Pura Vida: Horsing Around in Costa Rica

If there’s one word that describes Costa Rica perfectly, it’s magical. Costa Rica is a place with unmatched biodiversity, kind people, delicious food, and balmy weather. Not only did I experience all of that—I also got to play with horses! As serendipity would have it, Barking Horse Farm started following me on Instagram, so I checked out their profile and website. This farm specializes in Parelli Natural Horsemanship and Jungle Trekking, and hosts interns and volunteers throughout the year, so I thought going to Barking Horse Farm would be a great opportunity to travel and learn more about Parelli Natural Horsemanship. I originally planned to stay for three months, but ended up staying only one month for personal reasons. The month flew by, and I can’t wait to return to this beautiful country!

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I arrived at night and took a cab from the airport in San Jose to the farm, which is in an area called San Rafael Abajo, near a town called Puriscal. The headlights of the cab revealed in the darkness how green everything was; the flora and fauna were so lush, I thought they may overtake the road at any moment. Everything was shiny with a slick layer of moisture. I arrived at the tail end of the rainy season, so the mornings were sunny and bright, then the rain would roll through in the afternoon. Only in my last week there did the rain stop as the dry season began. Numerous dogs watched us as we passed, sometimes observing from a distance, other times chasing us and nipping at the tires. The curvy, hilly paved roads turned into bumpy gravel roads. I finally arrived at the farm and was greeted by a committee of one human, four dogs, and too many cats to count. I began settling in and putting my things away when I heard the sound of tires spinning. The cab was stuck in the driveway, in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere! In the darkness and mud, it’s easy to understand how it happened. Pamala, the farm owner’s friend and the human member of my greeting committee, hooked up a cable to the farm vehicle, pulled the cab out, and it was on its way. The excitement for the evening was over. With the roads and animals quiet, I could finally close my eyes and rest. I fell asleep to the melodic rhythm of the bugs’ and frogs’ songs. The matter-of-fact crowing of the rooster woke me. The bugs continued their soft hum into the morning. The birds sang their gentle tunes as the rooster’s crows faded.

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Other volunteers arrived in the following days. They hailed from the UK, Germany, Poland, and France. We were all very excited to go up to the pasture and see the horses. They live not at the farm, but in a pasture near the top of a mountain, where it’s a bit cooler and breezier compared to the climate at the farm, which tends to be warmer since it lays in a valley. We all climbed into the farm vehicle, a tough Isuzu four-by-four, and headed out to meet the horses. On the way, we encountered an obstacle, and one thing I learned is that Costa Rica is full of obstacles. You can either curse your luck and let the obstacles cause you frustration, or you can look at them as a learning opportunity. I chose the latter. There was a truck broken down in the middle of the road, and a group of Costa Rican men was trying to push it out of the way, but to no avail. I got out of our vehicle and walked over to help push. The men looked skeptical, but all the other lady volunteers also walked over to help and we got the truck moved in no time. We parted ways with smiles and, “Muchas gracias!”

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The horses seemed mildly interested to see us. They had been off for months, enjoying their vacation from the busy season. We brought treats with us, scraps of fruit, which the horses absolutely loved. In the days that followed, the group settled into a nice daily routine. We’d begin our day with yoga (taught by me), have fruit, oatmeal, and happy eggs for breakfast, feed the animals here (I was responsible for feeding the chickens), then go up to the pasture and work with the horses. We began with groundwork and the Seven Games from Parelli Natural Horsemanship, and some days we rode bareback and with the rope halters. The horses took well to us, despite their realization that our visits meant their vacation was over. We always brought them treats, and they thoroughly enjoyed them. We’d then return to the farm and enjoy a delicious lunch prepared by Marta, who has worked at the farm for 10 years. The meals were vegetarian and sometimes even vegan, which was really great. During the afternoon rains, we’d relax, read, and socialize. A few hours later, we’d prepare dinner and after dinner, we’d watch some Parelli DVDs or play games.

