Category Archives: reining school

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.




Spring happenings at Castellare di Tonda

We have been busy busy at the stables this past couple of months, with some lovely riding groups and interesting trail adventures. We had a new arrival (pic below) who is just as gorgeous as her daddy the sadly deceased Gemini Pine who we had to put to sleep last year. This little filly’s mum is Snapper, the fabulous reining school horse so many of our clients have enjoyed riding. With a mum as nice as Snapper, and a famous father (Gemini was one of the best reining horses in the world in his prime) this little filly is set to be a great prospect. Shes super cheeky too, and already loves to do sliding stops in the sand!

Last month I managed to get over to the Badminton horse trials to meet visitors old and new on the In the saddle stand. It was great fun meeting so many interesting people, discussing western riding, and watching some of that fantastic horsemanship at the event. Tonight I will be picking up our favorite equine photographer Christiane Slawik for next weeks photoworkshop.

Here are a few picks taken the past couple of months, and as soon as we have some new picks of the workshop I will load them up too!

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Restaurant and nightlife at Castellare di Tonda


The restaurant and outdoor terrace at Castellare di Tonda is the hub of the estate during the summer. It is here that breakfast is served every morning, and where dinner is served every night.

Once a week there is live music or a dj in the summer season, and our guests can sit outside and enjoy the balmy weather and beautiful view of the medieval church and surrounding Tuscan countryside.

The restaurant also organizes cooking classes in the kitchen once a week, where guests can learn some of the culinary secrets of our local chefs.

This is the place to meet for a cold beer or wine after a days riding, and where we all sit down for dinner through the evening.

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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



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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.

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.
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.



Reining at the WEG Normandy 2014


The World Equestrian Games is the most prestigious and competitive international event for reining, and it only comes once every four years.

Reining made its appearance on the FEI World Equestrian Games scene in 2002 and became an FEI discipline in 2001 with its big international debut at the FEI World Equestrian Games at Jerez.

Whilst in the past people had difficulties associating the image of Italy with that of cowboys, Reining has soared in popularity among Italian horsemen, and today many of the worlds best riders hail from “il bel paese.”

We will be present at this years WEG in France, and personally I cant wait for the chance to see some of the worlds best reiner’s in action.

If you are interested in learning more about the exciting sport of Reining, we have a special week long training holiday for experienced riders of either English or Western disciplines, looking to understand why this sport is so catchy. Stay in one of our Tuscan apartments, enjoy the pool, the landscape and the fabulous food – and work on your riding with our world class Quarter

Whether you’re interested in improving your skills, horsemanship,  horse training, or want to learn specific reining maneuvers, our week long intensive reining course with Franco our international trainer is perfect for you.

During the week you will ride every day both morning and afternoon for one hour with Franco. On the final morning you will have a mini competition, with Franco as the judge to test the skills you have learnt in a competitive setting.

Incorporate the basic concepts of Reining as a training method.  You will learn the importance of gaining control over your horses feet, mind and body without resistance. The ultimate aim in a well trained reining horse. The idea behind early lessons is teaching the horse how to connect his mind and feet together to work with us rather than against us.

Work with communication between horse and rider and maneuvers of a higher level; maximizing the horse’s talents and eliminating the resistance.

The course emphasizes basic development of the reining horse with the goal of having your horse go where you want him to go, at the speed you want to go, with the attitude you want him to have.

Interested in finding out more?

Send us an email at

Italian Monasteries to English Horse Trials


Last week we had a busy few days trying to cheat the weather, and manage to squeeze all full days of riding in before Thursdays predicted rain storms. We did it too, and managed to ride to San Vivaldo Monastery, Cedri, and the historic farm of Barbialla before the rain hit. Below is the picture of the Barbialla cemetary, a sad but very interesting spot hidden in the quiet Hills between Corazzano and Sughera.

