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Holidays With A Heart (Part 1) - Harriet Stigner – Braves saddle sores on a six-day horse ride in India

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Harriet Stigner – Braves saddle sores on a six-day horse ride in India

Day 1

Touching down in Delhi Airport, I then embark on an eight-hour coach journey to the Dundlod Fort Hotel. On the way, I get to know the 28 women I’ll be travelling with: there’s a real mix of ages and abilities, and I’m relieved to hear I’m not the only one who’s nervous. Together we’ll be horse riding across Rajasthan with The Brooke, a charity that improves the livelihood of working equines in the world’s poorest communities.

Description: the Dundlod Fort Hotel

The Dundlod Fort Hotel

That afternoon, I’m a nervous wreck when I first mount Gullbadan, my horse for the week, for a practice ride. She won’t stand still. But once we head off for a little ride, she calms down. The farmland in Dundlod is beautiful, and my nerves are quickly replaced with excitement about the week ahead.

Day 2

We set off on our 130km trek, encouraged by the shopkeepers and school children who cheer and wave at us as we pass. After three hours’ riding, we’re grateful for a delicious lunch of chickpea dumplings and curry. I’m trying to ignore the fact that my legs are already feeling the strain, relieved that the afternoon ride is shorter. We trek for another two hours before arriving at our impressive camp in Neemjor. Canvas tents have been erected in the sandy grounds of a beautiful pink house. Each tent is romantically decorated with a woven carpet, small mirror and candle. Our safari leader Bonnie tells us stories around the campfire while we rest.

Description: Each tent is romantically decorated with a woven carpet, small mirror and candle

Each tent is romantically decorated with a woven carpet, small mirror and candle

Day 3

The landscape changes dramatically as we ride up into the Aravalli Hills. Bonnie is a brilliant guide, stopping regularly to explain the sights to us: like the fact that a tree, and the knickers and bras hanging from its branches are offerings from the villagers. We ride up into the hills past snake charmers, camels and religious shrines. Our camp tonight is next to a small temple, and the whole village has come to watch us arrive.

Description: the Aravalli Hills

the Aravalli Hills

Day 4

I’m gutted to see that Gulbadan is limping this morning, but it does mean that I get to see The Brooke’s vet, Tamsin, in action. She confirms that Gulbadan is lame and sends her home in a horsebox to get some rest. A friend is sitting the morning ride out so she left me use her horse instead. We cross a remote desert, passing only a handful of people and a solitary, fierce-looking bull. Our camp tonight is on a dried-up salt lake. I stare at the most beautiful stars that I’ve ever seen and pinch myself. I can’t believe I’m here.

Description: The Brooke’s vet

The Brooke’s vet

Day 5

This morning I join The Brooke’s representatives in the backup jeep to rest my legs. Bumping up and down in the sand dunes, we feel like we’re driving through the set of an Indiana Jones movie. After lunch, Bonnie introduces me to Chaya, my new horse, who’s lovely and calm. At camp, we drink tea and exchange notes about the day, watching a beautiful pink sunset.

Description: Chaya and Indian women

Chaya and Indian women

Day 6

Chaya spooks today when we cross a steep sand dune and starts to back into the riders behind me. The other riders are wonderfully supportive and, together, we calm her down. Despite being scary, it’s shown me how my confidence has grown. My legs are even used to riding for six hours a day (call me John Wayne!). When we dismount in Danta I feel sad it’s the last time I’ll ride on this trip. Tonight we see traditional dancers, fire eaters and fireworks.

Description: When we dismount in Danta I feel sad it’s the last time I’ll ride on this trip

When we dismount in Danta I feel sad it’s the last time I’ll ride on this trip

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