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Liz, the owner of Barking Horse Farm, arrived to the farm a few days after us volunteers. She took us up to play with the horses quite a few times and taught us some fun Parelli training techniques. One day we worked on carrot stick riding, which was an exciting challenge. We also got to go on numerous rides. The trails here are mostly on gravel and dirt roads, and the horses are so hardy and sure-footed. We saw majestic views, picturesque sugarcane fields, and wildlife galore. One day we rode over two hours to get to a breathtaking river. At one point, the trail gets so steep, narrow, and full of rocks and boulders that the horses have to be sent down without the riders. I had never done anything like that before, so I was curious to see how the horses handled it. It was like rock scrambling for horses. They stayed relaxed, carefully and confidently making their way down the hill and then back up on our way back. We had packed a delicious vegan lunch of a watermelon and brown rice with veggies. The river was so refreshing and there was no one there but us—a true paradise. There’s another river just a 15 minutes’ walk from the farm. The waterfall there creates a spectacular ambiance. I went every chance I got and returned glowing every time. There’s something about Costa Rica that makes it impossible to be unhappy.

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In addition to horsing around, we also got to have some very local experiences. One day we helped a local farmer harvest beans, beating them with sticks to release the beans from the stalks. It’s hot, tiring work, but many hands made light work that day.

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Another day we went to a trapiche, or sugarcane factory. I use the word factory loosely, because it’s not at all like a factory in the U.S. This factory is very small and run by three brothers. We got to taste the sugarcane in four different forms: first the juice, then the hot, thick liquid, then the taffy-like substance, and finally in its final form as a block of sugar. We were all fascinated by the process and varying flavors.

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The only bad time I experienced was the night we went to an exhibition of the Costa Rican horse. Liz had warned us that Costa Rican training methods are harsh, but I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. The horses looked stressed out and fearful, and there were many large riders on horses that were too small for them. The bits being used were harsh, and every rider wore pain-inducing (for the horse) spurs. The first rider and horse entered the ring performing what looked like a perverse version of a passage. I say perverse because the horse was tense, constantly flicking its tail, pinning its ears, and wrinkling its eyes and nostrils. The horse was also hollow, and the underside of its neck was overdeveloped, making it clear that it was forced to carry itself in an unhealthy position on a regular basis. The rider maneuvered the horse onto a platform where the “passage” turned into a kind of piaffe. It seemed the demonstration would never end, and my heart ached for the horse more and more with each passing second. This type of treatment and training is a result of ignorance, of not knowing there’s a better way. I can only hope that if and when these people are exposed to a better way, they’ll change.

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Liz’s passion and love for horses is inspiring, and her tenacity and commitment to pursuing Natural Horsemanship is admirable in a country where the traditional treatment of horses is harsh and violent. Liz’s horses are healthy and happy; they’re also the most bomb-proof horses I’ve ever met. I hope to return again one day to do a trek to the beach, which I didn’t get to do this time. The people I met, the horses I bonded with, and the memories I made are treasures I’ll remember for a lifetime.

 

Below are some photos from the trip. Visit my Facebook page to view the full album.

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The Tackroom

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happy chickens=happy eggs

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Pirate, chillin’ like a villain

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Manolo, Basta, and our jungle vehicle

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Stopping to snack on the sugarcane

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Full moon rising

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The volunteers with Liz (owner of Barking Horse Farm) and her friend, Pamala.

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Manolo, a rescue, with lots of love and Natural Horsemanship has come around to being a fantastic horse.

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Zanahoria wanted to come home with me.

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The volcano Momotombo in Nicaragua erupted the day before I flew by it on my way home. It hadn’t erupted in 100 years.

 

Transition

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As I sit at home and listen to the gentle release of rain from the grey clouds today, my heart fills with gratitude to be back with those I love—my family and my animals. I’m still transitioning from my travels to North Dakota, Burning Man, and Bolivia back to this “real world,” thinking about what that means and working on incorporating all I’ve learned into my everyday life.

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Every time we step out of our homes into the world, we have the opportunity to learn, to grow, to love more. The recent traveling I’ve done and experiences I’ve had have allowed me to open my heart in ways I didn’t know were possible.