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The British clients we had last week, were fine taking a half day in the rain on Thursday morning – and though the ground was sodden, the weather cleared up as we rode. We stopped off at the artists Riccardo Neggi’s house, and enjoyed a couple of nice canters afterwards on the road home. One of which was so bouncy on the little Arab, that I lost my car Keys and had to drive back afterward in the work car to find them. Lucky for me one of the riders spotted them enroute, thus I managed to avoid a long walk back down the muddy trails in search of the elusive item.

We had Paulo Arrantes here this week for a few days. He is our Brazillian agent, and also is a guide for two trails in his homeland.

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He was a really nice, easy going guy – and a good rider, so well suited to his four year old Paint horse Mascherone pictured below with him.

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On Friday (the clients day off) I dropped them up at the station to train into Florence for a day of culture and shopping, and I furiously tried to get everything ready for my 6pm flight to London. I managed to get to the UK without too many hitches, and trained out to a friends house for the night. On Saturday we bused down to Bristol to meet other friends, and headed to the Badminton Horse Trials; where I helped out on the In the Saddle stand over both Saturday afternoon and Sunday.

I managed to sneak out over lunch to watch some of the cross country, and met up with loads of clients, friends and possible new clients at the stand. It was a great event, and if you are considering attending in the future, I whole-heartedly reccommend it. Well organized, great shopping, food options, and even live music in the evenings.


Turnout Time


Its that time of the year again, and to make the most of a quiet week of riding we turned out the majority of the horses into the big turnout field at the top of the property. This year the donkeys are out with the horses too. I turned out my two geldings with everyone else, and one in particular was not too fussed on the donkeys initially. I thought it was really sweet however, that the geriartric thirteen hand pony that has lived with them the past two years at the stables threw himself between donkey victim and big mean 16hh horse and fiercly defended his girls. Everytime my horse came near them he would fly at him, and eventually his authority was firmly established.

It is a beautiful sight to see these horses together. All colors, shapes and sizes – and they really deserve the grass and sunshine after this long, hard and rainy winter which has delayed their turnout period considerably.


How they have changed!


The ugly ducklings that turned into swans. Take a look how our 2010 foals have changed in two years. My favorite are the two bottom photos!












Se il cavallo é buono e bello, non guardar razza e mantello

The title says it all. If the horse is good and attractive, one shouldnt care about breed or color.

This last week with the weather still playing up until Wednesday, the sturdy Argentine horses proved their worth in the sometimes muddy and slippery trail.

The lovely Danish couple riding with us every day handled the difficult terrain earlier in the week well and especially enjoyed the riding on the last days when the sun finally decided it was time to emerge from his winter hibernation.

The sun it seems is here to stay, and all this week we are expecting temperatures of 20-26 degrees. Yesterday I took a really sweet girl from Livorno riding in the morning, and at the end of the ride I has already been sun burnt on my shoulders. I enjoyed a wonderful bbq lunch in the sunshine after the ride with great company, cold beer and tasty food. Summer has arrived we decided, and today the weather has reached a lovely 26 degrees. It’s about time!

I wrote in a former post that a dog had been abandoned at Castellare recently, we also have a selection of cats that have all been dumped over the years, and now live happily semi wild (all are sterilized by the local vet) and fed by the sweet ladies in the restaurant. So, it was a surprise for Matteo and Franco to find a pony stallion waiting in one of the turnout paddocks on Tuesday morning when they arrived at work.

The pony wasnt abandoned however, he had decided on Monday when we rode through his owners cattle farm that the mare I was riding looked pretty good, and followed us all the way home back to Castellare.

