Long Shot of a Horse Riding Party on Dartmoor

Tara Russell from Hampshire Society Magazine joined us for a ride in the wild on Dartmoor

I dare not move a muscle. My new friend’s nostrils flare wide open and within seconds he is galloping across the open moor leaving me to suck in the mouthfuls of cold air streaming between his ears.

I’ve ridden horses since I was just six years old but, for the first time ever, here in the Dartmoor wilderness, I can truly understand the meaning of the phrase ‘in riding a horse we borrow freedom’.

Between my beautiful bay American Quarter Horse Ollie’s ears, it’s the same view Steven Spielberg fell in love with for his blockbuster War Horse – a wide-open sweeping canvas that holds all the romance of unspoilt rural England. Today, our only companions are the wild animals – and my two guides, the owner of Liberty Trails, specialists in luxury horseback experiences, Elaine Prior and British cowboy Phil Heard, who emerge from the cloud of dust spewing up from my horse’s thundering hooves.

“I did tell you Ollie is a super bike of the horse world, 0-60 in under three seconds. He certainly doesn’t like to be left behind,” smirks cattle and sheep farmer Phil, who, due to the speed of our entrance onto the moor has to dismount his horse Ranger to pick up his Stetson that flew off.

Most experienced horse-riders dream of emulating the cowboy greats of the Wild West by throwing on a Western saddle and taking in mile after mile of breathtaking scenery at exhilarating speeds, but very few get to live out that fantasy.

Yet here I was having the ride of my life and discovering the secrets of one of the UK’s last wildernesses, just hours after leaving work to battle through traffic-filled city streets.

This type of escapism is exactly why Elaine, a former endurance rider with a love for Dartmoor and a passion for horses, set up Liberty Trails three years ago.

She wanted to offer experienced riders world- class ‘adventure rides’ across the national park, either on their own or its horses. The tailor- made packages available include a War Horse ride taking in the locations used in the film and a chance to join the cattle drives in late spring.

Forget the American Dream. As soon  as I arrived, I knew the dream was about to begin.

Within minutes of riding along a stony track and splashing through a couple of wild creeks, we were galloping onto the moor. Our ride encompassed varying terrain and weather – with the sun beating on our backs as we crossed crystal-clear wild rivers and fierce wind battering our cheeks as we navigated bleak moorland summits.

To cover such a distance, a guide is indispensable. Some areas were dangerously boggy and Phil rode ahead to see if it was safe to pass. I couldn’t imagine being in better hands. Phil has grown up on the moor and today keeps a centuries-old tradition alive by still using these same horses to move his cattle and sheep around so knows every cranny between its iconic stone tors and each of its ever changing moods.

After the go-ahead from Phil, my forward- thinking horse, who had cleverly navigated the rough terrain without tripping once, leaped over the bog tucking all four legs under his belly – a pleasant reminder that this is not your average holiday horse trek.

My horse’s hard work was worth it. We reach a river where I take Ollie for a swim and a drink before I dismount, loosen his girth and take his bridle off, so he can enjoy a carrot and a roam under Phil’s watchful eyes. Elaine and I sit by the stream, enjoying a packed lunch and admiring the spectacular scenery.

Both horse and rider refreshed, Ollie bounded home with the same energy he had when we left, clearly loving every minute.

Back at the hotel and rosy-cheeked, I soaked in a hot bath before the most incredible loosening back massage at the luxury spa.

Out of my riding boots and into my heels, I headed for the hotel’s exceptional  Great Western restaurant to relive the day’s highlights while enjoying a bottle of bubbly and devouring a delicious tasting menu of seared hand-dived scallops, brill fillet with smoked butternut  squash and crayfish  tortellini and a gooey chocolate fondant.

I wondered if I would feel achy from the ride the following day. In fact, the only thing that hurt after the 22-mile six-hour adventure of a lifetime was my face from all the smiling.

 

Tara Russell, Hampshire Society Magazine – May 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yet here I was having the ride of my life and discovering the secrets of one of the UK’s last wildernesses, just hours after leaving work to battle through traffic-filled city streets.

This type of escapism is exactly why Elaine, a former endurance rider with a love for Dartmoor and a passion for horses, set up Liberty Trails three years ago.

She wanted to offer experienced riders world- class ‘adventure rides’ across the national park, either on their own or its horses. The tailor- made packages available include a War Horse ride taking in the locations used in the film and a chance to join the cattle drives in late spring.

I opted for the Dartmoor on Horseback Adventure, a package which includes a stay and

 

spa in ultra luxurious Bovey Castle Hotel and Spa, the epitome of country house elegance.

I had arrived the day before to explore the hotel’s 275-acre estate and golf course before a nightcap in front of the huge stone fireplace in its ornate-panelled piano bar before an early night. The TV screen in my opulent room read: “Bovey Castle is history, excitement, glamour and adventure. Where else can you wear your hunter wellies at 8am, golf spikes at 3pm and Manolo Blahniks for dinner? But while we offer our guests luxury and indulgence, this is not a stuffy hotel where you can’t sit on the furniture or let your kids enjoy themselves.

Bovey Castle is a place where you can live out your dreams, then put your feet  up.”

It sounded like my sort of place.

Forget the American Dream. As soon  as I arrived at cowboy Phil’s working farm at

Meldon near Okehampton, I knew the dream was about to begin.

Within minutes of riding along a stony track and splashing through a couple of wild creeks, we were galloping onto the moor. Our ride encompassed varying terrain and weather – with the sun beating on our backs as we crossed crystal-clear wild rivers and fierce wind battering our cheeks as we navigated bleak moorland summits.

To cover such a distance, a guide is indispensable. Some areas were dangerously boggy and Phil rode ahead to see if it was safe to pass. I couldn’t imagine being in better hands. Phil has grown up on the moor and today keeps a centuries-old tradition alive by still using these same horses to move his cattle and sheep around so knows every cranny between its iconic stone tors and each of its ever changing moods.

After the go-ahead from Phil, my forward- thinking horse, who had cleverly navigated the rough terrain without tripping once, leaped over the bog tucking all four legs under his belly – a pleasant reminder that this is not your average holiday horse trek.

My horse’s hard work was worth it.

We reach a river where I take Ollie for a swim and a drink before I dismount, loosen his girth and take his bridle off, so he can enjoy a carrot and a roam under Phil’s watchful eyes. Elaine and I sit by the stream, enjoying a packed lunch and admiring the spectacular scenery.

Both horse and rider refreshed, Ollie bounded home with the same energy he had when we left, clearly loving every minute.

Back at the hotel and rosy-cheeked, I soaked in a hot bath before the most incredible loosening back massage at the luxury spa.

Out of my riding boots and into my heels, I headed for the hotel’s exceptional  Great

Western restaurant to relive the day’s highlights while enjoying a bottle of bubbly and devouring a delicious tasting menu of seared hand-dived scallops, brill fillet with smoked butternut  squash and crayfish  tortellini and

a gooey chocolate fondant.

I wondered if I would feel achy from the ride the following day. However, body and spirit restored by the moor, I was up at the crack of dawn for an invigorating swim  before watching the resident falconry display over some breakfast.

In fact, the only thing that hurt after the

22-mile six-hour adventure of a lifetime was my face from all the smiling.

 

l For more information go to boveyadventure.com, email info@libertytrails.co.uk or call 01822 748788.

Society 45