By Anne Thornley-Brown, MBA, President
Executive Oasis International
Anne Thornley-Brown is the President of Executive Oasis International, a Toronto based firm that regularly facilitates team building and executive retreats in Canada, the Caribbean, Latin America, Dubai, Oman, Malaysia, and Singapore. They offer a one stop shopping service with team building, team activities, and special events for corporate groups of 10 to 60.
Around the World on Horseback
When people ask me, how someone like me who isn’t particularly athletic started riding horses, I smile because it’s a long story. The short version is that on a return visit to Jamaica, I had the opportunity to see polo for the first time. I was blown away. The game was action packed and so fast paced that it took my breath away. Upon returning to Canada, I remember telling one of my Jamaican friends that I thought it was a pity there was no polo in Canada. She quickly corrected me and told me where I could watch polo near Toronto. I quickly became a fixture at Toronto Polo Club and GGHG. I would go almost every week and watch. I always credit Phil and Tammy Van Der Burgt and Sheila Sifton for getting me started in riding. When they encouraged me to take riding lessons, they opened up a whole new world of adventure to me. I will always be greatful to them for their support. Soon, I was heading up to GGHG twice a week. It took me a while but eventually, I did learn to walk, trot and canter. I even took a couple of polo clinics.
Horse riding opened up a whole new world for me. I soon got introduced to show jumping…. watching it, not doing it. During my riding lessons, I only jump when my instructors remember and I never remind them. Wherever I travel whether it is for business or pleasure, as long as the weather is great, I make a point of going riding, watching polo or taking in a horse show. I have ridden on the beach and taken my horse into the water to swim a number of times. I have ridden in snow, in the desert, in the mountains, and in the jungle. So what are some ideas for building riding into your executive retreats and corporate events? Where can you go to ride?
Horse Riding and Corporate Events
Pleasure Hacking and Trail Rides: At many destinations, there are places where you can go just to ride for pleasure. So whether it’s riding in the desert near Dubai, the jungle in Singapore, or on the beach in Jamaica, there are options for beginners and experienced riders
Team Challenges on Horseback: Beginners can take riding lessons and most destinations. This can open the door to some interesting team challenges. Even those who are a bit nervous around horses can participate in a tack up challenge or horse watering relay. On horseback, there are simple gymkhana games that one can use of team competitions. Beginners can participate at a walk or even while lead by another member of their team.
Horse Shows: If you time it right, you and your team can go to a horse show during your trip. You can watch international competitors compete in show jumping events, speed classes and even unique carriage events. Horse shows also provide your company with an opportunity for corporate sponsorships to promote your services and products.
Polo: At most destinations, polo is accessible and it’s free to watch club chukkas. For groups, it’s best to contact the club ahead of time to make arrangements. For charity tournaments, you have the option of reserving a corporate table or tent with gourmet meal or paying general admission, bringing a picnic or enjoying the action while you eat a burger or hot dog. Corporate sponsorships and promotional opportunities are also available at polo tournaments.
Professional Polo Player and Ralph Lauren Polo model, Nacho Figueras covers the basics of the game.
Polo clubs at many destinations have clinics for beginners. Make your plans well ahead of time and you can arrange for some riding lessons and a beginner clinic. You’ll watch videos to show you the basics, practice your shots from a wooden horse, and participate in ground scrimmages to get a feel for the basics. When you do get on a horse, participation is always within your zone of comfort whether you want to do it at a walk or, for the experienced riders, do some stick and balling at a canter.
How to Build Horse Riding into Your Executive Retreats
Timing is key. The most important piece of advice that I can give you is to contact the equestrian facilities and polo clubs at your desired destination WELL in advance. Plan your trip at a time when some interesting events are available. This is not something you can pull together at the last minute for a group. I don’t want to give away all of my secrets, here are a few ideas to get you started.
There are many stables in the GTA where you and your team can take riding lessons. The 3rd weekend in June, Polo for Heart is the perfect opportunity to reserve a corporate table, paddock or tent for your team. Your enjoy world class polo as well as activities ranging from sky diving, and superdogs to the polo pony parades with luxury automobiles.
