"Horse Culture"... Polo and Horseback Riding in the Dominican Republic
Two years ago I was introduced to horseback riding. It was somewhat out of “necessity” when my better half, Alley Peters, was offered the opportunity to stay at a horse ranch in Patagonia, Argentina. She called me from work the day of the offer and asked if I had ever ridden a horse before. My answer... “Nope.” Her reply... “Well, you’re going to have to learn because we are going to Argentina to ride for 4 days.” So, I took riding lessons locally in Davie, Florida to get familiar with horses and riding. This was just the beginning of something new and special to me.
I am by NO means an experienced rider, but I have to say that I really enjoy seeing the world from the back of a horse. It’s a special experience. There’s a feeling of freedom when riding by horseback through the woods, the plains and open fields surrounded by mountains, or through desert passages. I find that my mind wanders to what it must have been like in the “Old West” when pioneers traveled across uncharted territories of the United States on horseback.
Just one of the many beautiful horses at Casa De Campo's Equestrian Center.
Horses are special animals, and almost human in many ways. They can feel your emotions when we ride. They seem to sense what you are feeling when you ride them. They know when you are sad, and when you’re happy. They feel your tension, they feel your fear. And they know when you want to ride and when you don’t. Being “one” with your horse is a bond that you can only understand when you ride.
Our latest adventure by horseback was in the Dominican Republic. Now I know that many of you don’t think of horseback riding as something to do when visiting such a beautiful island. Many think that the Dominican is about beaches, golf, lush resorts, etc. But there is SO much more this beautiful island nation has to offer, and horseback riding is one of those such activities.
One thing that you need to know about my lovely partner in life (Alley Peters) is that she is an avid horse lover and rider. She “grew up” on horses and has plenty of experience as a rider. That being said, Alley is always looking for an opportunity to ride horseback when the opportunity presents itself... as it did at Casa De Campo in the Dominican Republic. When she found out that there was a horse ranch at the resort, she jumped at the chance to book some time riding. Alley reached out to our host at the resort, Miriam Sanchez, to set up the horseback riding adventure at Casa De Campo’s Equestrian Center located only a few minutes from the villas.
Alley Peters is ready for an adventurous ride through "horse country" in the Dominican Republic.
Upon our arrival we were introduced to Fernando Arata, the Director of the Equestrian Center at Casa De Campo. Fernando was born and raised in Argentina. Although he was schooled to be a lawyer by trade, his love for polo and horses rose above that of the legal realm. He became an accomplished professional polo player and instructor, and he worked as an ESPN polo commentator for the Polo Argentina season. He moved to the Dominican Republic in 2016 as part of the Polo Challenge Project for Casa De Campo, where he opened up the Fernando Arata Dude Ranch. His ranch is home to over 250 horses, both privately owned by celebrities and others as well as those owned by himself for the purpose of introducing others to the joys of polo and horsemanship. The ranch is located within the confines of Casa De Campo and a mere 5-minute ride by golf cart from the main facility. Fernando has brought his love of the “horse culture” to the region; and he shares his love of horses and riding with those who are willing to embark on a journey and experience that one will not forget.
Alley Peters (left, from House of Travel, Aventura, Florida) and Fernando Arata (right, Director of Casa De Campo's Equestrian Center and owner of The Fernando Arata Dude Ranch)
Fernando Arata warms up his horse.
Our day with Fernando began with a short trot around the ranch to warm up the horses. Accompanying us was Fernando’s “right-hand” Carlos, who has spent most of his life around horses in the Dominican Republic. Alley and Fernando, being experienced, raced ahead of me and my horse Mario, leaving me in the dust with Carlos. This gave me the opportunity to learn from Carlos more about riding and handling my horse. He helped me settle in with Mario and instructed me how to ride and “feel” the horse’s movements. His instruction gave me a better understanding of how to handle my horse during our adventure. After all, I am a novice when it comes to riding horseback, and I welcomed his advice and knowledge.
Fernando took us to the practice track and then on to the polo field, where Mario wanted to open it up. I wasn’t quite ready for this, but thanks to the tutelage from Carlos I handled my horse very well. From there, we meandered through the local horse trails to an open area where the views of the Caribbean and Catalina Island were spectacular. As we headed back to the ranch, Fernando spelled out his history with horses and how polo and riding was introduced to the island nation. To ride horseback itself was amazing but combined with Fernando’s stories the adventure became more personal. This is what makes experiences like this unforgettable. This is truly what travel is really all about... learning and living the destination.
Fernando’s Dude Ranch and Casa De Campo’s Equestrian Center has a bit more to offer than just riding. Fernando shares his love of “horse culture” with others by offering riding lessons, polo lessons, polo practice, and even equestrian jumping instruction. Adults and children with little riding experience can enjoy the sense of team spirit by playing donkey polo. This is a fun way to spend a few hours on the ranch. He also created a petting zoo for children where they can meet the horses and some of the other residents of the ranch... such as donkeys, goats, sheep, rabbits, etc. I watched as these animals greeted (joyfully) some children when they came to visit the ranch with their parents. One of the female donkeys had recently given birth to a “little one” of her own. Seeing the interaction between the mother donkey and her foal (of less than 3 months) was something to see.
"Mama" Donkey and her young.
Alley gets a "donkey kiss."
"Residents" of the ranch.
The circle of life on the ranch is never-ending. One of the horses had recently given birth as well, and we had the unique opportunity to meet the mother horse and her foal of three months. Alley and I spent some tender moments in the corral with the two animals. They seemed to take us in as one of their own. Of course, the foal’s mother was guarded as she watched us closely interacting with her young one. The foal was as curious about us as we were with him. I couldn’t really turn my back on him because he insisted on nibbling at my backpack. Meeting this young horse was so wonderful, and I really believe Alley would’ve brought him home if she could. One day little one, we’ll be back and you’ll be big enough to take us out for a ride.
Our experience at the ranch was beyond amazing. Who would have thought that the Dominican Republic and Casa De Campo would offer up such a fantastic adventure! From riding the ranch’s best horses to visiting the ranch’s non-equine residents and learning more about polo and life on the ranch, it was an adventure NOT to be forgotten. We are looking forward to coming back to Fernando’s Dude Ranch at Casa De Campo for more “horse culture.”
If you want to build your own adventure and spend some time on Fernando’s ranch at Casa De Campo, one of the Dominican’s premier horseback riding destinations, reach out to Alley Peters at House of Travel (954) 548-8805, or by email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also contact me by email at email@example.com to purchase prints or learn more about this experience and other great adventures at Casa De Campo in the Dominican Republic.
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The ranch farrier preps horseshoes for fitting.
Alley's new friend.
For the love of horses.
A somber "good-bye" from one of the ranch's newest residents.
The "circle of life" continues.
The tack barn.
Feeding time for the polo horses.