A native of the United Kingdom, Debbie Parton has taken her passion for horses around the world. In this week’s Women Who Travel Solo, Debbie shares stories from her horseback riding vacations and the power of horses to change her life.
How did you get started horse back riding?
When I was a child, for every birthday and Christmas I pestered my family for a horse and riding lessons, but the most I got was a copy of Black Beauty or Folly Foot Annual. My primary school friend Carol, who did have riding lessons, taught me the rudiments of riding on her brother Harry’s motorbike whilst it sat on its stand.
At age 11 I befriended Candy, a livery-chestnut Welsh Section D mare in a field next to a public footpath where I would take walks. I took her treats and, although I didn’t know her name, she would gallop over to me. I was thrilled by this and that’s when my luck changed. Someone had noticed my dedicated every-evening visits to Candy and they put a word in with the owner who taught me to ride one evening.
Initially, Candy was unkempt and un-loved, but she was the horse I’d been waiting for. I saved my pocket money up from a Saturday job and bought her a new bridle, got her shod and took care of her. She was known as a being a “handful” and a “bolter,” but she never was with me. My heart and soul went into her care and she reflected the same back. We were both transformed by knowing one another. I found inner-peace and reward for my love. I came from a big family which was a bit chaotic and I cherished the hundreds of hours I spent caring for and riding Candy for over five years. When her owners sold her it broke my heart.
What is it about horses that touches your spirit?
Horses are noble and brave creatures with a sensitive spirit. It is strange that a creature so big can be so vulnerable. If you treat them wrongly they run away from you. If you treat them well, they neigh and prick their ears and come running up to you.
It can be minus ten degrees on a frosty winter’s morning at 6 a.m., pitch black and a biting wind. You drag yourself from your warm bed and go to your horse religiously every day. You walk into her field and call her name and from the dark you hear that ‘happy to see you neighing and the thumping of hooves’ from the darkness. And you know what? It’s all worth it. Horses mirror exactly what you give them and to win their trust is a wonderful feeling that touches your heart.
Tell us about your first trip as a solo traveler.
My first trip solo was in the summer of 1999. I’d not long split up with my boyfriend of 11 years. We used to travel a lot together and some of his adventurous spirit had rubbed off on me I guess. Prior to meeting him, the furthest I’d been from my home in England was to Wales.
I needed a holiday and time to come to terms with being ‘a person’ instead of a couple. Basically, I had to find myself again. I turned to my love of horses and ventured to Barbate, a very quiet non-touristic tuna fishing village on the coast of Andalucia in Spain. Steve, the guy that ran this holiday was English and had retrained his horses to English tack.
There was only me and two other women on this holiday and we got along well from the start. We galloped miles along Cape Trafalgar beach with white sands and the crashing azure ocean, cantered along firebreaks in pine forests, and galloped through hills and meadows with natural herbs that smelled wonderful when crushed under the horse’s hooves.
This holiday taught me that you can go out there and make your own fun and be strong and have a GREAT time – and all by yourself! You always find like-minded people and something to be glad about. And you see and experience new things!
Where in the world have your solo horseback riding vacations taken you?
I have been on horseback riding vacations to Patagonia, Chile, the Azores Islands in Portugal, Waterberg, South Africa, Cappadocia, Turkey and on an exploratory ride (nobody had done this before) in central Madagascar.
Last and by no means least, I went to Costa Rica this April on a horseback riding vacation with Discovery Horseback Tours. For me this holiday was about riding, learning new horse communication skills, riding with a conscience that the horses were well cared for and trying some new adventures to challenge myself. The highlight was riding the horse Mandela bareback and without a bridle on trail in the forest. This really touched my soul – putting my implicit trust into a horse I’d only known for a couple of hours and my trust being rewarded with his.
Tell us more about your recent horse riding vacation to Costa Rica.
