Monday, June 12, 2017

Hungary horseXplore 2017

When Katja Ståhl mentioned that they were planning a trip together with Riitta Kosonen to go horse-back riding abroad I told them that I will definitely join that trip. A few months later Katja announced that Kavioliitto goes Unkari on her blog and at that moment I was already literally sitting on the airplane. A few friends later we had a group of sixteen women telling their childhood memories to each other and going through where we started riding, how, why, where we are riding now and so forth. It literally felt that we already knew each other before we had even hit common ground at Budapest airport on the 25th of May.

Lovely little Georgina landed in Finland.

Let's start from the beginning. For once I had a lot of time on my hands. Ella went to my parents and Thor was in good hands out in the pasture next to his friends. My friend was kind to drive me to the airport so we left early for some lunch at restaurant Elite in Töölö and then headed from there to the airport. At the airport I checked in and just fumbled around getting myself a soya latte at some new fancy cafe.
I mean who has such a cool transfer car??

At the airport I met Maria Leskinen and her husband Stephen from Knaperbacka Stables. I used to work for Maria when Ella was small and it was so nice to bump into this lovely couple. When Maria saw me she asked me if I wanted to see little Georgina who was just arriving to Finland from Paris. When Maria and Stephen were travelling in Mauritius in March they were cooking at an outdoor kitchen when suddenly this little qute puppy found them. It was literally impossible to enter the area but there she was looking at them. She seemed fine but Maria and Stephen knew that the little dog would not survive for long, named her Georgina, took her to the pound and decided to find her a new home. After some searching one of Maria's students had a friend who had lost her old dog in the winter. She was looking for a new dog and decided to adopt this little girl. When I was at the airport the new owner had for the first time in her life travelled away from Finland to Paris and met her new future friend. What a fantastic story. Georgina was taken from Mauritius to Paris with a kind Stewardess and it just made me think that there are so many amazing people in this world. People that really want to make a change and help others.

One of the cottages with the rooms.

Back to the main story now:

We arrived in Hungary on Thursday late afternoon. The group arrived at different times. Some had already arrived on Wednesday and some Thursday morning. We were the last ones to enter El Bronco Ranch and also almost the last ones to leave.

We got picked up from the airport by the coolest Cowboy bus ever (picture above) and were driven the approximately two hour drive to the ranch. The transfer went very well and after entering the gates we were welcomed with open arms by the staff of the ranch.

Gabor, who is one of the main hefe's at El Bronco showed us to our room and after that we entered the dining area right outside the cottages. We were not sure if there was anything to eat but to our surprise we still had a full meal served late in the evening and of course some great drinks that came with it.

First morning in Hungary. View from the porch.

The next morning we woke up to a full day of sunshine and this fantastic view from our porch. I almost had to pinch myself because I could not believe how beautiful it was. I had never been to Hungary and had expected nothing like this. The surroundings were so beautiful, the weather warm and fabulous. There was a swimming pool outside, a fantastic spa area and the possibility to have a massage. The food was frequent and excellent and the Frittman rose wine better than I could have ever imagined (actually so good we stopped at a Supermarket on the way to the airport to buy a few bottles with us home).

Totally excited first morning in Hungary with my friends Allis and Johanna.

There were horses everywhere. In the paddocks, in the barn and on the fields. We were literally surrounded by horses and they all seemed content and well taken care of.

"We love the horses and feel emotions for them. We do not treat them like machines," stated Roland Galambos, part owner and manager of the place when we met him the first time.

Roland Galambos is taking us for a tour around the area.

Most of El Broncos horses are born at the farm. There are quarter, paint and appaloosa breeds and most of the new foals are paint horses. The horses are trained from an early age and the foals are getting used to human contact and the active life at the ranch. The horses are trained by young ranch hand Robert and Sándor, who has been working at the farm for fifteen years (see more information on the blog Riitta Reissaa).

Some of the youngsters at the farm.

The breakfast, lunch and dining area.

Lots of fun moments and laughter.

