Our camp is constructed, the horses are gleaming, the champagne is on ice and even the weather is behaving… Finally, we are on the brink of starting the Dartmoor Derby Pilot Event.
It feels a little surreal finally to have reached this stage. I began formulating the idea for a Dartmoor Derby in the summer of 2014. Having ridden many miles across Dartmoor in recent years accompanying guests from around the world to my established adventure riding business Liberty Trails, it often struck me how certain places on the moor would lend themselves brilliantly to hosting a luxury camp.
With undulating, unspoilt vistas, and total peace – apart from the occasional contribution from resident wildlife – there is much in common with African bush camps that riders have loved for years.
Dartmoor is such an amazing place to ride, yet very few people have the opportunity to explore it comprehensively because of the logistical support required to do so.
I began sharing my vision for a Dartmoor Derby – loosely inspired by the African riding safari format, and the success of the more rough and tumble Mongol Derby – to Liberty Trails clients. The idea received an emphatically positive response from everyone. The time had come to do something about it!
The next step was to speak to Dartmoor National Park, Uk Trade and Industry, the Duchy of Cornwall and other stakeholders, and I am very grateful for the immense support they, and other organisations, have given.
From the outset the idea was to create an event that celebrated the region, involved local suppliers, businesses, hotels and farmers, but had no negative environmental impact. In an in-depth feasibility study, we spoke with a wide range of riding groups, clubs and associations both nationally and internationally, who made it clear that our idea could work if we got the format right.
Obtaining permission to camp on the moor is complex, but we have been fortunate to secure the most wonderful camping spot for our Pilot Event. Our site is by the West Dart River, in the middle of the moor, actually on land belonging to the Duchy of Cornwall and tenanted by a family who have farmed on Dartmoor all their lives (their hay actually goes straight up to Highgrove). They have been so excited to be involved, and have a great love of horses, being dedicated Dartmoor pony owners and breeders.
Loos with views
I’ve learnt it takes an awful lot of people contributing their expertise to make an event like this happen – including Dartmoor Farmers, providing lamb and beef for the catering; and Mount Kelly who have helped us create the camping experience. Just getting ample hot water into camp for tired riders to shower in itself is quite a challenge, to say nothing of organising loos that are both sensitive to the environment, but also pleasant to use.
Organising temporary paddock fencing that can be erected and removed cost effectively and will have zero impact on the environment has been another area that has taken great time and effort to get right.
We’ve paid close attention to the diner details: grouping riders into well-suited teams; matching them to the right guides and horses; tailoring the route for each group and the speed we anticipate they will want to go at; planning the perfect picnic spots for each time, and so on.
There have been many late nights as we introduce our horse suppliers, guides and support crews to one another and run through the necessary emergency plans with them, so that we can cope with any eventuality.
Introducing our intrepid pilot riders
But now we are ready, and I am hugely excited to be welcoming riders from Florida, Virginia and all around Britain, press representatives from British and American national papers, Horse & Hound, Harpers Bazaar and elsewhere.
We are thrilled that Radio DJ Sara Cox, a very enthusiastic rider, is also joining us. She has always dreamed of going on a riding holiday and this will be her first. As departure day looms, she has been “counting down the sleeps” like a child before Christmas. Her enthusiasm is palpable. We will be taking all our guests to see parts of Dartmoor that I think are stunningly beautiful; it’s a dream come true for me.
All these riders are vital to the success of our Pilot Event, and we will be assessing their feedback closely to ensure that we can develop the first full Dartmoor Derby into the outstanding event we want it to be.
The butterflies in my stomach are now lining up and pointing in the right direction. We cannot wait to share two unforgettable days in the saddle with our guests, and turn a vision into a reality.