Talking Travel with Equitrekking’s Darley Newman and Chip Ward

Have you ever dreamed of seeing the world on the back of a horse? I’ve had my fair share of horseback adventures, so it’s definitely something I’d love to do. It’s certainly an eco-friendly and challenging mode of travel.

Equitrekking, the first travel television series to explore the world on horseback, takes viewers horseback riding around the world to experience history, adventure and culture with local people. Darley Newman, the show’s hostess, and her husband Chip Ward, its producer, searched the world for the best places to horseback ride. Everywhere they go they ride on local breeds of horses.

Gadling had the privilege of sitting down with Darley and Chip to learn more about Equitrekking and to talk travel. Enjoy!

GADLING: Thanks for taking time to correspond with Gadling! Where are you now, and what are you travel plans in the foreseeable future?

Darley: We’ve just gotten back from riding with the gauchos in Uruguay, our 27th episode, and we’re traveling to Montana, Jordan, Peru and Alberta next.

GADLING: What is the ultimate aim of your Equitrekking series?

Chip: Our initial goal was just to get ONE episode on PBS. Now we have 26 episodes broadcasting in over 93% of the country and Equitrekking broadcasts internationally in over 25 countries. We also have a coffee table book, Equitrekking Travel Adventures on Horseback, and our website has become a great resource. We couldn’t have dreamed it better. That said. It’s been a lot of hard work. We just hope to continue traveling and producing Equitrekking, because we love doing it and it’s a special series. There’s really nothing else like it on television.

GADLING: Can you briefly explain for our Gadling readers where the Equitrekking idea came from?

Darley: Equitrekking is the first travel television series to explore the world on horseback. Equitrekking combines my passion for horses and travel with my background in television production, so that’s how it all got started. In every episode, we travel through an area with local people on horseback to discover history, stunning scenery, culture and destinations that aren’t on the typical tourist path. This is my favorite way to travel, because I discover things that aren’t found in the guidebooks.

Chip: When you explore a place on horseback, like we do in our series, you ride with local people, who are showing you the best of their area and their favorite places. I usually end up just chatting with the locals as we ride, and we have regular conversations about what’s going on in the world, etc., so I’ve gotten to hear a lot of different world views. Horses are really just a way to see the world, and from a much different perspective.

Darley: Seeing a place on horseback, gets you off the beaten path to some beautiful natural areas where a lot of people don’t venture because they are remote. This makes the trip very special. I am also more aware of my surroundings when I am riding and so I notice more than I normally would if I were walking or biking or in a car. In Costa Rica, we rode through the rainforest, viewing howler monkeys, colorful macaws and other animals we wouldn’t have seen had we been in a noisy vehicle and maybe even hiking, as we were able to travel further into the jungle more quickly and quietly.

GADLING: What is the coolest equitrek you’ve done?

Darley: Central Turkey was one of our coolest adventures. We rode through these bizarre geological formations, called fairy chimneys, in Cappadocia, and to Güzelyurt, a small village in Cappadocia where not a lot of tourists trek. Because of this, the villagers were very welcoming and curious to see what we were doing, especially as we rode through the town on horseback. The town is literally carved into this big rocky outcrop. As we rode through the cobblestone streets, local children came out of school to greet us. In Güzelyurt, many people are still living a subsistence lifestyle, so we passed people laying out apricots to dry and riding by carrying wheat on their donkeys. We were invited into a local home to drink homemade ayran, a salty yogurt drink that very popular in Turkey. Because we rode with a local, we were able to meet others in the village, who invited me into the town square to play backgammon and have tea, before we visited Güzelyurt’s underground city. It was an amazing experience that we were able to film for our new Equitrekking Central Turkey episode.

Chip: One of my favorite experiences was riding in Waipi’o Valley on Hawaii’s Big Island. It’s a valley nestled between the ocean and steep mountains, and one has to hike down a mile long, very steep decline to get there or have a pretty substantial vehicle with 4WD. Of course, one must walk back up the road as well, which deters many tourists. It turns out that people live in the valley, many without electricity, showering in waterfalls and subsisting off an abundance of fresh fruit, fish and taro. These folks are truly off the grid and rather welcoming provided you aren’t there to disrupt their lifestyle or damage the land. There are wild horses, spectacular scenery and the freshest fruit I’ve ever tasted.

