It’s a hot summer’s day when I arrive in Split, a charming Croatian town on the Adriatic Sea. I had been checking the forecast before getting on the plane and was becoming slightly concerned at the rising temperatures– 86-89°F on average, rising to 97°F during the week. As someone who doesn’t cope so well with the heat and self-described as pasty at best in the height of the summer, I’m starting to feel like this might be slightly problematic. But I’m here, I’ve packed my sunscreen, and I’m ready to ride!
It’s a 50-minute drive to the ranch, and I get there just in time for dinner. Dijana and Bosko, the lovely couple who runs the trails, and their family welcomed me. Bosko, a skilled horseman and gifted storyteller, oversees the riding business. He seems to have conveyed his passion to his kids and nephews, who are often seen around the stables. Bosko’s sister and brother run the restaurant and small guesthouse. Angela is an absolute angel, always making a fuss of us and ensuring our bellies (and glasses!) are full.
Around dinner on the first night, Bosko asks us about the sort of horses we like to ride. When Bosko tells me he’s giving me one of his best, fastest horses (a former racehorse), I can’t help but think he’s probably over-horsing me a bit. So, with a certain amount of trepidation, I meet my horse, Alkasin, the next day. Bosko tells me, “He’s the Mercedes of horses.” Well, I’m more used to the Ford Fiesta type nowadays, so this could be interesting.
I quickly realized that I couldn’t have been more wrong; Alkasin is strong and powerful, sure, but also very balanced and with a really soft mouth. Sunday is a half-day ride culminating in a canter along the local race track. All in all, it is a great first day in the saddle, and I’m excited for what the rest of the week may bring.
After two days, another guest is struggling a bit with her horse’s big paces. After a little chat with Bosko, I suggest she try Alkasin. We seal the deal at dinnertime over a glass of wine, and I get acquainted with the gorgeous Oscar the following day. Bosko reckons I’ll like him too. He says that if Alkasin is a Mercedes Benz, Oscar is a BMW. And I start to suspect he might have a few Ferraris in a paddock somewhere. Alkasin was definitely a top horse, but Oscar is another fantastic match for me. A tad spooky but really fun to ride and with a big heart. The other riders in our group were all very pleased with their horses as well. They are hardy and resilient, in good shape, and obviously love being out on the trail. Most of them are retrained from the racetrack, and none need any encouragement to pick up the pace. Our guide, Marco, and the rest of the riding staff are excellent, compassionate riders who greatly care for the horses.
AN ACTIVE TRAIL RIDING HOLIDAY
One thing you need to know about the Krka trail: the pace of this riding holiday is rather active. The wide-open fields around the ranch and into the canyon of the river Cikola are very conducive to long canters and gallops (however, all done in a single file). Wednesday was everyone’s favorite day, with over 15 canters that day! However, please don’t expect flat-out gallops the whole time. Some of the canters are steady and some are faster, but there are also some long walk periods, as some rocky paths are really tricky for the horses to navigate. Riders definitely need to be experienced and riding fit. The terrain is, in turn, flat and grassy or mountainous and stony.
We ride under the (figurative!) shadow of the highest mountain in Croatia, the Dinara, along the river Cetina all the way up to its source, and around Peruća Lake. Every day is different.
DISCOVER CROATIAN HOSPITALITY
We spent he first couple of days exploring the area around the ranch: the Bitelić plateau, the fields of Sinj, and the edges of the lake. On Wednesday, we pack our bags and ride to a different location for the night, the cozy family home of a kind and generous elderly couple. They welcome us with open arms and a glass of homemade fruit liqueur. Marko gives us a tour of their expansive garden: tonight’s dinner is a real feast with almost exclusively home-grown produce, including wine from their own vineyard. Of course, I can’t leave without buying a few bottles of cherry liqueur to bring home. We spent two more nights at a farm/guest- house, which is also very comfortable.
At each place, we are treated like kings and queens. Enormous plates of food are placed in front of us every night, and we get to try the local beers and wines. We enjoy delicious, home-reared meats, local delicacies such as punjene paprike (stuffed peppers), Arambasici (stuffed cabbage), and ajvar (roasted pepper sauce), and even get treated to fresh trout from Cetina Lake one night.
The trail is designed to showcase the best of Dalmatia and the Krka National Park. On a few occasions, we finish riding early to go and explore the park on foot. Some tours, such as the boat trip to Visovac Island, are optional, and although it’s a nice change of pace, some may prefer to just relax at the lake, especially in the height of the summer. One of the highlights of the trip for me, however, was a visit to Skradinski Buk on the last day, the longest series of waterfalls on the Krka River.
Sipping on a cold beer in the garden at the end of a long, hot, dusty day in the saddle, I reflect on a week of adventures. Excellent riding, wonderful horses, and good company—all you need for a successful riding holiday. And guess what? I even got a hint of a tan.
GOOD TO KNOW:
- There is no single room on the trail. You must be prepared to share in twin or triple rooms and willing to potentially share bathrooms too.
- Come riding fit. This trail is for competent, confident riders who are balanced in the saddle and happy with a fast pace. Previous experience of a multi-day riding holiday is strongly recommended. If you choose to come in the summer (June-August) then be prepared for high temperatures!
- Do a little research on the history of the country. The country and the people you’ll meet still bear the mark of the fairly recent war of Independence (1991 to 1995), and I wish I’d known more about it before I arrived.
- Every year in August, the local town of Sinj hosts the Alka festival. Riders ride at full gallop along the main street, aiming lances at an alka (iron ring). This festival first took place in the 18th century as a chivalry tournament commemorating the victory over the Ottoman Turkish administration and is still hugely popular.