Choosing a riding holiday without personal experience of the centre you are thinking of visiting can be a very difficult task. To help you avoid expensive and uncomfortable mistakes here are a few questions that it is wise to ask any centre before you make up your mind:
Magic horses? Many centers will advertise that their horses are excellent for beginners, intermediate and advanced riders and can carry every weight from a child to a 14 stone adult. However, if you ask how many horses they actually have and how many are actually in work at the time, you discover they only have 8 or 10. How can 8 or 10 horses cope with all these tasks unless they are MAGIC?
At Epona you will find more than 60 horses and ponies, all well mannered, well schooled and fit for their purpose. With that number we really can cope with beginners, advanced riders and everything in between. It really is possible to match the temperament of the horse to rider and it is possible to change horses if the horse and rider are not getting along. You will find we have different horses for trail riding, dressage, like humans, some are good at more than one thing. We have found that we need this many good horses to cope with the needs of 8-10 riders a week.
Are all the instruction staff and ride leaders suitably qualified? Who is actually going to teach you and take you out on rides? Are they bilingual? We have all heard horror stories of riders being allowed to go out on unsuitable horses with unqualified ride leaders who can´t speak the same language, and who are wihout the proper insurance and first aid knowledge.
At Epona every instructor is fully qualified by the British Horse Society, Assosiation of British Riding Schools and the Spanish Equestrian Federation. All ride leaders and assistant ride leaders hold diplomas from British Equestrian Tourism and the Federation of International Equestrian Tourism (FITE). You will only be taught or led by bilingual staff (some multilingual). All ride leaders carry mobile phones to summon rapid help in the unlikely event that this is necessary.
Will you have to ride to the lowest common denominator? Can the centre cope with groups of mixed ability and age? If you are travelling with children in the family or even with a group of friends it is likely that people will have varying levels of ability. Many centers cope with this by tuning down the level of activity to suit the weakest rider, which is little fun for those of greater ability.
Because at Epona we are (since 1995) an Approved British Horse Society, Training and Examination Centre, we are used to training people of all abilities, from beginner to advanced High School work. We are, therefore, happy to split rides and adapt our programme as necessary to suit both experienced and less experienced riders and have the horses, ponies and staff to cope.
Will they cancel your holiday if they don't get enough riders? Many people are unaware that many riding holiday centers will cancel your holiday at the last minute if they don't get a minimum number of riders for any particular week. Even in these circumstances you are unlikely to have all of your deposit returned and they certainly won't compensate you for the flight you have already booked. So ask then, if they have a minimum number of riders, and what happens if they don't get them.
At Epona we don't require a minimum number or riders. If you book with us, the holiday will go ahead even if there are only one or two people booked for the week.
How long has the riding centre been running holidays? It takes time for any new venture to get up to speed and understand what makes a good riding holiday. The more experienced the centre, the more chance you will have of enjoying a trouble free holiday.
At Epona we have been running training and trail riding holidays since 1985. In the many years since, we have developed a lot of experience and made a lot of firm friends.
Ask what equestrian facilities the holiday offers. How many arenas do they have and what size are they? Do they have a covered school? This is particularly important in Spain where the heat of the sun can be a major problem. If hacking, what sort of countryside will it be in? Will you come across traffic and paved roads? Will you have to ride through towns?
At Epona we have:
Olympic size dressage arena 60 x 20 mts.
A 42 x 22 mts. Covered floodlit school with sprinklers.
One additional floodlit dressage arena 30 x 15 mts.
One multipurpose large arena: 50 x 50 mts.
A lungeing ring (20 mts. Diameter)
There is unlimited "hacking" in beautiful countryside. You can ride days and weeks, without stepping on a single inch of pavement and without finding a single fence or gate.
At Epona you will spend your day at the 16th Century Family Hacienda, surrounded by dogs, cats, horses and ponies. In the quiet hours of the day, when the riding is interrupted for the lunchtime break or if you simply want to have a rest, you can join the rest of the party to enjoy a drink and chat about the day's activities in the Kiosko or the Old Mill. There is also a swimming pool open from April to November and plenty of places to sunbathe. You will also find vending machines for water and soft drinks as well a small boutique where you can buy Epona t-shirts, sweatshirts, vests and caps as a memento of your visit.
