So Romania is famous for Dracula (Sighisoara is the charming town where he grew up and the castle where he did not live) and the black bears for lovers of eco-tourism. I love horses and riding but have never particularly associated Romania with horses so when I saw horseback riding through the Transylvanian forest on the itinerary, I was considerably excited. There was a certain romance associated with riding through any forest and the Transylvanian forest carries a considerable bit of cache to it.
There was some email correspondence to get a sense of how much riding I’d done (3-4 times a week at the Singapore Polo Club) and, to manage my expectations, I was also told to expect an actual riding assessment once there as well. These horses have all been bred for endurance and can go for miles on end, I’ve been told. After the initial riding assessment (I’d been given a fast but calm horse), we set off and gradually went through the paces, galloping up curvy, mountainous bends where, my guide noted, a client had once intimated how it had been a dream of hers to ride in Romania, ‘just like Dracula.’
Towards the later half of the ride, we rode into a small village and found a bar, as I was starting to feel thirsty. The horses found a place to drink as well. We rested and got back on the trail. We soon found ourselves in the forest where I was told, should anything go wrong, to choose a direction, ‘to avoid running into the trees’. Again, we went through the different paces before my guide said, ‘we’re going to gallop up this slope and it’s going to get gradually steeper, with the last one being the steepest’. The first was easy enough, followed by a second and the last one was so steep had I been given another minute to think about it, or if I’d even been asked for my opinion on, I would have said no to. It looked so steep when you’re contemplating it from the bottom of the slope. I do love speed and elevation, and had gone on the halfpipes the second trip I went downhill skiing. Riding, however, was something I’d done more consistently and for a longer period of time, with lesser variation in type of activity and terrain. I’d also encountered more accidents; a horse bolting with me back to the stables in Africa, an unsightly and deep boot cut from an ungainly fall when I lost my stirrups, unwittingly making the horse turn, in Singapore, which probably made me more fearful of accidents whilst on a horse. Galloping up slopes was something very new and exhilarating to me. The guide later assured me that she would never have attempted that had she not thought I was up to it.
We saw bear paw prints on the way back and made sure to make a lot of noise to ensure that the bear knew we were around.
All in, my day riding in Romania was the best time I’d had on a horse. I’d ridden in East Africa, in the Atacama in Chile, in Argentinian Patagonia, with Kazakh eagle hunters in Mongolia, experienced the tolt in Iceland, on polo farms in Australia and Thailand as well as in Malaysia but there’s nothing like the shifting terrain and changing light of going through the forest of Transylvania. And of course there was the galloping up increasingly steeper slopes.
This is a guest post by Hajar Ali of Urbane Nomads. Hajar was a guest of Beyond Dracula during her visit to Romania. All photos are courtesy of Hajar – travel lovers should check out her Instagram feed.