Category Archives: Breeding Stud Castellare di Tonda

2016 season comes to an end.

Some great pics of one of our October weeks riding last month.

This year we have had some truly international clients. American, Brazillian, English, Norwegian, Finnish and German just to mention a few.

The horses are now on their 5 month winter rest in preperation for next season.

 

 

 

Maremmani Horses

Last year we made a photo excursion down to the south of Tuscany, to photograph some very special horses. The Maremmani. The group of riders we photographed were passionate Tuscan riders, who kept alive the Butteri style of riding, and the love of the hardy and strong minded Tuscan cowhorse, the Maremmano (and one adorable rare Tolfetano mare).

Below are some of the photos. It was an amazing day, with really wonderful people, and the horses were something out of this world.

If you ever have the chance to ride one of these horses (there are many trekking centers in the south of Tuscany) and try the fantastic traditional tack, you should jump at the chance.

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Through the eye of the horse

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Winter in Tuscany brings rain. Lots of rain. Driving to work daily, I find myself noting how the ground looks in sections where I normally pass on horseback. Its something I do unconciously, even though right now I am not riding at all.Weather is such an important factor to working outside with horses, and the softness of the ground, slipperyness of hill sections, or obstacles caused by heavy wind or rain, really can make a huge difference to the safety of the horses or riders I accompany out during the season.

Working as a guide means in an area where the weather can change quickly during the wet months, means having alternative routes in the case of emergency is a must.

Early spring makes for challenging riding, the weeks leading up to our seasonal opening (end of March) make for a lot of maintenance runs in the truck, tractor or horseback. Annually in the spring we need to clear the trails of fallen trees, rebuild the bridge that runs between Castelfalfi and Castellare, over the river (which swells considerably during the winter due to heavy rainfall), and fill in any of the dangerous sink holes that open up due to flooding.  All of the trails need to be checked before we ride them, as any obstacle could bring about lengthy extensions to our rides.

Riding on these trails in slippery, often unstable terrain during the early spring weeks requires an immense amount of trust in my horse. Here at Castellare we dont use any type of fixed martingales or tie-downs with our trail horses, and we ride them ‘on the buckle’ in english terminology. Basically, we dont have any contact unless there is a reason for it.The horses are incredibly sure footed, as many of our past clients can attest too, and know their jobs so well, that they need no rider assistance to show them where to put their feet.

When clients ride out with me down steep and sometimes muddy banks, I always remind them to let the horse have his head completely. It amazes me how many people find this idea difficult, often because they have been taught to keep a contact on the horse. One client that travelled out here a few years back had learnt the hard way the importance of this rule. While riding in Portugal, the group was taken down a steep slope. Her horse slipped, and she tried to correct him, but instead with the head pulled up, the horse lost his balance and fell- rolling down the hill and nearly crushing the rider.

This week I was reading an article in the Horsemanship Journal, by Maddy Butcher Grey that talked about the dangers of restricting a horses head when he is required to work over uneven terrain on trails or negotiate obstacles. One comment jumped out at me.

 “All true horsemen are going to say the same thing as far as head restriction of any kind.Stay off the face. The horse knows where his feet are coming down better than you do” (Ross Knoxx)

Horses are so vulnerable when they cant move their heads as they would naturally, and this is especially valid for trail horses moving over uneven terrain.

A client that was visiting a couple of years back told how on a ride horse back in her homeland, a horse in a tie down tripped on a rock, couldn’t use his head to regain his balance and fell off the trail down a fairly steep hill. Without the tie down it would have been an innocent, quickly forgotten stumble; with it, it was a disaster for both horse and rider.

To understand why the concept of fixed martingales on trail horses is so wrong, one needs to look at how the horse is physically made up, especially of note in this post – the horses vision.

Horses have the largest eyes of all land mammals. The eye of the horse is roughly eight times the size of a human eye. The placement and structure of the horse’s eyes is very different from ours. Horses are unable to focus their eyes the way humans and most animals can. When a wild horse raises and lowers his head as it looks at an object, it does so to adjust the focal length, moving until the object comes into focus on its retina. And, since the horse’s field of vision doesn’t overlap—the right eye sees what’s happening on the right side of its body, and the left side sees it on the left.(Monocular vision).

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The visual streak of the eye structure of the horse, means they see in an ultra panoramic format.

We know that horses do see some colors, but with limitations. Horses much like pigs, goats, cows, sheep and deer,  have only two different cone types on their retina, providing them with what scientists call dichromatic vision .

Reducing the number to two greatly reduces the number of colors horses see. They have no intermediate hues, but grays and pastels. They see mostly in the yellow, brown, and gray ranges.

A horse’s vision is its primary detector of danger. Even though horses have poor color vision, they can differentiate blue and red hues from gray ones. They have trouble differentiating yellow and green from gray and also poor depth perception when only using one eye.

Horses have an acute ability to detect movement. This is why a horse is much flightier on windy days; things that are normally stationary are now moving and perceived as a potential threat -and for this reason, especially in racehorses, trainers often use blinkers to bring their attention on the race ahead.

