Riding the Dartmoor Derby has been a dream three years in the making for me

Dartmoor Derby UK Horse Riding WeekendRiding the Dartmoor Derby has been a dream three years in the making for me. Some dreams are worth the wait. I finally rode the Dartmoor Derby from September 21-23rd and it lived up to all of the hype and expectations that I had for it.by Stacey Stearns First, a little background; the Dartmoor Derby was founded by Elaine Prior of Liberty Trails and brings the speed, excitement, endurance, and fun of the Mongolian Derby and luxury of an African Safari to the moors of England. The Derby had a trial run in 2015, and this was the third year Liberty Trails hosted a group of riders on Dartmoor. Riders are in groups of eight, and can bring their own horses or hire a hunter-type horse for the ride. We had 22 riders from three different countries this year, forming three different groups. Each group has two local guides, and at least two ground crew members. The guides re-ride the Derby routes prior to the event each September. The plan for the Derby is to arrive on Friday and have a short ride to get to know the horses. Then it’s full days of riding on Saturday and Sunday, and departure on Monday morning. Each year, the Derby is up to 50 miles of riding across Dartmoor.High winds and heavy rain forced some last minute changes to the Derby this year, but the organizers took it all in stride. They switched the short Friday ride to Saturday, and planned a longer distance for Friday, telling us all to wear our rain gear both days.I knew we were riding soon after arrival, so was wearing breeches, boots and half chaps, standing [...]

By |2018-10-24T18:03:22+00:00October 24th, 2018|0 Comments

Kenyan doctor takes to the saddle for latest Dartmoor Derby challenge

The second Dartmoor Derby successfully concluded last month to rave reviews from participants, including one rider who came all the way from Kenya to take part.  Organised by seasoned adventure riding specialists Liberty Trails, the Derby is a three-day challenge in which small guided teams cover around 50 miles, with most guests staying in a purpose-built luxury camp. Bettina Vadera, a flying doctor in Kenya, was one of five nationalities to join a number of British riders in the second Dartmoor Derby, which took place from September 22-25. Riders from America, Denmark and Germany took part besides Bettina, who drew parallels between Dartmoor’s beauty and that of Kenya: “It’s such a contrast to being in Kenya in so many ways, and yet at other moments, seeing the horizon on 360 degrees, with this yellow grass and these vistas, my friends at home would say ‘Isn’t this the Mara’?” The Dartmoor Derby is a proudly Westcountry event, with many horses, the guides and ground crew, catering, many cooking ingredients, yurts and more sourced in Devon. The extremely high water table on the moors this autumn meant that routes were planned with meticulous care, with the needs of landowners and farmers in mind besides those of the horses. Founder and organiser Elaine Prior, of Liberty Trials, said: “We have been quite overcome with the magnificent feedback guests have given us, and the number of them intending to rebook for next year. “Though we experienced everything from glorious sunshine to fog and drizzle, the region has quite definitely worked its way into their hearts.” Pictures: Polly Baldwin

By |2017-10-20T11:56:58+00:00October 20th, 2017|0 Comments

Moor adventures on horseback – by Sydney Morning Herald

"Everyone thought I was madder than a box of frogs," laughs Elaine Prior, describing the reaction to her idea of running horse riding holidays on Dartmoor National Park. Not only did she have to get permission from the park's governing authority but she also needed the thumbs up from the Duchy of Cornwall – the vast estate owned and operated by the Prince of Wales. A formidable task for most people, but not for Prior, whose indomitable spirit and boundless enthusiasm could convince NASA to run pony treks on Mars. Dartmoor is one of England's last true wildernesses, a 954-square-kilometre landscape of sweeping valleys, marshy peat bogs and exposed granite hilltops called tors. In the southwest of the country, it's a mysterious, mythological place, often swathed in mist and prone to capricious bouts of weather   Most visitors tour the area by car or coach. Which is a shame because they miss out on much of its drama because the handful of roads that criss-cross the park are often lined with stone walls and hedges. Prior wants people to "engage with the landscape", to get them out and about in this haunting scenery and what better way than on horseback. There's only one problem. Her rides are designed for experienced riders who are in "full control of a forward going horse at all paces in wide open spaces". The fact that I have little idea what that statement means tells you all you need to know about my horsemanship.   Of course, in Priorworld, this is not a problem. Her company, Liberty Trails, often caters for couples where one party is more experienced than the other and [...]

