine if someone stretches from the saddle over his neck and places rubber rings on his ears, and he knows to stay still if someone stands on his back.

Of course, I couldn’t deny the offer to try it. Surprisingly, it proved to not be too difficult, and although I don’t look as chic and glamorous standing on a horse’s back as Taylor Swift in the “Blank Spaces” music video, I still think it’s one of the best pictures from my travels :-).

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Country #34 – Finland: Welcome to Moominland or Suokki called Bono

Another country and another place to ride that I found thanks to my Instagram friends.

Janika Viihde, horse enthusiast, TV presenter and a model from Helsnki, advised that if we wanted to ride real Finn horses, we needed to go to Maastotalli Prerya, which is located about 50 km west of Helsinki.

I didn’t really think that it was possible to find a better place for my ride #34. Maastotalli Prerya has been owned by Marjo Norbacka for over 10 years. The place not only serves as livery facilities for privately owned horses, but also as stables, where Marjo runs her Finnish horse breeding program.

The majority of the horses on the farm are related to each other in one way or another. For example, my mount, nine-year-old Bono, named after the U2 lead singer :-), is the half-brother of Aurora, who was ridden by Katya. Their mother also still lives on the farm; Marjo’s 18-year- old mare is the mother of this five-year- old stallion.

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As you can imagine, the genealogical tree of the Maastotalli Prerya herd is quite ramified.

Brushing the horses was easy and almost unnecessary, as with the temperature slightly below zero, they didn’t have a chance to get really muddy.

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However, saddling was challenging—given a chance to not work for a few weeks, the ponies had stored enough fat and grown enough fur to make our attempts to buckle the girths almost impossible, even on the last hole.

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Struggling with the saddle had its advantages; I finally stopped shivering and felt warm enough to take off my coat.

When all three horses were ready, we rode into the forest. For the first time in two days, we had some glimpses of the meager sun, giving us hope of taking some good pictures.

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Finland’s nature was even more striking than we expected.

Barely half a kilometer away from the stable, we met a pair of wild deer. Well, we as humans would have certainly missed them, if it had not been for our horses. Katya’s Aurora stiffened and pointed her ears to the left, looking in the direction her ears were pointed we saw the deer.

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It felt a bit unsettling to know that our human senses are so weak that an animal as big as a deer can pass by unnoticed 8-O. Later, Marjo told us that it’s not unusual to meet lynxes and moose in that forest.

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The Finn horses were amazing. Nothing could stop or spook them. Aurora and Bono walked at the same tempo and speed on the roads covered with a thin layer of ice and over the logs blocking the narrow forest paths. Their broad, fluffy backs felt like comfortable sofas, be it walk, trot, or canter.

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Taking @lifebetweentheyears shot :-)

Marion explained their calmness, balance, and friendly behavior with the fact that all of them were born and raised on the farm and had never experienced ill will, so they simply don’t have a reason to be scared or mean.

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On the way back, I thought that I would love to experience this place in different seasons, as I’m sure that it looks different every month, though always breathtakingly beautiful.

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Useful links:

Maastotalli Prerya facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Maastotalli-Prerya-139840532761028/?fref=ts

Maastotalli Prerya site: https://maastotalliprerya.wordpress.com/in-english/

 

Country #33 – Norway: Meeting an Equine Celebrity or Kiss me, Batman

Be open to the world, and the world will open up back to you. That’s what my friend told me when I had just started blogging. And I keep seeing proof of it. For instance, six out of the 10 countries I rode in this year I found thanks to my Instagram.

My Norway ride was yet another story that started in the virtual world. About a year and a half ago, I first found Matilde Brand’s account. Her pictures were full of life, and her bond with her strikingly beautiful Frisian horse Batman looked almost impossible and magical. Her ability to ride tackless was (and still is) pretty much beyond my understanding.

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Naturally, when I decided to visit Oslo, I sent a message to Matilde, and a couple of weeks later, we were on the train from Oslo to Moss chatting about digital marketing, horses, vegetarian food, Nevzorov Haute Ecole, positive reinforcement, and dozens of other topics.

Upon our arrival at the stables, we went to meet Batman and Takawi (a Friesian KPWN cross that I was supposed to ride later that day). Having a bag of carrots, I was immediately surrounded by gentle giants politely but persistently asking for their treats.

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We led Batman out and brought him to the tack room to do some serious brushing. 8-O

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The location of the stables allows horses to wander in the woods and communicate freely in their small herd but also stay under the roof in harsh weather should they decide so. Naturally, they use this opportunity to the fullest, and cleaning them up can easily serve as both a warm-up and a weight-loss workout.