Our horses don’t see as sharply as humans – their average vision is around at 20/60 rather than 20/20,  but the eyes protruding from the side of their head offer them amazing peripheral vision with only two blind spots—one directly in front of the nose extending around four feet in front of it, and the other behind the tail, about ten feet long. This peripheral vision allows them to things in a panormaic format, spotting movement on either side of the faces, as well as in front of them.

Pulling a horses head down in a tie down not only comprimises his balance in the case of a fall or stumble, but also compromises his sight. For me, this means the horse is working at a disadvantage, and I need him to be 100% physically able to deal with anything that comes our way. He should have the liberty to move his head to see the landscape in different angles, so to assist him in how he moves over it.

My favorite guiding horse Shamal (below), who is now close to retirement age, has the peculiar habit of moving his head side to side as we ride out. At the walk he will literally turn his head to get better views of the area we are moving through. Its not always super comfortable, but the fact that this horse has on numerous occassions spotted obstacles or dangers that I hadnt noticed (holes in the ground, wild boar coming out of a clearing, hunters crouching in bushes etc) that has then given me the time to warn riders following us, means I will happily allow him the liberty of his head since it is what guarantees our safety, and those behind us. It is also worth pointing out that this is a horse that strongly resists any bit contact, and it has taken us the past two years to really understand each other. Since Shamal has a very strong, dominant character, letting him ‘take the reins’ for most of the rides we lead, has in turn developed our partnership into one of trust and understanding, something I could have never achieved by riding him on a contact, or with a forced short head carriage.

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Recent Press in France and Italy

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Cheval magazine (France) this month, in a special feature on western riding (if only they had seen how Brownie behaved just after this photo was taken…)

Here is a double page feature on the riding at Castellare di Tonda in Cavallo Magazine Ed. September(Antonella Montalti) Italy

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Here is a multi page feature published in the American Paint Horse publication ‘Chrome Magazine’ last year.

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Our horses have also featured in various calendars for both 2015 and 2016!! The nicest thing about our supermodel ponies, is that they are real horses. Turned out in all seasons, living in herds, and working during the season.

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Christiane Slawik Workshop Autumn 2014

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Last month we had our Autumn Christiane Slawik photo/riding workshop. It was again a really fun week, with a great mix of people from all over the world. The uniting factors being a love of horses and photography.  The weather started out fabulously, but we did have one terror storm midweek, causing us to change the liberty shoot in our top arena to a ‘wild west in Tuscany’ session out in the 25 hectare turnout field, using our semi wild retired horses and breeding stock.

Again we visited the Murgese farm in La Spezia to photograph these magnificent black horses in liberty. It was a highlight of the course, and the horses seemed to remember the drill from last year, and put on a fabulous show. A special feature of this course, is the excursion up to photograph Murgese horses (the only Italian baroque breed, and very rare in northern Italy.. even rarer outside of Italy). Our friends at Gottero ranch have an amazing selection of some of the best Murgese horses in the country, and an amazing location where we can photograph them.

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Marco and Hidlago made a great team in the riding/sunset shoot.

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The morning view from the stables after the storm the night before.

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On our lake shoot we expected a day of rain, instead the weather suprised us all. It was spectacular, sunny and warm – and our bbq in front of the stables was a great success. Here we all are post photo shoot enjoying the Castellare wine while Alessio and Jawad prepare the bbq.

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Liberty shots in the fondo chiuso with Franco and Marco. Our horses had a great time chasing around their buddies in the name of photography.

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Shakir showing off in the dust bowl shoot.

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Sunset shots above the vineyards with Antonio and Hidalgo.

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In the end, great people, great riding, and a whole lot of lovely photos at the end to remember it by.

If your keen to join us next year, we will be holding the course the same week (Septemeber 2015).

Get in touch if you are interested in joing us!

Our Twelve Farmsteads: Pietrafitta

Pietrafitta is one of the more isolated farmhouses, located very close to the litle village of Sughera, and overlooking the horses 20 acre turnout field, our lake, and the medieval village of Tonda. The stone building has been divided into 6 superior style apartments and is furnished in a contemporary-style with natural, warm Tuscan tones. This is the perfect villa for families or groups looking for private outdoor space and views, or even for those looking for a picturesque wedding cerimony. This is always one of the first farmhouses to book up, so we reccommmend getting in quick if you would like to stay in this very beautiful villa.

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Medieval Tuscany Riding Holiday dates 2014

Our Medieval Tuscany vacation is our most popular riding holiday.

This trip includes 5 full days riding leaving one day midweek free to relax. On the non riding day we offer a free transfer to the train station where you can catch a direct train to Siena or Florence for the day. This trip is the ideal mix between an active equine holiday, and a cultural break in Tuscany. On three days you will have Tuscan picnic’s brought out by a backup vehicle, on the other days riding we return to base for a siesta at lunch time, allowing time to enjoy the pool in-between rides.  

Below are a few images of last years rides to give you an idea of what sort of trip and riding we offer our guests. ImageImageImageImageImageImageImage

 

Saturday

Collection at Pisa or Florence airport in the afternoon for your transfer to the farm. You will be accompanied to your apartment and will have time in the late afternoon to wander down to the stables and perhaps take a swim.