The experience is laughable now, but wasnt much fun at the time. The two geldings that the lovely danes were riding, did not like the cocky little pony following them, and were extremely aggressive to him.
The mare I was riding was no happier to have him near her – but there was no way to convince him to leave us alone, nor anyway to catch him.
The mare kicked, the geldings lunged, in the end I jumped off and tried to chase him away… no luck. Finally when one of the geldings started to get worked up, the riders dismounted and I took the irritated mare at a gallop all the way back to the farm, with pony following along like a lovestruck valentine. Back at the farm however, even though everything was open, I couldnt find a soul to take responsibility for the little pint-sized Italian stallion.
Huge Maremmano sheepdogs on chains growled at me from under abandoned cars, a huge sow and her eight piglet grunted from their pen, and curious Chianina cattle peered at us from their stalls. Chickens ran about, as did a selection of straggled felines; but their was no sign of human life to be found.
After cursing a few choice words about the irresponsibility of the owners, I rode back to the others and got them back in the saddle. I instructed them to ride ahead, and the little haflinger mare proved how amazing she is by keeping back with the stallion the whole ride home. For over an hour, at walk, trot and even a few short bursts of canter the pony followed at the mares heels. Towards the end of the ride he slotted himself at the back like a seasoned trekking horse, and he started to warm on me. He was pretty cute actually, and really just lonely. Back at the stables, I whistled for Jack my border collie to help catch him. Jack rounded him into a small space between tractor and tacking area, and I managed to get one of Balu’s (our Shetland pony)headcollars over his little head. Then I managed to pop him into the stallions turnout field for the night until we got in touch with the owner.

The next day around 11am a huge cattle truck turned up, and though it took the two burley men that came with it a good twenty minutes to catch their little friend, he was eventually loaded up and taken home. ‘Sorry about that’, one of the men said to me ‘The little guy needs some company’.

Later in the week we rode up to Barbialla for lunch in the sun, and then on to Riccardo Niggi and his wife Ruth’s beautiful Tuscan farmhouse and workshop. Riccardo and his family were making traditional pizzas in the wood oven outside, and drinking some lovely wine. We stopped, tied the horses and had a glass of wine while we wandered through his workshop. Marg and Lars even decided to buy an Ettruscan style horse head and Florentine souvenir. Then we saddled up and headed back to the stables.  You can see below how green the area is right now. With the sun this week the colors are getting more vibrant by the day, and the grass is growing incredibly fast. I feel sorry for the gardeners that I know right now, as there work load is going to be immense since everyone is behind due to the previous weeks of heavy rain.



Sadly on sadder note, yesterday morning we had to put to sleep Gemini, the founding stallion of Castellare di Tonda. At 28 years of age, his legs gave out on him, and he the vet decided it was better to just let him go. It was a very sad experience to be part of, I sat with him throughout and It seemed at least to me, that his soul left in peace. He was a mighty stallion that stood only 15hh, he won or was placed in some of the biggest reining events in the world and was an important QH stallion in Italy during the 90’s.

My next post will be all about him. A tribute to an amazing little horse with a lion sized heart.


Nine top tips for a great trail ride with your horse

Its not necessary to have a chilled happy hacker type horse to enjoy trail riding, but it is important to have a horse that you can trust.

Working outside the box (literally) is a great way to teach your horse to listen to you in a different environment -which makes it even more important if you plan on competing or attending events with your horse.

Trail riding in tuscany

Expect the unexpected outside. You may ride the same route every day for a month and not have any problems, only to find the next day after a heavy storm, that the trail has washed out where you normally let your horse canter.. or that a farmers’s rouge bull has escaped into a field you always ride through.

Be prepared for the worst without expecting the worst is the best key for a fun and most importantly SAFE ride.

1: Wear a helmet that fits well. Dont make that all to common mistake of not buckling it up. You may as well not be wearing it in this case. In the world of western riding wearing a helmet is still not as common as in the english riding scene. I myself can admit to riding for years without a hard hat, Il admit to changing my mind only when I heard about a former employer of mine (a top dressage rider) who lay in a coma for three weeks after her safe, steady 15 year old horse spooked on a trail ride.
Even the best horse can fall, spook etc so why risk your life, and the lives of those that would have to look after you if you injured yourself?