Before Matilde allowed me in the round pen with Batman, she gave me a master class on communication with him.

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Then, I was given a carrot and ordered to give Batman a chunk of it every time he did what I asked. “Bite them really small; you’ll need every piece of it,” she instructed me.

We started with ground work. Batman followed me..;

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he made turns on request..,

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kissed me… :-)

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and hugged me with his strong neck..,

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and posed for pictures…

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And you know what? It didn’t feel like he was doing it for the carrots, but rather for the love of a game.

For the next step, Matilde explained to me how to make Batman canter next to me.

I don’t think I will ever find the words to adequately explain that sensation. Imagine pure energy in the form of a long-maned Frisian willingly following your moves and tangibly enjoying it.

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After half a carrot was gone :-), I mounted Batman and walked him with the halter for a couple of rounds, then I removed it the same way Matilde had done before and tried to trot him completely tackless. It wasn’t difficult to make him trot, or even canter, but keeping him next to the fence was a challenge.

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With Matilde it had looked so effortless, so simple, as if Batman was reading her mind. But when my turn came, I realized how much I still needed to learn, how much fine tuning that type of riding and communication with horses requires. Later, I progressed to paying more attention to the position of my body, hands, and head, and it immediately had an effect on Batman’s moves.

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I would say that the most important insight of that day was the fact that riding horses without bridle and saddle is possible for everybody. And although it requires a lot of work, it also gives an incomparable level of satisfaction.

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After we finished my first (and hopefully not the last) tackless riding lesson, Linn brought Takawi, a 182-cm-tall Barock Pinto gelding, to the tack room for brushing and saddling.

Takawi was the first horse that I have ever ridden that was taller than me.

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He always has a few pieces of shavings on his extreme points, as no one can reach them when brushing him :-).

Saddling him looked like a separate sport discipline, as Linn had to take a swing before placing the saddle on his back.

Mounting Takawi takes a table, not a bench or a stepstool.

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And, he is one of the sweetest and kindest horses that I have ever ridden.

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We rode in a circle on the slippery fields that were yet to be covered with snow, and it felt so peaceful and safe on the back of this 18-hand giant that I secretly hoped that the ride would last forever.

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And, I’m a little jealous of Matilde and Linn, as they can ride in this beautiful place all year long.

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Useful links:

to follow Matilde and Batman journey join them on:

Instagram: @matildebrandt

Facebook: Matilde Brandt

You can also find more about Linn, Takawi and Linn’s another horse Prinsen on Instagram @imaginetakawi

Country #32 – Sweden: Too Hot to Trot or all Dreams Come True One Way or Another

If you asked me which of my traits I perceive as a blessing as much as a curse, I would say that it’s my natural competitiveness. I’ve been through some of my greatest experiences because of it, but it has also gotten me into more than a few weeks of heavy depression.

Beating my own records is one of my favorite hobbies. Speaking of which, before we embarked on this 170-hour European journey, my personal record was riding in three new countries in one week. Of course, it was meant to be beaten. And it was. I rode five horses in four countries over the course of exactly one week. And it all started in Sweden.

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Three and a half years ago, I had a booking at the Häståkeriet stables, but my business trip to Sweden was suddenly cancelled and my dream of riding in Stockholm crushed. Well, at least it was at that time.

Eighteen countries later, I was finally there, and in good company too. My best friend, the same person with whom I ditched calculus classes to sneak to the Almaty Hippodrome, “published” our very own hand-written Horse Stories magazine in school, translated Ann Sewell’s The Black Beauty into Russian over the course of the summer holidays, rode on the football field in Kyrgyzstan, galloped over green hills in Kazakhstan, and climbed the Cappadocia rocks was there to join me.

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That day, I met her at St. Ferdinand Platz subway station, and we quickly dropped her luggage off at the hotel and went to the stables. I love reading maps and hate asking directions; thankfully, navigating in Stockholm is a no-brainer. At 11 a.m., when the sun was already going down, we strolled down the endless Valhalla Street and yammered like we had during the good old times.

At the stables, we were introduced to our horses: the grey Lusitano Barao and the bay wooly North Swedish gelding Bellmax. I had never ridden Lusitano or North Swedish horses, but I quickly calculated my chances of riding Norvensk again and decided to leave Barao for Katya :-).

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Bellmax didn’t really want to be ridden that day; he would have rather gotten cozy lying under the abnormally warm winter sun (+8 degrees Celsius in the middle of December) and munching some hay.

