Sunday, January 3, 2010

Q&A: Darley Newman, host of the TV show Equitrekking

I'm a PBS nerd. I prefer to watch programmes on the telly that are educational, but in a fun way, because I love to learn. I also love travelling and there's so many places I've never been, so when I stumbled upon a great, fun show entitled Equitrekking I was in! The beautiful host Darley Newman takes adventures and journeys all over the world on horseback accompanied by locals of whatever area she's in, and experiances the local colour and area. It's fun, entertaining and will have you writing a list of all the cool places you see Darley visit in hopes that you will one day go there to visit as well. Additionally, she makes horseback riding look like a fun and adventurous experiance for those of us who have never ridden (like me!) but find the idea intriguing. I contacted her through her website, and to my pleasant surprise, she agreed to do a Q&A! Read on and learn more about the wonderful Darley and her fun show!

Q: In all your travels, do you have a favourite place or places you've been to and why?

Darley: I love Costa Rica. The diversity of riding and wildlife there is amazing. We rode through the rainforest to see howler monkeys, red-eyed tree frogs and colorful macaws. We rode at the base of Arenal Volcano at sunset. We were filming, so we wanted to catch the sunset, which meant staying up by the volcano longer than we thought. Monica, who leads rides along with her husband Esteban, and I ended up riding back in the dark. Of course the horses knew the way. As we rode, I kept looking back at the volcano, which had neon lava spewing down its side. Monica explained that the chunks of rock we saw tumbling down the volcano were actually car-sized. It was an amazing sight! It’s such a lush, beautiful country. The people and horses were amazing. After the volcano, we headed to some hot springs. Not the touristy ones, but the hot springs that only the locals know about. We also went up in a hot air balloon (my first time) and I climbed a ten-story tree. It was a true adventure. Central Turkey also tops my list. We rode in Cappadocia with Ahmet, a local who knows everyone. We explored underground cities, old rock villages and local markets. All of the food tasted so fresh and wholesome, and I loved the strong Turkish tea, served piping hot in glass cups. We stayed in an old monastery for part of the trip and in a family-run pension, both owned by Ahmet. At the pension at night, there was always live music and inevitably people danced. We were fortunate to meet up with Ahmet in Istanbul too and he took us to hear a rock band in the Kurdish section of the city. It was an exotic adventure that I wouldn’t have experienced had I not ridden with a local.

Q: What was the genesis of Equitrekking? How did it come about and was it difficult to start up and work out?

Darley: Equitrekking combines my passions for horses and travel with my experience working in TV. I studied radio and television in college and was working in TV when I started the series. It wasn’t easy to start, and we still struggle as a small business and PBS series. When we started, I was young (hopefully still am) and didn’t have a lot of money or production credits or anything. All I had was a good idea, a passion for the subject and the ability to learn a lot of new things. My goal initially was just to get one of the shows on PBS. I started the show locally on PBS in New Mexico, where we had strong ratings, and grew it from there. It’s taken a lot of hard work and a few years. Now it’s airing in over 94% of the U.S. on PBS and in over 25 countries around the world. We have a companion book and were just nominated for two Daytime Emmys.

Q: How do you decide where to go travelling to?

Darley: It’s a complicated process. Of course, I have a long wish list of places that I want to ride, but I also get a lot of specific recommendations and requests from viewers. We definitely take into account what people want to see and try to balance between U.S. and international episodes. I plan the episodes based on where viewers want us to go. We take into consideration time of year, weather, availability of the locals that we’re riding with, etc. We’ve already been to some amazing destinations like Ireland, Alberta, Uruguay, Belize, Hawaii, Arizona, Utah, Iceland and others. At some point, I’d like to hit Africa, Mongolia, Ecuador, Peru, Oregon, Montana and beyond. Oh… and there are a lot more. Many people don’t expect to find horses in places like Iceland where horses were the main source of transportation up to the 19th century, Japan where there are wild horses and a school devoted to the ancient art of archery on horseback (think samurai) and beyond. Horses are such a big part of our world’s culture and history, that there are a lot of great stories to tell.

