What goes into making the perfect equestrian travel experience? Debbie Dos Santos of Journeys Equestrian Travels lets us in on the secrets for the most amazing equine experiences around the globe. How to find the best destinations, stay safe, and enjoy not just riding but other cultural experiences. It is the best ROI or in this case ROL – Return on Life.
How did you get started in the equestrian travel business?
I have always loved horses and rode when I was younger. My MBA is from USC International Business School and I lived around the globe for 7 years in international corporate business development and then went into Investment Banking. When my daughter started kindergarten, I needed to make a definite life balance shift. With my experience living overseas and extensive international travel for work, opening a luxury travel company that focused on unique and experiential travel made perfect sense.
My daughter and I just returned from Tanzania where we went on an Equestrian Safari at Singita Lodges. We galloped next to herd of 12 giraffe with 100 wildebeest and another 100 zebra joining in. I must admit it beats the thrill of the Trading Floor any day!
However, what I noticed in the Equestrian Travel space was that everything stopped at the horse- and only riding programs. The unique aspect that we bring to Equestrian Travel is that we focus on incredible horse experiences but incorporate the Best of the Destination and other aspects of Equestrian Travel such as Events and Preferred Properties. We add to the horse experience by interest- whether that is art, wine, culinary experiences, golf, history, photography or a Zen spa experience after a day’s ride. Or blend the experiences-perhaps a Charity ride out West, attending the Queen’s Plate in South Africa and then continue on with a safari or wine experience. We bring together equestrian lifestyle, culture and travel – designed just for you.
The Equestrian Travel programs that I have developed focus on 3 key aspects of horse enthusiasts.
Bespoke Travel– Private, tailor-made travel designed with exclusive insider access and experiential experiences at premier equestrian venues and with leaders in the sport. All paired with fabulous properties, private services, food, wine, art, wildlife and culture- your imagination is the only limit!
World Equestrian Events– Customized luxury programs tailored to specific exclusive equestrian events throughout the world, again all blended with the best of the best the destination has to offer to experience. Think Cheltenham Festival with your own jockey to help navigate the races and bets. Then visit the Queen’s Stable and meet her bloodstock advisor and continue on the next day to breakfast with horse racing legend Jonjo O’Neill at his home and personal tour of his stable yards.
Preferred Properties– We have curated the very best of equestrian properties across the globe that includes luxury amentities and VIP treatment. Through our special partnerships we are able to arrange exclusive amenities just for you to add a magical touch to your stay.
What if one person wants to ride and their friend or spouse doesn’t?
That is our specialty! Based on the relationships we have in the luxury travel industry… everything is customized and designed just for you. We have a passion for horses but have been designing experiential travel for over 8 years. My best to date was a multi-generational family traveling to Italy of over 20 people. Four destinations and age groups from elementary school, high school, college, middle age and the grandparents. We had 4-5 different activity selections per day. Now that was fun. My daughter wanted to change families for 2 weeks to join in.
How do you research to make sure the horses and tack are well cared for?
I could not do what I do without amazing partners on the ground in the destination. My partners are vetted through Virtuoso, or through my personal close relationships, which specialize in top equestrian experiences. My clients will never get a “brochure experience”. The horses and tack are vetted by either me personally or through my partners. Tack is checked, horse care, and safety are the utmost priority and level of service and accommodations. In addition, I hold everyone that I work with to a high level of accountability and do have Virtuoso to support me in the level of expected client experience.
That said, different experiences do warrant different expectations in accommodation but tack, exceptional horse care and safety are always top priority and consistent.
Tell us about your partnership with Virtuoso
I love my affiliation with Virtuoso. Without them, I would be just like anyone else surfing the internet looking for the perfect experience without any backing. Virtuoso is the travel industry’s leading luxury network. It consists of both travel advisors and travel partners (hotels, cruise lines, tour operators, etc.) I have to be invited, as do suppliers to be part of their program and it comes as a premium expense to all of us to be able to deliver the level of service that we do. I take my role in creating the ultimate client travel experience very seriously. It is event planning, project management, financial advisor and trusted friend all in one. Virtuoso allows me to collaborate with incredible specialized partners around the globe as well as have access to the General Managers of top hotels and tour operators. I personally contact the GM for each client to ensure my clients receive the best in service and experience.
What other experiences are available on a trip along with the horseback riding?
The list is truly endless. Private cocktails on the top of Notre Dame before heading to ride through Versailles and then a private lesson at the Academie. Done.
Train like an Olympian in New Zealand and then enjoy world-renown golf, winery tours, fly fishing, visit a seal colony or take a helicopter safari to stand on a volcano. If after riding, you still have horses flowing through your veins- we create a not to forget experience to Horse of the Year Event, BMW Polo or visit with Tim Featherstone to learn how to train wild Kaimanawa horses.
Or ride through the Alpine scenery of Peru and then travel on the Belmond Hiram Bingham luxury train to Sol Y Luna. This luxury, sustainable 24-acre village standing casitas made of indigenous materials and adorned with colorful murals and folk art. Head to the spa to enjoy a chocolate body wrap. And then enjoy dinner where local farmers provide the organic ingredients that renowned Executive Chef Helger « Nacho » Selis uses to create his inspired regional fare. Oh, and did I mention to include a Pisco Sour to cap the day.
Tell us about the importance of experience as a luxury good – the ROL as you say, return on life.
ROL- The Return on Life. I love this! Coming from a background of ROI- what better ROI than the experiences that you have for yourself and to share with those around you! Travel provides « real value » which is time invested in relationships with significant others, friends, families, rejuvenation and purpose-related pursuits, all of which travel provides.
More information on equestriantravels.com