By |2017-10-20T11:57:19+00:00June 1st, 2017|0 Comments

‘I like to ride with a purpose’ by Heather Parr, one of the Dartmoor Derby guides

Heather Parr, one of the Dartmoor Derby guides, has ridden on these moors almost her whole life. She explains the attraction, and why she’ll be guiding again this September It was hunting really that brought us to Dartmoor. My father’s a hunting nut — hunting came before anything else for him — and we moved to Moretonhampstead on the edge of the moors when I was about 10 so he could indulge his addiction. He was a farmer, then, and Fieldmaster of the Mid-Devon for 10 or 12 years. I had a pony myself when I was eight but before that I would ride sitting in front of my Dad on his saddle when he went out exercising — you’d never consider it safe enough these days. Hunting became a lifelong interest for me too, and really it’s through hunting with different packs on the moors over the years that I’ve got to know my way around so well — it’s a sociable thing, we all enjoy visiting different packs and regions. I’ve never been much of a walker but there aren’t many places I haven’t ridden. It’s always a challenge The riding here changes all year round, but it’s always a challenge because you can get any weather in any season. I don’t have a favourite season — though of course there’s some weather I prefer! But on a clear day, Dartmoor is about as beautiful a place as you can find anywhere on earth. In the summer I enjoy doing fun and charity rides and a gang of us take our horses away on holidays sometimes — it makes us appreciate Dartmoor all over again when we get [...]

By |2017-06-01T14:55:55+00:00May 14th, 2017|0 Comments

Holidaying with your Horse

If going on holiday is the third most traumatic thing you can do after getting divorced and moving house, adding a horse to the equation may sound like madness. That frenzied hunt for camera chargers, the desperate cramming of implausible amounts of luggage into the car, the realisation that the planned time of departure passed 90mins ago — let’s face it, holidays are stressful enough.  Yet for seven years I’ve been hitching up my trailer and taking my mare along with the rest of the family on our annual visits to Dartmoor or the Quantocks, and without doubt it’s doubled the enjoyment. Riders cannot visit the countryside without mentally sketching out their route across it on horseback, and as we all know, it’s the perfect pace and height from which to explore new places.   There are some downsides, admittedly. Even with regular rest and leg-stretch stops, there’s a limit to how far you want to drive your horse in one day. And if you take a lorry, you need to consider what wheels the family will use when you’ve arrived at your destination.  Those of you who feed and muck out daily may prefer a lie in on holiday, and to leave the horses to someone else for a change. And fair enough. But for me, who has always had to keep my horse at livery, it’s a novelty... And though I get up early to ride so I don’t eat into “family time”, an hour and a half of solitude in the saddle sets me up perfectly for a bucket-and-spade day with young children. I suspect I’d go mad without it. Make a booking As a working rider [...]

By |2017-04-30T13:07:06+00:00April 28th, 2017|0 Comments

It wasn’t just the participants that were challenged at this years Derby!

Click here for more information ALL through history, Dartmoor has been used as a place to test people. Just surviving here was a huge test to early settlers of course, but since then whether it’s Napoleonic prisoners of war building leats, or the British Army testing the mettle of recruits on exercise, Dartmoor has a way of showing people they can do more than they think. Amazingly, it’s fully six months since our first full Dartmoor Derby tested our inaugural riders, my organising team and I. It’s fabulous that several who rode last year have rebooked to do so again this September, some even asking for exactly the same horse. Our entries to date are evenly split between riders wanting to hire a local mount, and others who relish the chance to tackle 50-miles of Dartmoor on their own much-loved horse. Very pleasingly, several well-prepared older horses — in their late teens, and one of 21 — came through the ride brilliantly, lapping up the pleasure of a group ride on peaty going. Our riders last year all found something that challenged them, but many also reported how their bond with their horse was strengthened by having completed an adventure like this together: tackling four hour-plus rides in remote countryside is not something many of us can do very often. Need a solution? Ask a soldier People love adventure but with it can come challenges often outside your control: when the rain comes in, or a blister pops, or something you were sure would work, doesn’t. And when it comes to problem solving, you can’t do better than the British Armed Forces. The Dartmoor Derby (like many things in this [...]