"The wound is the place where the light enters you." ~Rumi

“The wound is the place where the light enters you.” ~Rumi

The fun/challenging part now is to hold onto that openness and to spread that light to others. It’s so easy to lose track of what’s important, to get caught up in petty drama, to worry about things that don’t actually matter, and to close back up.

"Now dammit, look here, all of you, we all must admit that everything is fine and there's no need in the world to worry, and in fact we should realize what it would mean to us to understand that we're not really worried about anything." ~Jack Kerouac, On The Road

“Now dammit, look here, all of you, we all must admit that everything is fine and there’s no need in the world to worry, and in fact we should realize what it would mean to us to understand that we’re not really worried about anything.” ~Jack Kerouac, On The Road

But I refuse to close back up. I’ll live and love from this moment on with my heart open and vulnerable. You see, whether we live raw, open and honest, or whether we build walls and fortresses around our hearts, pain, hurt, disappointment, and betrayal will still happen and we will still feel them. Walls don’t stop the pain from getting through. They may stop your brain from consciously acknowledging and processing the pain, but it is still there. So I’d rather feel it, understand it, love it, learn from it, and let it go. And then love some more.

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I ask all of you to do the same. Smile at every stranger you see today and the next day and the day after that. Yes, every single one. Maybe they’ll think you’re weird. But maybe you’ll brighten their day and help them open their heart a little more. Give more hugs, long ones, because those are the best kind. Feel your heart pressed against the heart of the person you’re hugging and feel the love. Give the love. Give and give and give. The more you give, the more you’ll receive. But, of course, that’s not why we give. We give for the simple pleasure of giving and without any expectation of receiving anything in return, and that is one of the greatest lessons I learned at Burning Man. So give a smile. Give a hug. Give all the love you have.

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Yoga Retreat at Kuntz Nokota Horse Preservation Ranch

“I was born upon the prairie, where the wind blew free, and there was nothing to break the light of the sun. I was born where there were no enclosures and where everything drew free breath.” Ten Bears

Wide open spaces, constant wind and rugged terrain were the first characteristics I noticed about North Dakota as I made my way to the Kuntz Nokota Horse Ranch in Linton. Owned by Leo Kuntz, a knowledgable horseman with an eye for good conformation and a sense for good minds (in horses and people), the Nokota Horse Ranch is truly preserving living history.

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The lovely, yet tough ranch hand, Holly, took me on a sunset ride on the evening of my arrival. As the setting sun warmed us with its golden rays and the sunflowers danced gently in the breeze, I thought to myself, “This just might be heaven.”

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The next day’s weather proved to be just as pleasant, making the first day of our yoga retreat a real dream come true. As I led savasana, “the boys,” as Leo and Holly refer to the herd of geldings, ventured down to us, approaching us with curious faces. The horses at the ranch are pretty much wild, although some do get gentled. Being surrounded by the herd during such a profound moment in our practice was a magical experience I’ll treasure for the rest of my life.

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After our yoga class, Holly drove us around to see some of the stud/mare bands. She also showed us tipi circles, or stones arranged in large circles by the Native American tribes that used to call that land home. There was an energetic vibration to the land that I’ve experienced nowhere else. It’s like the history is almost so palpable you could touch it.

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Holly also took us to the Offering Stone, where the tribe’s medicine man would perform rituals and where, today, you can leave a token, such as a coin, as an offering and ask for blessings from the spirits in return. That space somehow commanded silence, and we all stood there taking in the view and the energy for a few long moments. Time seemed to cease to exist.

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That evening around sunset we strolled to a special place on the ranch where the mares and foals happened to be grazing.

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Seeing them live so free and natural filled my spirit with joy and sorrow all at once, for while I gazed upon that wild herd, I also thought of all the horses whose lives are spent boxed up in stalls.

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Later that night, I went out to look at the stars and my jaw literally dropped when I looked up. The Milky Way had never looked so magnificent and the sky had never seemed so big.

The weather turned colder and more blustery on Saturday. The strong wind held off until after our yoga class, but the rest of the day was mostly spent indoors. Sunday arrived carrying even colder temperatures and stronger winds, so instead of asanas, I led us in pranayama and meditation indoors. The wind began to subside later that afternoon, so I hung out with “the boys” for a bit, trying to coax Mr. Grey, my favorite, into taking a peppermint from my hand. He did place his muzzle in my hand, but he wasn’t so interested in the peppermint.

