“Meet the Guides” at The Riding Holiday Show – Jessica Morton from Castellare di Tonda, Italy

Posted on October 8, 2015

The Riding Holiday Show on 12 December 2015 is all about “Meeting the Guides” – in fact that’s what we called the event when we first ran it in 2007. It’s a chance to learn all about the wonderful riding holidays all over the world, directly from the people who will be guiding you day by day. As well as an opportunity to renew friendships and chat about past experiences.

We thought it would be interesting to run a series of profiles of some of the people who will be at the Riding Holiday Show and here is our first one – Jessica Morton from Castellare di Tonda, Italy

jess morton

1.    How long have you been guiding at Castellare di Tonda?
Four years.

2.    Where did you guide before this?
I started working with horses in NZ, and left high school to work with dressage horses in Germany. I also did an 8 month stint in Italy at a place called Il Paretaio, near Siena before returning to NZ. I came back 6 years later to do another season in Tuscany, followed by a season near Viterbo in Lazio at a center called Santa Cristina.  I then switched to western riding and opened up a business near Florence with my ex partner which we ran for four years.

western ranch in portugal

3.    How did you get into guiding? Was there someone who inspired you?
Mine was a cliché really. I met a handsome Italian when I was in Italy on a working holiday. When I met him he had 6 horses, and was trying to set up a small trail riding business of his own. He was an excellent horseman, with more than ten years guiding experience -and he knew every trail from our side of Florence through to Emilia Romagna off by heart. His problem was that he spoke no English, and had no computer skills to market his business. We decided to work together, me doing the marketing and him leading the trails. We started taking backpackers out on day rides, and quickly moved on to operating week long inn to inn adventure trails –which we ran for four years, alternating the guiding between the two of us. That experience, which was immensely tough but also rewarding taught me more about horses and guiding than any book or instructor ever has.

4.    If you hadn’t become a riding guide, what was your Plan B?
I was a flight attendant in New Zealand before moving permanently to Italy. I loved the flying lifestyle, but I could never go back to that sort of job now. It did prepare me for the customer service side of guiding, and also taught me flexibility. Flying was like riding, external factors such as weather often caused plans to change, and essentially we were there to look after clients in the case of emergency, much like a trail guide is required to do so on a riding holiday.

As a side job, I have worked freelance as a writer for equestrian magazine and as a translator for the past 6 years . In the winter I work in the marketing office here at Castellare, so I guess my plan B would have something  to do with writing, or marketing – or perhaps something language based (which is what I originally studied at university).

5.    People coming on a riding holiday often think you have the ideal job – what do you love about it? And what are the downsides?
Guiding a group of people is totally different to riding for recreation only. Don’t get me wrong, it can be immensely gratifying; but when I am working I am always thinking about something or someone on the trail. It might be whether a certain section of a ride  will be open after a bad storm, or whether the rider behind you is as experienced as they claimed, or perhaps a horse is acting strangely.. you can never switch off like when you are just responsible for yourself and your own horse.

The benefits are what everyone sees. Working outside in the sunshine while others are stuck behind a computer, meeting new people and hearing their unique stories, and of course experiencing things that other people dream about – whether its laughing with a shepherd bringing back his sheep or coming face to face with a wild boar on the trail. I also am lucky to live in one of the most beautiful parts of the world, and I never forget that.

jess - castellare di tonda

6.    If your favorite horse was a human, who would he/she be and why?
Shamal is my favorite horse. After a rough start to life in Argentina, he almost finished up in the Italian abattoirs.  Since he hails from South America, I would say if he was human he would have been some great leader or explorer like Simon Bolivar (the South American general). He is the most fearless, steady and independent horse I have ever had the pleasure to work with.

7.    What can you not live without (when guiding or just generally)?
A good guiding horse. Without a good horse, It is difficult to be a good guide.
Second to that, it would be a cell phone. For organization, calling back up teams, and most of all – for emergencies with horses or clients.

8.    What has been your most memorable riding holiday week?
There have been so many memorable guests and weeks, it really is hard to choose.
I have had lunch with David Gilmore from Pink Floyd (he was on a riding holiday with his family) in a castle in Lazio. I’ve been present while guests proposed to their girlfriends during rides, had some incredible up close encounters with wild animals, felt the earth shake during a picnic lunch earthquake, ridden flooded rivers, survived incredible storms and shared many a glass of wine with wonderful people, who have shared some astonishing stories of their lives. That’s without a doubt the best part of the job – the exchange of ideas, stories, experiences.

9.    How do you relax after a day in the saddle?
In the summer months a cold beer and a refreshing swim.
In the winter, a warm fire and a good book.


10.    What advice would you give a 21 year old who wants to train for your job?
There is so much more to this job than riding horses.
As a guide you will meet people from all over the world and even if they share different political or religious beliefs, you must continue to interact with them professionally. Nobody wants to ride with an antisocial guide, but there is also a fine line between banter and talking incessantly . Be aware that as a guide, you are in the hospitality business, and the customer is the most important element of that. As a guide you need to be up to the challenge that interacting with strangers on a regular basis poses.

Read up on the area. People expect their guide to be better informed than they are about an area–and of course, because they want to see scenery off the beaten track. Clients ask a lot of questions about native plants and  local history – so it pays to be informed about the area you ride through -and if you’re not a local – learn about the culture and history too.

Get your first aid certificate. I had to take this annually as a flight attendant, and think it should also be obligatory for anyone that works with horses. Like it or not, we do all work in a high risk industry – and its always better to be prepared just in case. If you have your certificate before you apply for a job as a guide, you  may have an edge over other would be applicants too.

Safety is one of the most important skills that a guide can have. You need to know how to read your clients and read your horses before an accident happens. It is rare than an accident on a ride will happen without any pre-warning, so an alert guide that practices good safe conduct is an asset to any outfitter.

Be prepared to live in some very isolated places. I think this is overlooked by many young people who want to work with horses. Horses are generally not found in cities, so be prepared to relocate to small towns or even national parks or remote farms, where there is no access to night life, restaurants or shopping. Also you should be prepared to live in some fairly cramped or crappy accommodation to start out– often without phone signal or internet connections. This can be hard for people who are used to living with family close by.

11.    Where do you go on holiday?
Usually my holidays are taken in the European off season, and usually these are spent back home with my family in either Sydney Australia or Christchurch NZ.  I tend to keep away from horses when I am on holiday!

castellare di Tonda

Thank you Jess.

Fantastic images and a wonderful article.

You can meet Jess from Castellare di Tonda at the Riding Holiday Show in London on 12 December 2015. Space at the venue is limited so you must obtain a ticket in advance. The event takes place at the Royal Overseas League in SW1 just off Picadilly from 10 am to 6 pm.

38 different riding destinations will be represented at the Riding Holiday Show. All part of the In The Saddle portfolio of worldwide riding holidays.

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