Q: How long have you been riding horses? Do you play any horse-related sports or watch horse-related sports such as polo or equestrian events like the Rolex Global champions tour?

Darley: I’ve been riding horses since I was seven. I’ve never competed, but am an avid trail rider and study jumping at a hunter jumper barn at home. I definitely enjoy attending and watching competitions and events, like local polo matches, the Rolex-Three Day, Hampton Classic and recent Calgary Stampede. It’s exciting for me to watch equestrians who excel at a certain discipline, because they and their horses are so well trained and so good! I’ve tried a lot of different riding disciplines. I’ve tried barrel racing, ridden a championship cutting horse (like a roller coaster), taken polo lessons, played polocrosse in Ireland (cross between polo and lacrosse) and more. I’m always willing to try something new once. I’ll need more practice before I get back on one of those well-trained cutters though. Whew!

Q: Do you have any favourite kinds of horses to ride? Or favourite colours of horses?

Darley: I don’t have a favorite breed or color. I like a good, experienced trail horse for the most part. I have a few favorites from my travels. Presumida is a beautiful Paso Fino mix that I rode in Costa Rica- smooth and rather bombproof. I rode her at the base of the Arenal Volcano and Chip, our executive producer and still photographer galloped on her with film equipment in a Calbalgata, a huge Costa Rican festival where horses are mixed with trucks, motorcycles, and other drunken Costa Ricans on horseback. (see EquitrekkingTV on YouTube “Behind the Scenes Cabalgata.”). Jesse, a strong and particularly attractive Irish Cob owned by Niall Connolly of Ravensdale Lodge, took me around peat bogs and high in the mountains of the lesser-visited Cooley Peninsula in Ireland. I wanted to take Jesse back to the states with me. Figo, a beautiful white Andalusian that I rode through Doñana National Park in Southern Spain, was wonderful to canter on the beach. Figo is the horse that the Queen of Spain rides when she visits the park. He looks and feels royal.

Q: What should people keep in mind if they plan to attempt riding tours similar to the type that they see you do on your show?

Darley: Viewers can recreate everything that we do on Equitrekking. The important thing is that people get matched with a riding vacation that suits their riding ability, fitness level, goals and desires. We’ve done short day rides in state and national parks like Bryce in Utah or in Sugarloaf Ridge State Park in California Wine Country. These shorter rides are adventures that people can incorporate into their vacation. That’s a good idea if you’re not a big rider and have never taken a riding vacation. That way you can test it out. There are also longer rides like pack trips, inn to inn rides, stationery rides where you stay at a ranch or B&B or inn and ride out each day. There are a lot of eco-friendly, exciting choices. You have to ask yourself what you want and what you are capable of doing. And you can always travel somewhere and learn to ride. It’s a fun, active way to travel. On our website,, we have a vacation guide with a listing of places to ride around the world and people can always look at my blog for ideas on places to go. We’re also showcasing video we’ve filmed around the world online so that people can watch online.

Q: Do you currently or have you in the past participated in other types of sports?

Darley: I’m a sporty girl. In addition to horseback riding, I also run and bike. My good friend and I bike a lot, though I can’t trust her right now, as she took me on a crazy bike ride the other weekend and I still haven’t recovered. She failed to tell me the last mile or so was straight up hill, and I wasn’t quite prepared. In the past, I’ve been into tennis, skiing and dance.

Q: What sort of music do you enjoy listening to? Any favourite artists or bands?

Darley: My favorites change, but right now I’m listening to Jonathan Swartzman’s new project Coconut Records. The song “Nighttiming” and “Microphone are very catchy. Metric is another band that finds its way into my playlists. Duncan Sheik, Pixies, Radiohead and the Smiths are old favorites. When we’re traveling, I like to put on the radio to see what’s popular elsewhere. After filming in Spain, Nena Deconte’s “Tenía Tanto Que Darte” was stuck in my head for weeks. It’s now on my ipod.

Q: What do you enjoy the most about riding? Do you ever take the MP3 player with you while you ride?