Will you really ride on a beach? If so, when?
Riding centres in Spain and Portugal often give the impression that you will be able to ride on the beach cantering through the surf. The reality is that it is almost impossible to ride legally on any beach in Spain and Portugal at a civilised time of day. In those few locations where it is possible to ride on the beach, you'll find it's only possible before eight in the morning or after ten at night. There are still a few places you can ride outside these times in the winter between November and March. Even then, it's quite possible that your 'beach ride' will only be observing the beach from a distance as you ride along a cliff.
At Epona we will take you to an area of outstanding natural beauty where we have permission to ride for up to three hours at any time of the day through the herbstrewn dunes, through the surf and along the magnificent beaches of the DOÑANA NATURAL PARK. This we can guarantee 12 months of the year.
Ask how far your destination is from the airport and in what sort of vehicle you will be collected? After a long journey the last thing you want is to spend another couple of hours trekking by bus or train, or expensive taxi, to your final destination. It is not uncommon for three or four people travelling together, to find that they can't get themselves and all their luggage into a single taxi, doubling the cost of the fare from the airport to the final destination.
Epona will always send someone to meet you with one, or three minibuses, that can comfortably take you and your luggage, to the nearby centre. We are happy to pick up any of our guests from Seville: train station or airport, at pre-set times. The journey to the hotel will take about 25 minutes from the train station and about 15 minutes from the airport. (Don't worry if it sounds a little close to the airport, we are not on the flight path, and you will rarely hear an aircraft at Epona)
What extras are not included in the holiday price? You will often find on arrival, that you are asked to pay for transfers to and from the airport, and extras for other services which, were not clearly explained prior to booking.
Your holiday price at Epona will include: your horses, your tack, guided activities, accommodation, meals, tuition, and all the transfers from and to, the airport and train station, only at pre-set times.
NOT INCLUDED: Evening dinners, except for first welcome dinner. Not included, either, tickets for the show "How the Andalusian Horses Dance", at the Royal School in Jerez (27€) and tickets for the "Flamenco" show in Seville (35€).
Do you have a special diet? Are you sure the centre understands and can cope with your needs?
After running the centre for many years, we have been faced with many dietary requirements, so given on our vast experience, we are sure that we can cope. Based on a PRIOR notice.
Will you be cut off from the world? Some places are completely cut off from the world and you often have to rely on your own cell phone (if you can get a signal)
If you bring your lap-top, you can have also free access to Wi-Fi. If you are coming by car you will find that we are only a couple of minutes from the main Seville/Cordoba motorway with lots of free easy parking. If you don't want a car, you'll find that the bus stop is only a five minute walk away, with a regular service to Seville or Carmona. We can also make arrangements for a driver if you so require.
Some holidays centres are not suitable for non-riders.
Since Epona has a centred base programmes, riders stay permanently at the Hacienda, without the discomfort of having to travel every day and staying in different accommodations every night. NON RIDERS might have, even the chance, to take one or several lesson for complete beginners. Or they can enjoy relaxing by the gardens or in the pool. There are many optional activities like sightseeing, golf, Spanish language lessons, flamenco dancing or singing, massage etc. Some of these activities you have to book in advance.
What is so special about Epona?
While many centres offer only Trail Riding or Hacking in isolated or remote regions, and others focus completely in Training, at Epona, we offer a wide variety of activities. Our guests will have the opportunity to enjoy the unique and magnificent performance of the majestic Andalusian Stallions at the Royal School in Jerez. During the Train and tail programme, you will be able to ride in the immense Doñana Natural Park, with its 50 miles of protected beaches. Doñana is one of Spain's and Europe's biggest wildlife reservations. And you will also have the chance to watch a fantastic Flamenco show in Seville. We offer the combination of lots of landscapes and riding, with the Spanish Culture: music, art, history, gastronomy...
ONCE YOU HAVE ASKED THESE QUESTIONS AND COMPARED A HOLIDAY ELSEWHERE, TO A HOLIDAY AT EPONA, WE THINK THAT YOU WILL AGREE THAT WE OFFER ONE OF THE MOST INTERESTING, ENJOYABLE AND BEST VALUE RIDING HOLIDAYS AROUND.