Darley: In Waipi’o Valley we actually rode wild horses native to the valley that Maile, our guide who was born and raised in the valley, had tamed. This is the only wild herd in the state of Hawaii. At many points during our riding and filming, my horse would whinny really loudly to his friends, who were milling around eating grass and crossing dirt lanes throughout the valley. Because there are rivers to cross and because you can ride with a true local like Maile, I think horseback riding is a really great way to experience Waipi’o.

GADLING: What is the difference between horseback riding abroad and equitrekking? More importantly, how realistic is equitrekking for practical travelers?

Darley: Equitrekking is a word that we use for horseback riding travel in general and you can do this type of travel in far away destinations like Namibia or in areas closer to home, like your local trails, and state or national parks. The great thing about horseback riding is that there are opportunities for all levels of riders on all budgets. You just need to find a riding opportunity that fits your fitness level, budget and riding ability. For instance a stationary ranch vacation can be great for beginners and families, because you can ride when you want, get paired up with a seasoned horse and experienced wranglers. The horse and the wrangler can both help you learn to ride and then when you get to sore you can sit on the porch or soak in the hot tub. There are lots of riding opportunities in the U.S. state and national parks that may suite beginners and more experienced riders and these may range from one hour to multi-day trips, so you can make a vacation out of the ride or incorporate one into your vacation. More experienced riders may want to head to Ireland and ride from inn to inn or take off with the gauchos at an estancia in Uruguay.

GADLING: What are the newest destinations for the latest Equitrekking series, and where else do you hope to go?’

Chip: We have a new season of episodes starting now on PBS with high definition episodes from Scotland, Alaska, Southern
Spain, Quebec City and Beyond, Wales and Central Turkey. We’re in pre-production on a new season now. We just returned from Uruguay and are traveling to Alberta, Montana, Peru and Jordan in the coming months and then… I’d really like to film in Kyrgyzstan for the fifth season.

Darley: I think that people would be surprised by the great horseback riding opportunities around the world. I hope to hit as many places and ride as many horses as I can and learn about these destinations from the locals, because it’s such an exciting way to travel.

GADLING: What is the most challenging part of filming and photographing Equitrekking?

Chip: Equitrekking is a very challenging series to film, because a lot of times our entire crew is on horseback. That means that Greg, our cinematographer, and I are sometimes riding with our equipment, like in Costa Rica. We filmed a Cabalgata with hundreds of people on horseback. Everyone is riding and constantly moving with stops for food and drinks, so we had to get set up to film and then gallop ahead to keep getting in front of the crowd. We galloped with our high definition cameras and equipment, which is not easy to do and can be stressful for us producers who own the equipment! It was worth it though, because the Cabalgata is such a unique thing to film.

We’ve done all sorts of crazy shoots. Last winter we filmed in Quebec and Greg and I were hiking uphill through backcountry snow ten feet deep, wearing snowshoes and falling into snow banks. We did this so that the main path where Darley and her local friend Daniel would be riding would remain pristine for the filming. I ended up losing a shoe and falling into snow up to my neck. Greg wouldn’t help me out ’till he got some good pictures. The good thing about our crew is that we have a sense of humor along with our sense of adventure. You can never really plan what’s going to happen on our shoots, so we always just go with the flow. There are so many stories I could tell you… frozen equipment in -10 degree cold, overheated equipment in 110-degree desert heat. In Quebec I had a hard drive tucked against my chest to warm it up because it froze solid. In Turkey I crawled through tunnels with my still camera in an underground city that ran for miles. Early Christians hiding from persecution originally dug out the tunnels in the first century. Some are lit… until I accidentally kicked a bulb and shorted out the system. We had to crawl out from several stories underground. Total darkness is something we in the modern world don’t often experience, unless of course you’re in an underground city. You tend to miss the holes in the ground, which drop down to other levels as they’re masked by total darkness. It’s always an adventure.

Equitrekking’s new fourth season debuts on PBS stations across the nation in April and May. You can find out where Equitrekking is broadcast in your area with our PBS station finder. Check out their companion coffee table book, Equitrekking: Travel Adventures on Horseback, or read Darley‘s blog. The Equitrekking website is a resource for travelers interested in horseback riding with video clips, expert and travel articles and an online Travel Guide.