Darley: I wish I could take the MP3 player, but I have to listen to what’s around me, which can be just as interesting and invigorating. Riding can put me in a zen-like mode. When I’m on horseback, I listen to that bird I may not have heard chirping before and the rustling of the leaves, the sound water gurgling in a spring. I’m hyperaware of what’s around me. It can be peaceful or wild and adventurous. That’s what I love about riding- the diversity, not just of the surroundings, but of the horses. Horses are different all over the world, so whether I’m herding bison on a Quarter Horse in Utah or riding Criollos with the gauchos in Uruguay, I’m constantly challenged and learning something new. There are so many amazing destinations to explore with local people and beautiful remote and pristine areas that are only accessible on horseback.

Q: What other things does Darley do when she's not riding? Any hobbies or fun activities you like?

Darley: I recently ran in an 8K and like to find new trails to hike in the area. I like to eat and have recently gotten into cooking. I lived in New York City for a while and didn’t cook much there (small kitchen and too much good delivery). Now in the DC area, I’m starting to get into it. I like to try to make things that I’ve tried on my travels like paella from Spain, Guinness Stew from Ireland and pineapple cake from Maui. As you might guess, they all tasted better when I tried them traveling.

Q: What about fashion? Let's hear some travelling fashion advice from you. What can make a gal's life easier when travelling to faraway places?

Darley: Don’t pack too much, because a heavy bag is just a pain. But with riding and film gear, it’s hard to live by that standard. I’m definitely into comfort. For long flights, you’ll find me with an ipod filled with movies and tv shows, as well as my ultra light Apple Macbook Air (for writing and blogging on the road) and wearing comfortable pants and shoes, because I’m always running through airports. I’ve resurrected Tretorns, these sneakers I used to wear as a kid (I used to play tennis in them). They are smaller than tennis shoes and light and comfortable- good for traveling. My fashions depend on where I’m going. I was cowgirl’d out for my recent trip to Alberta and though my Western chaps are heavy, I broke down and packed them and was glad. I rode through two hailstorms in the Rocky Mountains and got scraped by many branches in the woods. My chaps saved my legs. I pack a lot of hats.

Q: What about beauty products? All women have things they just can't live without. What are yours?

Darley: Sunscreen is my main beauty product, and being fair skinned with strawberry blonde hair and freckles, I need it. The way we film and ride, I usually am lucky to be able to carry some lip stick and powder, so I don’t wear a lot of makeup, which is just as well when I ride through hot rainforests, rainy trails and windy open expanses.

Q: Are you a bag lady? What I mean is, do you have a handbag collection? Are there any you like better than others and why? And what sort of bag is conducive to taking along on a ride?

Darley: When I’m riding, I’m lucky to have a saddle bag and if I do, I put the essentials, sunscreen, water, a granola bar, a little camera so I can try to take some photos and maybe some powder and lipstick. The guides carry the safety supplies. I do have some handbags, but like to get things that aren’t too trendy and are a mix of style and utility with lots of pockets, so that I can stay organized. Longchamp is a brand I like because it’s both equestrian-inspired and timeless.

Q: Look in your closet (figuratively, unless you're at home!). Do you have any favourite shoes and why? What shoes do you take with you travelling and do they require their own checked bag?

Darley: I have a lot of riding gear in general. Some of it is fun stuff that I have accumulated on my travels, because I know that they are items that I can’t find in the states. Like in Uruguay, the gauchos there wear these elaborate silver and gold belts. I was eyeing them the whole trip and ended up in a small shop in the very small town where a father and son team handmade these belts for the gauchos. They usually make them for men, so the ones they had on hand were a bit to big for me, but I got them to adjust it there in the store and brought a big gaucho belt that I love. Whenever I wear it, like to the recent Calgary Stampede where showing your rodeo belt is a big deal, people ask me about it. What I pack in general depends on where I’m headed. I have a pair of riding boots that are cross trainers, meaning I can wear them for hiking and riding. These have been essential for riding in places like the jungle of Belize, where I got off of my horse a lot to hike across streams and to waterfalls where slippery rocks were par for the course. You need some good treads for this. I also like to bring a change of shoes, because in places like Alberta, where we rode through rain and hail, your feet do get wet and you want to be able to change and dry them out at the end of the day.