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Convincing him to just stand up was an adventure of its own. It was as if he was teasing us: He would pretend that he was ready to stand and then fall on his side again. Attempts to pull him up by the halter were hilarious, as he was not only skillfully used the difference in weight categories but would also fold his right ear in such a way that the halter would slip from his big, fluffy head.

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When he realized that he had entertained himself enough, he calmly went to his stable and allowed all the pre-ride routines to be done.

A few minutes of brushing, saddling, picking hooves and warming bits in our palms made us feel even warmer than it already was, and I almost considered riding without my coat.

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At about 1 p.m., we couldn’t wait to finally go on hack and try to catch the last rays of the sun, which was already getting close to the horizon line, but first we had to put on high-visibility vests and self-reflective bracelets on the diagonal pairs of legs of our horses.

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Riding with Häståkeriet stables was a very special experience. It felt like over a time period of just two hours, we rode in several completely different places: The park where you ride among joggers, people walking their dogs, and mums with strollers changes to what looks like a countryside, where other horses came to neigh their hello to our small procession. Another change and we cantered along the narrow channel, and a mere 200 meters down the road we found ourselves in the Djurgårdsbrunnsviken sea port. A couple more turns later, and we were welcomed in the woods by a “Ridväg“ sign, and then we cantered under low-hanging branches and jumped over fallen logs.

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Both horses were very well behaved and eager to go forward. There was a perfect reason for that. Apart from being rental horses for tourists, they are also used in a rehabilitation program for kids with disabilities.

Two hours flew by unnoticed, and it was time to go back to the stables. We unsaddled Barao and Bellmax in record time, exchanged Facebook accounts with our guide, Amanda, and literally ran to the nearest subway station, as we knew that we might not have enough time to visit one very special museum in the center of Stockholm.

I will skip the nerve-wracking part where we managed to get lost in the narrow streets of Gamla stan. Thrice. And in case you’re interested, yes, we did have a map.

Anyway, eventually we got to the Wooden Horse Museum, though it’s probably an exaggeration to call this place a museum, as it consists of barely three to four shelves jam-packed with various dalahäst in the two-room souvenir shop.

Apart from well-known and widely popularized contemporary tail-less red figurines, there were lots of wooden horses from as early as the 17th century. There were exhibits of any color and pattern you could imagine, and their sizes varied from one meter tall down to tiny ones, one of which was even small enough to fit through a needle’s eye.

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Unfortunately, taking pictures there was not allowed, so I guess to experience the history of one of the most well-known symbols of Sweden, you’ll have to visit Stortorget, 14 in Gamla stan, Stockholm on your own :-).

Useful links:

Häståkeriet stables Facebook page: http://hastakeriet.se/

Häståkeriet stables site: https://www.facebook.com/H%C3%A4st%C3%A5keriet-108691099151863/

Wooden Horse museum: http://woodenhorsemuseumsweden.se/

 

 

Country #31 – Saudi Arabia: Phosphorus Melting Point or Where the Earth Curves

When I tell somebody that I’ve been to Saudi Arabia, I inevitably hear one of three questions. Colleagues and acquaintances ask if I had to wear an abaya. Friends ask if I rode a horse there. And people who know me really well ask if I wore an abaya while riding a horse. Well, yes, yes and no.

I’ve started writing this story many times, but I couldn’t really get any further than the second paragraph. You know that every story has many sub-stories and many points of view. I didn’t know what I really wanted to begin my story with. Should I begin with the fact that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is one of the least known and most secluded countries in the world? With my first impressions? With the story about my many (six, to be precise) previous attempts to get a business visa there, all of which were rejected simply because of the fact that my chromosomes are XX and not XY? Or with the fact that now I’m an official record holder as the one and only female employee to visit offices in Riyadh and Jeddah?

So when I finally (on my seventh attempt) got a business visa for my passport, my immediate thought was that the next time I might not be that lucky, so I absolutely couldn’t pass up the opportunity to add another country to my list on that particular trip. Thanks to Google, I quickly found a pretty nice place called Dirab Golf Club. It’s located about 70 km from the center of Riyadh, a bit too far away, but the possibility of adding a new country to my list makes me unstoppable, if not pigheaded ☺.

A couple of weeks later, I was in the spotless and a bit deserted Riyadh international airport feeling pretty awkward in my fresh-from-the-sewing-machine abaya.

I took a taxi, and my adventure started. On the way to the golf club, looking out at the deserted Central Province land that is so flat that you can literally see the Earth curving and observing the dozens, if not hundreds, of Saudi flags, which are, ironically, the only splashes of green around, I thought that my years of travelling had taught me not to trust common prejudices about different countries and nations. (In fact, I myself could serve as an example of stereotypes that one cannot trust—I’m Russian, but I’m not blonde; I have never drunk vodka; not once have I worn an ushanka; and never in my life have I seen a bear strolling around the city ;-)). So, I’ve chosen not to believe any Saudi stories circulating around Facebook and mostly shared by people who have never been to the Kingdom.