In November, the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair always has a fabulous horse show with international competitors and options to fit every budget
Whether you are in Montego Bay, Ocho Rios or Negril, there are places where you can go riding. You’ll have everything available to you from a beach ride where you’ll get to ride while your horse swims in the sea to a cool ride in the mountains.
Ocho Rios: Hooves
One of my favourite places to ride is Hooves. It’s one of the first places I went riding on vacation after I started taking lessons. I returned years later when I had more experience. My guide even remembered me. Both times he gave me pointers that really improved my riding. A friend of mine, polo player and reggae artist, had told me that the best way to improve my riding would be to go bare back in the wter. So, the 2nd time I rode at Hooves, when I was more experienced, I dit that. It made a huge difference. When I was back in the saddle I could feel the difference. I felt grounded and my seat was firmly planted in the saddle.
Hooves has great beach rides and up until recently, they also featured a Bush Doctor Mountain Ride. Experienced riders can sign up for private rides so that they can canter.
Who is that cantering on the beach in Jamaica?
In the following video, Jamaica’s Dry Land Tourist takes you riding at Hooves.
Montego Bay: Half Moon Resort Equestrian Centre
I recently had the pleausre of riding at Half Moon Resort. I went on 2 trail and beach rides. Without a doubt, this is the most professionally run riding facility I have seen anywhere. Trina gives MAXIMUM attention to safety. During trail rides, beginners’ horses are attached to guides horses by lead line with a ratio of 1 to 1.
Enjoy Horse Riding on the Beach at Half Moon!
During beach rides, ALL riders’ horses are attached to guides’ horses at a ratio of 2 to 1. The guides are professionally trained by Trina to a level that they give riding lessons and provide coaching customized to the level of each rider. On my first ride, one of the guides gave me a tip that corrected a problem that I had been having with posting diagonals for years. Trina gave me some coaching before I headed out the second time. It made a huge difference.
For polo, you can go to Drax Hall or Chukka Cove. July is a good time to travel if your group wants to watch some tournaments. We can also arrange polo clinics and polo team building at Half Moon Club Equestrian Centre.
At the Dubai Polo Club you can take riding lessons and polo clinics. You can also watch polo. There was even an endurance ride for experienced riders that would take you from the Dubai Polo Club to Bab Al Shams where you’ll have a gourmet dinner and spend the night. Unfortunately, this ride has been suspended because of all of the construction in the desert. I regret that I was not at the level where I could handle almost a day in the saddle but one of these days, I hope that they will resume this ride and that I will be ready.
My guide bringing me my horse, saddled up
and ready me for to ride in the desert at Bab Al Shams in Dubai.
One of my most enjoyable experiences involved cantering in the desert at Bab Al Shams. When my guide brought my horse out he cautioned me to make sure that I didn’t take the horse towards the small sand dunes or they would jump them. As I like jumping NOT I was slightly nervous very careful. In no time at all, I was cantering like crazy in the desert, even ahead of my guides. When we came back near the barn, I raced around the track over and over again. It was great fun, an awesome experience and a wonderful way to boost my confidence as a rider. Endurance rides in the desert are available at Bab Al Shams for advanced riders.
For riding lessons, try:
The Royal Selangor Polo Club has clinics and tournaments several times a year. Make sure that you contact them ahead of time to secure an invitation for your group. I spent a pleasant afternoon there watching a tournament. Dato’ Beh Chun Chuan of BP Polo Club invited me to join his family for the scrumptious buffet of Malaysian treats that followed. I was really pleased that, even though it was the weekend, he arranged for a member of his team from BP Healthcare group to come to Kuala Lumpur from Ipoh to attend my 2 day seminar starting first thing Monday morning. Now that’s executive commitment.
One of my favourite Singapore memories is going for a riding lesson at the Singapore Polo Club and then riding in the jungle with the club manager. After that, it was relaxing to watch the fast action of polo.
In Singapore, whether the members of your team are beginners or advanced riders, riding lessons are available at the Singapore Polo Club. After your lesson, you can go riding in the jungle. Riding lessons, jumping lessons and hacking are also available at the Bukit Timah Saddle Club. Horse shows are held regularly so, if you time your trip carefullly, you can take in world class show jumping and equestrian demonstrations in Singapore.