By |2017-06-19T11:26:53+00:00March 25th, 2017|2 Comments

Adventures on the Moors of Dartmoor

Whether you’re a fan of Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters or just looking for a beautiful getaway, the English countryside beckons. One of the United Kingdom’s last wilderness regions, Dartmoor includes rolling grasslands, wooded areas and rugged moorland. For a complete experience, Liberty Trails offers the Bovey Castle Horseback Adventure: three nights in a world-class Bovey Castle suite, where you can enjoy amenities like a rejuvenating spa after time riding in your private, customised adventure. Gail Clark of Middleburg, Virginia, went on the Bovey Castle Horseback Adventure as a girls’ trip with her daughter; both are accomplished horsewomen, and Gail shared some of her experience with Sidelines. What was your history with riding before your riding trip? I live on a beautiful horse farm outside of Middleburg, Virginia, and foxhunt with the Piedmont Fox Hounds. I grew up foxhunting in Georgia and spent many years hunting with the Genesee Valley Hunt in Geneseo, New York. I did this trip with my daughter, Laura Clark Katona, who grew up in the horse show world, showing in Palm Beach and Wellington for over 10 years. She now works in New York City. This was a fabulous mother/daughter trip. How did your Bovey Castle Horseback Adventure come about? I actually bought this fabulous riding adventure in New York City at the Countryside Alliance Sporting Auction, which supports the countryside and foxhunting in England. Liberty Trails organized everything including the magnificent stay at Bovey Castle, set in a 275- acre estate in the heart of England’s Dartmoor National Park. Bovey Castle is a Jacobian style mansion overlooking the River Bovey and expansive countryside. How was your stay at Bovey Castle? Bovey Castle was unbelievable; the dinners were like [...]

By |2017-10-20T11:58:05+00:00March 3rd, 2017|0 Comments

Welcome to the Wild West – By Sara Cox

Seven days after completing the first official Dartmoor Derby, I'm still feeling the effects. The ache in my legs from spending umpteen hours in the saddle has now eased, and my creaking back has fallen silent. But one of my symptoms hasn't gone away - a feeling of elation at having spent such a wonderful weekend in the wild. I appreciate that the idea of an endurance horse ride is not everyone's cup of tea, but bear with me - you could be signing up for something similar by the end of it. The Dartmoor Derby is the brainchild of Elaine and Bob Prior, who run Liberty Trails, a riding holiday business. Elaine has boundless energy: imagine a glamorous blonde Tiger in jodhpurs. She was born and bred in this gloriously wild park of Devon and is incredibly proud of the are and the farmers who live here. She wanted to combine her passions - horse riding and the countryside - to create an event that would be an unforgettable experience for the participants, while benefiting the Dartmoor community. The word's toughest horse race was the inspiration. The Mongol Derby is a 10,000km route through the mountains and plains of Mongolia on semi-wild horses. Seeking a UK ride that was just as exciting - but less perilous - Elaine and journalist friend Lucy Higginson (former editor of Horse and House magazine) began to plan a route across the moors. And so the Dartmoor Derby was born. Sara Saddles Up It is late September and I am standing in the reception area of the cosy Arundell Arms Hotel in Lifton, sipping the last of my coffee and meeting my fellow riders. The 45 riders are split [...]

By |2017-10-20T11:58:34+00:00March 3rd, 2017|0 Comments

‘Completely Awesome’ Sara Cox praises the Dartmoor Derby to the H&H

BBC TV and Radio presenter Sara Cox was among the 40 riders to complete the first Dartmoor Derby. “It was completely awesome; I loved it,” said Sara, who posted many photos and videos of the ride on her social media accounts” Following a successful pilot last year, the event returned for its first official running on 23-26 September. Riders, including a team from the Life Guards and the Blues and Royals, tackled a 50-mile route in guided groups, supported by ground crews over the three days. […]

By |2017-03-21T21:55:12+00:00October 17th, 2016|0 Comments