Bringing Horseback Riding to Bhutan
I first came to Bhutan during the Monsoon season in July, in order to start a horseback riding program. Having worked previously in six other countries as a professional horse rider/trainer and instructor, I thought I was in for another routine job.
Boy was I wrong!
I learned very quickly on my flight, compliments of Drukair, that out of the seven other passengers on the plane, I was the only American citizen. My blonde hair, green eyes and pale skin had caused me lots of hassles in the nearby country of India. However, the local Bhutanese citizens seemed genuinely unfazed by the sight of me. In fact, during my entire experience in Bhutan I saw nothing but friendly smiles and warm greetings.
“You ride horses?” They seemed to ponder how anyone in the world could make a living by doing something so impractical.
It was amazing to see the beautiful architecture, still upholding the traditional construction plans, men and women wearing their traditional clothes… and the Himalayas! The greenery and mountainside views and winding roads were truly a sight to see. I felt as if I was transported back a thousand years in time.
And to think I had never even heard of this country six months ago.
Although the culture was rich, the temples and monasteries were incredible and the scenery was breathtaking…there was one problem. Horseback riding was next to none. In fact, prior to my visit, I was told the only horseback riding facility belonged to the Bhutan Military and Royalty.
When I spoke to the local men and women I received blank stares and awkward smiles when I told them about my profession. “You ride horses?” They seemed to ponder how anyone in the world could make a living by doing something so impractical.
I had started taking riding lessons when I was nine years old. Growing up in California made horseback riding an expensive endeavor—one that my parents could not afford. I mucked stalls and did odd jobs to pay for my riding lesson every other weekend.
The Bhutanese girls and women seemed excited at the idea of riding a horse, especially considering it was a woman they were looking at.
Hard work at various stables and years of saving every penny I had finally paid off the day I was able to afford to buy my own horse at the age of fifteen. By nineteen, I would enroll in one of the few equestrian colleges found in the United States, and at twenty-one I got my first international job working in Belgium for a four-time Olympic rider.
In 2011, I worked for a top show, jumping stables in Egypt, and although I landed—literally—in the midst of a revolution, I continued to work there for almost a year before landing a job at a 10 Million Euro facility in Romania. It was there that I competed in my first international competition, on various horses at different heights.
Recently, I found myself working in multiple stables throughout the country of India before fatefully landing the opportunity of a lifetime by coming to the country of Bhutan to oversee and start a horse riding program in Bumthang.
“That’s right. I ride horses for a living,” I smiled. The Bhutanese girls and women seemed excited at the idea of riding a horse, especially considering it was a woman they were looking at. They told me again and again that before me, they had thought horse riding was only for the men.
Riding in the Himalayas on horseback is an experience more magical and breathtaking than any other feeling.
“It’s a man’s sport!” They were told, and believed the words to be true.
“Horseback riding,” I explained, “is the ONLY sport in the Olympics where men and women compete equally.”
My friendly hosts had invited me to their country and riding stables to help them start a riding program. I was leaping with excitement at the thought of riding day and night from morning until evening on the beautiful landscape and riding trails that were found in Bumthang.
My expectations were exceeded as I met the wonderful mountain ponies, selected specifically for the upcoming riding endeavor. Seven horses, six riders, two weeks and one incredible journey later and I have nothing but fond memories to share. I absolutely fell in love with the horses, the trails, the scenery, the people, and, of course, Bhutan.
Riding in the Himalayas on horseback is an experience more magical and breathtaking than any other feeling. You will visit temples and museums, explore villages, meet the locals, ride across rivers, bridges, and ridges and trot through meadows. You will see the country the way it was meant to be seen, the way the founding fathers of long ago discovered Bhutan… atop a majestic horse.
Photos by Unsplash and Krystal Kelly.