We started our first morning with a lovely breakfast and then went to the stables in order to get the horses that we would be riding all trip. The horses live in paddocks our out in the field and were taken to the stable to be tacked up for the rides. All horses seemed to have at least one day off during the week and after a long day they were taken back out to the fields together with all the other horses. They also had many free days after our visit so they were worked pretty hard some weeks and other weeks when there were less tourists the horses had more time off. The horses are also less busy in the winter so at that time the staff concentrate o training the horses and checking that they remain as supple and soft as possible for the busier summer season.

Waiting for the horses. 

My horse for the weekend. "Sunflower"!

Already tired.

Viivi and her horse.
Beautiful Inka
Katja and her horse Brad Pitt
Eva and horsey

Trip organizer Riitta and da coolest Western fellow
Inka got along well with her horse.

After getting our horses we were going to the arena for a while just to check that we had some control on what we were doing before heading out to beautiful Kiskunsagi Nemzeti National Park. My horse was called Sunflower (I can't remember the Hungarian name) and is a super sweet and energetic little mare. Before heading on the trip we had stated how long we had been riding and our experience with horses and so forth. Based on that they chose our horses and I definitely had a lot of fun with this fantastic girl. Sunflower would just buck and scream every time we went cantering and headed of full speed. She would stay with me pretty nicely though and as long as we could be in the beginning of the group I had no problems holding her back. On the last day's hack she was clearly a little bit tired so then we stayed at the end of the line and let the horses with some more energy left go first. I think we got a very nice contact and if I would have the money I would have taken her home on the airplane with us. 

The area where the horses were being tacked up.

This mare came back very aggressive from a home it had been sold to. Gabor has been
working a lot with her and does everything to get her acquainted to various situations.
Such as having someone standing behind her. 

One of the stables next to the main house.

Getting to know our horses in the arena.

The first trail ride was absolutely gorgeous. Since I had never been to Hungary before I was just amazed what a beautiful country it was and was not only enjoying the great company but also the scenery. I also found that my pretty obnoxious humour worked well with Hungarians and had a lot of fun with the people working at the ranch.

Heading out to the National Park on the first day.

On the first day we went for a two hour ride around the National Park and after that we had a gorgeous lunch in the sun. In the afternoon we continued with another trail ride and after that Budiness Coach Eva did a mindfulness exercise that I finished off with a pass of yoga. It worked very well out on the lawn in the soft evening light and even the beer drinkers forgot about their beer for a while. 

Orphan's hair!

On the second day we headed of to the nature again early in the morning and had a lot of long and lovely canters in various terrain. The National park was not only breathtakingly beautiful but full of wildlife such as deer jumping around, turtles passing the roads slowly and eagles soaring the sky. 

Mindful moment

Hey, we also want to join your yoga session. 

I really am going to disturb Katja now. 

Ok, its enough.....

Opening up that sidebody. 

Nice job even if some of us only drank beer.:) 

Yoga + horses = perfection

In the afternoon we had a lesson in 'Western Riding' by Sándor and Bernadett Vidra, who is the Junior Champion in Reining in Hungary. Sándor and Bernadett showed some basic tricks that are common to Western riding and with the help of Gabor explained how they got the horses to perform them. One of the things that Gabor pointed out constantly during the whole trip was this: 

"You do not need to use your reins. And never ever pull the horse in the mouth."

Very concentrated students listening and learning.

Gabor reminded us that these horses are trained on a loose rein contact and if we start to put pressure in the mouth the horse would not slow down but rather speed up further. The more pressure from us,
the more pressure from the horse. To the slightly worried riders he would be very assuring that they could trust their horses and even if the riders instinctively picked up their reins he would tell them to relax and let the reins go. Time and time again (it is so instinctive for us to pick up the reins.) 

"No reins is closest to their natural state" - Gabor

After following Sándor and Bernadett we then got on our own horses and practiced some basic movements from the horse back.

We first had the horse Smell the boot. It meant that we turned the horse from the neck toward the feet checking for suppleness and control on both sides of the horse. We also did a lot of Halts without the use of the rains. When we halted the horse we just needed to push our feet forward and weight back and the horses would stop. If they didn't stop directly we could remind them with the reins, but after that let go of them directly.