About 45 minutes later and over 100 km away from the airport, my driver realized that we were lost. Perfect timing! Providing him with the map didn’t help; thus, I had to navigate on my own in the city that I had spent less than one hour in. So there I was . . . on the highway, in the car, going over 120 km/h with no clue where the golf club was.

To add to my confusion, it was hotter than 45 degrees Celsius outside, and my shoulder devil kept asking me, “Tell me again, why do you do it? Wouldn’t it be better to stay in a fully air-conditioned hotel room for the whole day?” And what was my shoulder angel doing, you might ask? He cowardly remained in silence ☺.

Despite taking a few more wrong turns, we finally arrived at the stables exactly on time . . . and then the unexpected fairytale-like experience started.

First, I got introduced to Mutheeb, a 19-year-old pure Arab gelding, and then I met Saleh, my guide for the day.

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Saleh advised me to leave my abaya in the tack room as it was (surprise!) completely fine to ride without it in the territory of the club. Then I got a straw hat to protect my head from the direct sunlight, and we went on the path. Canyon-like hills, red sand, and tumbleweeds—nothing indicated that we were in the middle of the driest and one of the most strictly regulated countries in the world. “It looks like Arizona,” I said.“Everyone says so,” replied Saleh ☺.

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We rode further into the hills, and he told me his story. About 25 years earlier, he had come to the Kingdom from Egypt at the invitation of the wealthy Saudi man. Earlier that year, Saleh’s employer had given his daughter a two-year-old Arab stallion as a present for her 12th birthday, so Saleh’s job was to break the horse and to teach the girl how to ride him.

And he did just that. Years passed by, and more horses joined the stables. Then the golf club and a small hotel were built nearby. The girl grew up, married, and had children, but she still regularly comes to visit her now-retired stallion.

My 1.5-hour ride was filled with lots of equestrian stories. One of the most exciting ones was that the riding club personnel not only have polo ponies exported from Argentina, but they also managed to train some Arab horses, including Mutheeb, to play polo. Furthermore, there is some kind of polo league that has been established in the KSA.

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Unpredictably, in the low humidity, +45 Celsius didn’t feel that bad, and I enjoyed that ride much more than I would have ever imagined.

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And of course I couldn’t leave the stables without a picture of me in my abaya astride Mutheeb. To my surprise, it became the most popular picture on my Instagram.

Useful links:

http://www.dirabgolf.com/

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Dirab-Golf-Country-Club/373565666052696

Interview to 2kGrey

Some time ago I was interviewed by the team of 2kGrey equestrian apparel company. See the link below :-)

A 2KGrey Ambassador Shows Us How to Ride a Horse in Every Country

Seven Reasons Why the Museum of Vintage Carriages is Worth Visiting While in Rome

One – Le Carrozze d’Epoca (the vintage carriage museum) is one of the largest vintage carriage collections in the world. Initially started as a private collection of the interpreter Romolo Appolloni, nowadays the collection includes over 290 carriages of all styles, epochs, and origins. A total of 139 vehicles are available for visitors to see in a specially built 3,000 sq. m. exhibition hall. You will find sledges and fireman wagons, Roman chariots and winemaker carts, omnibuses and portantinas, special carriages for children and mail coaches, skeletons and spiders (yes, these are the real names of carriages types), and many more.IMG_5403

Two – you will see some authentic carriages created in the 18th century
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Three – some of the carriages presented were used in famous movies and opera performances, such as Ben-Hur starring Charlton Heston and The Quiet Man starring John Wayne, among others. The museum also houses the authentic carriages of some famous people, such as the cab of Anna Magnani and the landau of John Paul II, which he used in times of his episcopate in Poland. IMG_5369

Four – Apart from all types of carriages, you will find the entire room packed with harnesses and tacks from all around the world.IMG_5353

Five – Unlike other Rome attractions, this place is not crowded, to say the least. So you have enough time to check the exposition in detail, without feeling rushed by other visitors.IMG_5375

Six – You are welcome to take pictures.IMG_5394

Seven – You can learn some fun facts you probably never thought about before, such as why poor carriage owners painted their carts and the rich didn’t or how camp WC looked like in the 18th century or how amphibian vehicles are at least 250 years old!IMG_5346

Useful link: http://www.lecarrozzedepoca.it/en/