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Posted on June 20, 2018
In The Saddle’s Lucy Downes tells us about her week in Bulgaria in back June 2018:
On our website, the first sentence describing this destination is: “The land in Bulgaria is perfect for riding because there are almost no fences or gates.”
I must admit that I wasn’t convinced. Can you really ride for six days and not pass through a gate or ride around a fence? And the answer is a resounding yes. Once we had left the horses’ stables to follow the ‘Caves, Waterfalls and Castles of Bulgaria’ itinerary, we really didn’t see any fences all week!
Having arrived the day before, at breakfast the whole group chatted over toast and jam, excited about meeting the horses we would be riding over the next week. As if she’d read our minds, our guide Maria arrived and transferred us the short distance to their stables.
Our boys were already tacked up and patiently waiting. The horses ridden by guests are nearly all geldings, with a couple of stallions such as my steed – a little dapple-grey stallion named Hector.
There is a range of Shagya Arabs, pure Arabians and cross breeds of Shagya and East Bulgarian horses, all ridden in a variety of saddles and bridles. Hector had a very comfortable Podium saddle with a sheepskin cover, perfect for the long 3-7 hours we would be riding.
Some of the horses were in Western saddles, with other in full endurance tack.
Straight out of the stables we were riding in beautiful open countryside, with the Balkan Mountains in view. Throughout the week we had the perfect mix of pace and terrain, with long canters through fields and across hillsides. Each day we were treated to views that would go on and on…
The horses aren’t the only highlight of our rides in Bulgaria; this is a country full of fascinating history and culture, which your hosts will be eager to tell you all about.
Our first visit, with our guide Rumi, was to the 19th restored village of Gabrovo. Here we saw old-fashioned machines all powered by water set in a beautiful location near the mountains.
As the name of the ride implies, we also visited some spectacular caves and waterfalls – my personal favourite being Devetaki Cave. When you drive up to the location of the cave, you can only see forests. But as you start walking closer, the mouth of the cave appears and you can see why this natural bunker was used in the war to hide huge fuel tanks. Now that the tanks have been removed, it has returned to its former beauty with a number of species of bats calling it their home.
Whilst the horses have a day off, we visited Krushuna’s Waterfall, located near Devetaki Cave.
Rumi’s knowledge about the different destinations is extensive. The castle at Veliko Tarnovo has a long and impressive history; it was interesting to learn about the different battles, betrayals and romances surrounding this hill fortress alone!
All four of our seven night itineraries combine riding and sight-seeing, allowing you to make the most of your time in Bulgaria. The Caves, Waterfalls and Castles of Bulgaria (which I joined) and the Medieval Bulgaria are based on the north side of the Balkans, whereas the Kingdom of Thracians is in the south – perfect for a return visit to ride your favourite horse.
The Balkan National Park Trail and our eight night Old Bulgarian Capitals itineraries are great for more adventurous travellers seeking long hours in the saddle. These rides include camping nights and travel further into the Balkan Mountains.