Q: Hermes has been well-known for their riding gear, and recently I discovered Carolina Herrera now has a saddle they are selling. What do you think about designer riding gear versus gear you can get at a riding-specific shop? And what about western shops? What does someone need to know or consider when shopping for riding gear?

Darley: Consider whether you are serious and committed to the sport or if you are an occasional rider. This will determine whether or not you should invest in some of the sport's specifically manufactured gear. You are more likely to be helped by riders in a specialty shop such as Manhattan Saddlery, one of our sponsors, which believe is or not is located in New York City. Most if not all of the staff are riders themselves. They can help you with your selection and give you choices depending on the frequency that you ride. A Hermes saddle is an example of great artistry in saddle making. Hermes’ saddlers in Paris do the stitching by hand, and a single craftsman creates a saddle in its entirety. They are beautiful and functional.
Whatever you purchase, make sure it’s comfortable and well broken in before you travel with it. I’ve had a pair of simple, black paddock boots and half chaps for years. I always wear them for English riding. I actually just got the chaps re-furbished at a local shoe repair shop, because I have worn them out a bit, but they are so well broken and comfortable in that I can’t bear to break in another pair. Well-crafted leather goods can truly last a lifetime. It’s worth paying a bit more for something you won’t ever have to replace, just refurbish. I also have a few good pairs of jeans. I don’t subscribe to a specific brand, but you definitely want little or no inseam for jeans that you are going to ride in. You also want some stretch. I have a few pairs of cowboy boots that I wear on the trails and out at home. They are really comfortable and eternally stylish and fun. Riding gear should be functional, but can also be a lot of fun.

Q: Do you have any crazy or funny stories you can legally share with us about your travels that would make us cringe or laugh?

Darley: I have many. We were two stories underground in an underground city in Turkey when one of our producers tripped the lights. It was pitch black and we were all in different locations at the time. Our director of photography used the light from his camera. I was alone and crawling on the floor towards a small light from our executive producer’s flashlight. There are holes in the floor that drop down twenty feet to the levels below, so I was trying to avoid those. (see EquitrekkingTV on YouTube’s Equitrekking Bloopers Underground City in Turkey).
We sometimes film things at odd times to avoid disturbing regular travelers. In Scotland, we actually filmed our whiskey tasting at 8am, so I was drinking whiskey for breakfast. We toured Scotland’s smallest distillery, Edradour, which was really interesting as they still have three people manually making the whiskey. They don’t use computers or new technology in the process. They also age their whiskey in interesting casks. I tried a whiskey that was almost clear because it was aged in a spiced rum cask from the West Indies. I’m not a big whiskey drinker, but it was good. A little hard to stomach so early in the morning though, so I brought a few bottles back to the states.
In Alaska, we were filming in Cooper Landing, an old gold rush area, and on our way into the Chugach National Forest on horseback, when we got a call from someone back at the ranch below that there was a bear at the ranch. We wanted to get it on film, so Greg and Chip, our director of photography and executive producer, left us to continue our ride and raced down the mountain to try to get this bear on film. They were at a safe distance from the bear and just about to push record, when, as Chip describes it, tiny explosions appeared over the bear’s head. It turns out a state policeman fired off a few “cracker rounds” to frighten the bear back into the forest. Instead, the bear ran towards the crew, who dove for safety into their vehicle.
We’ve got some more of our mishaps online on YouTube. (Equitrekking Bloopers)

Q: What does the future hold for you and Equitrekking and what goals or dreams are you working toward?

Darley: I’ve more than reached my dreams and goals with Equitrekking, but I’m always striving for more. I want to keep traveling and riding and showing others the wonderful places and horses that the world offers. I hope that Equitrekking inspires people to think globally and get out and experience active adventures in faraway places or their own backyards.

Just so you know, we have a station finder on our website, so people can search for Equitrekking in their area at We also have DVDs, our book and equestrian travel inspired jewelry and photography in our online store Our YouTube Channel is at