As Gabor said: "Horses want to be left alone. They will remember when they have been left alone and realize what they did so that they are left alone. So when you release the pressure at the right time the horse will quickly learn to halt when there is no more pressure."

We then continued Backing up and after that with Sidepass. We wanted reactive horses that would move to the side with the slightest touch. In the sidepass we freed and opened the leg in the direction that we were going (however not placing our weight in that direction). Gabor also asked us to think about balancing on top of a ball and lean the opposite way so the ball would then continue moving in the right direction. "It is so obvious that you push the horses away. When you push them in a direction they should step away."

After these basic but very important moves we danced around the forelegs and then took the horses spinning around the hindlegs. I had never done a spin before and with Sándors help from the ground I got in a pretty nasty little spin in both directions. Pretty cool feeling and just made me even more aware of the fact that I should have been a Western rider.

During the trip we talked a a lot about riding and horses in general. What are light aids? How much reins should we really use? What is beautiful riding and so forth. I think we talk so much about different disciplines of riding but I don't really think it has anything to do with that. You can be a Dressage rider or Western rider and whatever discipline you practice, you can be hard or gentle toward your horse. I think there are some fantastic aspects with Western riding that we should all try out before we start on any other disciplines. We should all ride horses with long reins or just with a halter. We should learn to trust the horse through instincts, energy and bodily work rather than just relying on the hand. Gabor told us to look up this YouTube video about stallion Orpheo Merlin and rider Pablo Hermoso. Even if I am totally against harming bulls just looking at the work of this couple is pure awesomeness. Just look at the perfection in the movements, the suppleness, the ease and reactivity. 

A good Western horse relaxes between jobs. no problem for us. 

On the second day we hacked out and had a fun competition were we practiced all the movements we had just learned. In the evening we took the horses out to the fields and took the mandatory field pictures. 

On the third day some of us left earlier but we still got to enjoy the final trail ride in the beautiful weather. After the ride we still had a lovely lunch, an hour of massage and some time in the SPA area before heading off to the airport. I just remember sitting out in the sun after the massage enjoying the last rays of sun before heading home to cold Finland and thinking how lucky I was. This trip had been a bit of a childhood dream and it had been more than I had ever expected. I truly enjoyed my stay and had the best what I think a trip like this could ever offer. Thank you Katja Ståhl and Riitta Kosonen for organizing it and Allis and Johanna for jumping on it with me. It was pure pleasure from the beginning to the end. Just can't wait for the next one. 

The main house and pool area. 

Doesn't matter if the chair breaks as long as the wine stays in the glass.

The dining area.

Real Cowboy Robert who has been working in Montana where Legends of the Fall was filmed
 and dreams about working at a big Ranch in Russia. A true horseman whose saying to Katja when
he was training a young horse stayed in all of our minds. "I always stop when the horse feels good.
If I continue it would only be to feed my own ego."

It wouldn't be a real Cowboy trip without some lasso training. 

Thank you El Bronco Ranch.

The Team in our team T-shirst of course. 

El Bronco Ranch syntyi vuonna 1999 budapestilaisen yrittäjäpariskunnan István ja Rita Kurcsicsin innostuttua lännenratsastuksesta Saksassa Americana-showssa ja NRHA Future Showssa vieraillessaan.  Sopiva maapalsta löytyi Kiskunság-kansallispuistosta. El Broncon omaa hevoskasvatus perustuu laadukkaisiin appaloosa- ja quartertammoihin, joista osa on napsinut voittoja reiningissä sekä Unkarissa että Itävallassa. Vuoden 2006 AQHA Grand Champion Easy Dun Sliding on El Broncon jalostustamma.

El Broncon valtavilla ulkokentillä ja tilavassa maneesissa järjestettiin ennen ratsastuskilpailuja.  Sittemmin konsepti on keskittynyt ratsastuskouluun, hevoskasvatukseen, siitokseen sekä ratsastusmatkailuun.

For more information about trips like this you can contact Riitta Kosonen at HorsXplore Finland. 
There are also interesting stories from Hungary on Katja Ståhl's blog.

Also read: The Day I met a "Golden Horse"

For more travel stories, see the right hand of my blog under travel stories.

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