2. Before you even get on, check your prepared for the ride.

– Is your gear well oiled and cared for. Make sure you check girths, bridles, and stirrup/fenders for any cracks. Tack breaking at the wrong moment can be deadly – so spend that extra five minutes looking over everything.
Is your cell phone charged? If things go wrong, do people know where you are heading? Have an emergency contacts number written in your saddle bag just in case…. 

In your saddle bags have you got water, a hoof pick,bug spray, sunscreen, lip balm, maps, an easy boot (in case you loose a shoe) and leather shoelace baling twine for emergency fix-it jobs. I always take a snack too, as if the ride takes longer than expected it can help keep my blood sugar from getting too low.

3. Check over your horse before you leave. Even horses turned out 24/7 should be lunged first and warmed up before a ride. Check his shoes are looking ok. Make sure hes clean under his tack to avoid rubs,and put on leg protection. 
Before you leave your horse should stop well, turn well and be controllable in all paces. Equally important is that you gauge your horses level of fitness for the ride.

If hes been boxed up all winter.. dont expect him to do an eight hour ride straight away. Start slowly, and work your way up. Its not worth risking an injury because you didnt sort out a decent fitness routine earlier.

4: Keep your distance.Out on the ride be observant.
One of my pet hates on trail rides is when riders come too close to a horse they don’t know. The rule of thumb is to keep all horses two horses apart at all times on a ride. If you don’t know the horse you are riding, it is nothing more than suicidal to bring him or her close to another horse.
I have seen kicks to riders in this instance, and they are not pretty. Horse are not cars, and they have bad days just like us. Even best pal paddock mates can strike out at each other when in season/in a bad mood etc.

5: Dont stick in the same spot on a group ride. Move your horses position now and then… put him in the middle, at the back, up the front.
He wont expect to be at the front the whole time if you do this, and when he is at the front he will learn to be more assertive if hes not normally so. Keep your horse thinking, and he will learn from the ride as well as enjoy it.

6. Challenge your horse on the ride. If he spooks at things, stay calm and ride on. If you need to cross water – let him think, drink, touch the water. Be determined. Your horse wants a leader, if you are not confident enough to get him through small things like a stream.. what will happen when you face a river? Don’t overuse your reins either.. they are not the only aid. Use your legs and your seat get your horse to move where you want him to go.
He wont think less of you if you boss him about a bit -he will feel more secure.
Remember the cardinal rule to keep your horse moving forward in times of stress. If he sees a herd of cows, rather than stopping him and allowing him the chance to play up and fret..its better to keep him moving to allow him to move away. If you want to get him used to the cows, ride him around them. Dont force him to stay still, thats messing with his prey animal instinct to run. If you keep him moving around them, he will soon figure out they are not anything to worry about.
NB. be careful of tie-downs or side reins on rides out as they will restrict the horse in water crossings, and even cause him to flip over if he rears.

Horse riding fattoria barbialla

7. Dont push your horse. If hes 18 and of heavy horse breeding, hes not going to keep up with the 6 year old Arabian at the front of the ride.
Trail rides should be relaxing, and about mutual enjoyment. If you want to spend the whole ride at a gallop, maybe you should consider buying a motorbike.

If you must return using the same trail, take attention not to rush home. Take it easy, and you will avoid a very dangerous vice -bolting for home.

8. Cool your horse down. Walk the last mile back, even better -walk him in hand for 5 minutes at the end of the ride with the girth loosened slightly to prevent lactic acid building up.

9. Check him under his saddle,wash him down, and check his shoes. Dont feed him grain straight away as you will risk a colic.

Most horses simply need experience to make them great trail companions. Even the spookiest horse will calm down if he goes out daily under the guidance of a calm, respected, leader.

Keep yourself and your horse safe by following the tips above, and with the experience gained on the trail; your horse will become more confident, self assured and responsive.