Hartpury students got the chance to ride cowboy style and live off the land as they learned the ins and out of Croatia’s approach to horse management on a field trip of a lifetime earlier this month.
Students studying BTEC diplomas in Horse Management experienced a 10-day expedition around the Velebit Mountains and Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia.
During the trip, they learned mountain survival skills, studied natural herd behaviour and natural horsemanship. The eco-adventure saw them ride out on all day horse-back treks, sightsee around ancient cities and hike in the mountains.
The Velebit Mountain Range is the largest mountain range in Croatia and Plitvice Lakes National Park lies east of the mountain range, boasting sixteen lakes interconnected by waterfalls.
They stayed at the unique Linden Tree Retreat and Ranch, owned and founded by Dr Bozidar Yerkovich. It is surrounded by grassland, forests and rivers and populated by wild deer, brown bears, wolves and eagles.
Head of Hartpury Equine, Tom Hallam, said: “As the Linden Tree is the only working authentic ‘old west’ guest ranch in Croatia, the students were able to master riding in western tack, including the split reins and fender saddles. This was a first for them, as were the horses, which were a mixture of traditional Croatian ponies, Croatian Warm-blood horses and Lipizzaner.
“Their all-day treks saw them ride the mountains trails up to altitudes of 1800 metres through snow, fording rivers and through a deserted ghost town.”
The students spent some of the trip working alongside Dr Yerkovich on conservation projects. Research completed by volunteers based at the ranch is used in making important conservation decisions impacting the Velebit Reserve, particularly the health of the ecosystem. One of his most recent projects was to restore native grasses to the area by implementing a prescriptive grazing program.
The Hartpury adventurers were also taught wilderness survival skills to enable them to survive a night in the wild. They were taught how to extract water from trees, how to start a fire and build a shelter and, most importantly, how to forage for food.
Tom added: “Many of the students have not had the opportunity to carry out conservation work before and to do so working alongside such a renowned conservationist was certainly an eye-opener for them.
“The field trip was an unforgettable experience and enabled them to put into practice skills and knowledge they have learned in the classroom in an environment the like of which they have never encountered before.
“It also gave them new skills that will help them grow as riders and as people. We run this trip for the college’s Horse Management students every year and it’s incredible to see how much they grow in confidence during the trip.”