BRILLIANT. This was my best adventure! When I began searching for my solo riding adventure I knew exactly what I wanted to look for. Discovery Horseback Tours shone from the rest for they ticked all my boxes;
- English speaking couple who were dedicated to their horses and guests
- Brilliantly cared for and loved horses
- Weight limits for riders
- Maximum riding times set for the horses well-being
The horses are ridden bitless, in good saddles and go barefoot apart from when ridden, whereby they wear front boots. On top of that, the horses were rescue cases who had known hardship and pain but had found kindness and the best of care. There is nothing worse than feeling terrible to be riding a horse whom you knew to be unhappy or overworked in his job. As well as being tip-top horses, there were wonderful rides into the deepest jungle. The views felt just like something from a Tarzan movie with orchids in trees, massive towering vegetation, monkeys, parrots, toucans, earthly-humid jungle smells and the constant chirping sounds of crickets was a great stimulant to your senses and feeling of being alive.
Costa Rica has a way of putting life into perspective and focusing you on what is really important. It’s one life, so live it! I’ve come back to the United Kingdom with a totally new outlook and refuse to let things get to me. It’s a beautiful world out there if you dare to look and grab all you can of it.
What made the whole wonderful experience complete was the attention to detail and the small groups of guests that Andrea and Chris, the owners of Discovery Horseback Tours, entertained. Nothing was too much trouble to make your holiday experience special to you. Their attention to detail, sense of fun and kindness make them the well-deserved success they truly are.
How did the trip change your perspective?
The beautiful horses changed my perspective.They have, in their past, been ill-treated at the hands of man. But with love, time, respect and care they have learned to trust again. This is most humbling and empowering. We can learn a lot from their generous and forgiving spirit.
Tell us about your experience in general as a solo traveler in Costa Rica.
I never once felt unsafe or in jeopardy. People are friendly and helpful. I took nothing for granted during the parts where I was truly alone – like at the airport or not getting into strange taxis. You have to be street-wise and just not leave your common-sense at home.
Most of the time, I was escorted by my hosts or their drivers. One or two evenings, I ventured from my hotel alone, in the dark and took a 10 minute walk to a bar or late opening shop for snacks etc. There were poor families sat outside their homes, next to the pavements – some had loose dogs, some were playing music. But, I did not feel afraid and just bid them ‘good evening’ in their own language and walked by. I did not invite conversations with strangers or draw attention to myself. I took long evening walks along the beach before sunset and said hello occasionally to passers-by without hitch. I think the secret is to be polite, brief, not say too much about oneself and exude quiet confidence.
Do you have anything else to add to inspire women solo travelers?
Try it. The more you do it the more confident you become in yourself and your own ability. The great thing about traveling alone is that you can do exactly what you want to do, so you get the most from your break. You always find someone you have something in common with and are able to chat to. I’m afraid of flying but I’ve found doing it on my own (without a bloke to cling to) makes you stronger because you depend on you.
People marvel at me when I say I go away on my own, the most popular comments are “aren’t you brave” or “weren’t you scared.” But, the only way to become un-scared is to face it and that’s really empowering. I’ve occasionally shared my horseback riding holidays with friends but actually, I’ve finally decided I prefer going alone and living MY own dreams as well as meeting some brilliant people along the way.
About Debbie Parton
Debbie first fell in love with horses at 18 months old when she saw a lovely Welsh Mountain Pony and her foal cantering along the cliffs of Anglesey. When she was 26 years old she fulfilled her dream of owning a horse and bought Bonny, an Irish Draft grey mare. Her passion for horses then spilled out into a passion for horseback riding vacations that take her right into the middle of nowhere and up-close to nature and life.
Women Who Travel Solo
Women Who Travel Solo is a weekly column that shares the stories of women’s solo travel adventures in hopes of spreading the message that traveling alone is not only safe, but wildly rewarding. Inspire other women to travel solo by sharing your story with Something In Her Ramblings. Email Lauren at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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