In the evening enjoy an aperitif on the terrace and meet your guide to discuss the riding over dinner.

Our Medieval Tuscany ride takes place in a beautiful region of Italy that is world famous for its white truffles.

Ride between quaint medieval villages and ruined castles where the traditional rural lifestyle of cultivating and harvesting grapes, olives, truffle and mushrooms continues today.  Travelling by horseback brings you in close interaction with your surroundings. You are required to take your time, and inhale the wonderful culture that surrounds you as you ride the ancient trails that thread through wooded hills, valleys, rivers and vineyards in this unique historical and natural paradise.

The following is an illustration of the likely itinerary. However this is flexible and routes may vary due to local conditions, but always with your best interests in mind.
Sunday
You have the opportunity to become familiar with your horse and tack in the arena with a lesson in western riding before riding out into the 800 acre estate for a morning ride.

After lunch take another 2 hour ride in a different direction. The medieval hill towns and valleys around the estate offer a wonderful cross-section of Italy’s charms, and you will be presented with striking views of the rolling hills, olive groves  and the farms own Chianti vineyards.
Monday
Today you head out for the day through olive groves and over rolling hills to Ghizzano. Passing under the village of Castelfalfi and through an old abandoned cattle farm an old trails takes you  past sunflower fields and along long sand trails amongst the beautiful backdrop of a panoramic view of Volterra.
After lunch surrounded by Mediterranean brush filled with strawberry trees, you ride back to Castellare di Tonda along lovely tufo sand trails and passing huge rolling turnout paddocks where the foals can be seen grazing and playing at liberty.
Tuesday
Another full day ride takes you to Blaconevisi, a hilltop village that looks out over a stunning 360 panorama surrounded by rolling Tuscan farmland for a sumptuous picnic lunch.

Behind the village is an old merchant trail that will take you to Barbialla, a truffle plantation and organic Chianina cattle farm. The Chianina is one of the world’s oldest breeds of cattle and historically of immense cultural value to the Tuscans. Return home via the rolling hills lined with Sangiovese vineyards.
Wednesday
Today is left as a free day from riding and you can take the opportunity to visit Florence or Siena.
For those that would prefer simply to relax at the farm, we recommend the Wellness Clinic and Spa treatments as an excellent cure for muscle fatigue after riding.
Thursday
After breakfast you depart for the morning to Castelfalfi castle. Riding down deep into the canyon you cross the stream and ride up into Castelfalfi, a hilltop borgo and castle that was built by the Long bards.
Learn about the mysterious legends that surround the castle as you ride up to its fortressed walls, passing the old chapel that holds the remains of a medici princess.
This is pure Tuscany; rolling vineyards, golden wheat fields and dense forests rich with colour. It is not unusual to spot wild boar on this ride, and the stunning backdrop did not go unnoticed by the film director Bennini, who filmed his adaption of Pinocchio here a few years ago.
This afternoon you have the choice to exchange your afternoon trail ride for either a Spa session in the hydro spa circuit or for a one hour private Western riding lesson with Franco. An experience that is highly recommended to our riding clients.

Friday
Today’s full day ride incorporates some diverse and interesting riding. Forest trails, creek crossings, open fields, abandoned ruins, and finally the highlight of San Vivaldo monastery. Here you tie the horses in a shady area, whilst you enjoy a picnic lunch in this extraordinary religious retreat.
Constructed between 1500 and 1600 on ruins that date back to 1100, San Vivaldo became known as the Jerusalem of Italy. San Vivaldo was created to allow devoted Catholics the possibility to take a sacred pilgrimage without having to travel to Jerusalem (which at the time was controlled by the Turks, and was therefore very dangerous). Still a working Franciscan monastery, there are 18 chapels through the San Vivaldo Park; and each represents a part of the life and passion of Jesus Christ.
You return to the stables via the trail of the wolf, an old forest trail that has been used for hundreds of years by travelers on their way to Volterra. The trail leads you past a Cinta Senese pig farm and interesting swamp sections where the rider feels almost as if he is traveling through the Amazon.
Saturday
After breakfast you are transferred to the airport for your flight home.

Price low season: 1188 € per person. Price Mid Season 1320€ per person. 

INCLUDES Seven nights accommodation; half board; picnic lunch on three days; wine with dinner; riding as per program; return shared transfers from Pisa airport at a set time, Florence airport or Castelfiorentino station (at set times); tourist tax; twice weekly apartment cleaning.

SINGLE SUPPLEMENT To guarantee a single one bedroom apartment €180 . If you are willing to share, and a sharer is available, there is no single supplement for a single room in shared apartment with shared bathroom. The supplement is payable in advance and refunded when we find you a sharer.

PAYABLE LOCALLY Lunches on the two days when we return to base, and on the free day; Spa treatments; other activities; gratuities.

NEAREST AIRPORT  Pisa  or Florence

NOT INCLUDED Flights to Pisa or Florence.

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