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Leo cooked buffalo burgers and summer veggies for dinner, regaling us with tales from his life as we enjoyed the hardy, home-cooked meal. The next day I had to say goodbye. Mr. Grey seemed not to mind my presence and allowed me to hang out near him while he grazed. One of my favorite things about Leo is his willingness to allow visitors to hang out with the herd. Simply being in the horses’ presence can be a transcendental, yet grounding experience from which there is much to learn. I look forward to returning to the ranch next summer to lead another retreat and to spend more time with these majestic, wise creatures.

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You may view a video I put together of the weekend here.

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Paris for a Day

I was only in Paris for a day, and it only took that long for me to fall in love with it.

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Me being geographically savvy. Photo by Josh Winslow.

While I wish I had had more time in this beautiful city, I did manage to do quite a lot in my brief time there. I arrived around six in the morning, which meant the streets were pretty much deserted. I dropped my luggage off at Hotel Verneuil and, while I couldn’t yet enter my room since it was so early, I was able to enjoy a delicious breakfast in their underground dining area. The server actually said, “Bon appetit!” as she finished pouring my coffee, and that’s how I knew I was really in Paris.

Cozy underground dining area at Hotel Verneuil

Cozy underground dining area at Hotel Verneuil

With a yummy French breakfast in my belly, I was ready to explore. The hotel was only a few minutes’ walk from the Louvre, and when I arrived, I was struck by how eerily deserted it was. One of the perks of being a morning person—avoiding ridiculous crowds of tourists!

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Sculpture of King Louis XIV by Bernini

Sculpture of King Louis XIV by Bernini

After wandering around the Louvre, I began to make my way toward the Eiffel Tower because you can’t go to Paris and not see the Tower. I took my time, meandering through the Tuileries Garden, admiring the fragrant flowers and stoic statues.

Arc du Triomphe du Carrousel

Arc du Triomphe du Carrousel

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Once I reached the end of the Garden, I walked along the Seine, keeping the Tower in view all along the way. The walk took only about 40 minutes, and I was taking my time, stopping occasionally to snap a photo or to people-watch.

Just one of the 37 bridges in Paris

Just one of the 37 bridges in Paris


This plant-covered building looked like something out of a Dr. Seuss book.

This plant-covered building looked like something out of a Dr. Seuss book.

Although the Louvre and Garden had been relatively deserted, the Eiffel Tower was already pretty lively by the time I got there. I enjoyed walking around and taking in the view from various angles and, of course, did some more people-watching.

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paris eiffel tower

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By this point, I was feeling in need of a bit of nourishment, so I Yelped cafes nearby and found Kozy Salon Urbain. Many of the reviews mentioned that this place had the best croissants in Paris, and they weren’t kidding. The barista was pleasant and welcoming despite my VERY limited French speaking skills. My croissant and caramel latte were completely satisfying. I could’ve eaten 10 more croissants, but I’m an adult, and adults don’t do things like that. I only slightly regret not having at least one more croissant, though—it was really the best I’ve ever had.

Later that day my partner in crime/boyfriend arrived and we went to the Ponts des Arts (the bridge with all the love locks), of course, because how could we not? But no, we did not add our own lock. They cut the locks down now, so instead we admired the sentiment and the view from the bridge.

Photo by Josh Winslow

Photo by Josh Winslow

Next we made our way to Notre Dame, which is immeasurably more impressive in person than it even is in photos.

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We enjoyed Paris to the fullest one can in just over 24 hours. I can’t wait to go back and get to know this lovely city even better.

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Ask and You Shall Receive

This life is truly amazing. There are rough patches, but how would we ever appreciate the good times without the bad?

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My corporate job and I recently parted ways, and the accompanying emotions included fear, shock, exhilaration, relief and joy. Due to the unexpected nature of this change, I didn’t have a Backup Plan ready to go—hence the fear. What I do have is a lot more freedom than ever before, which is what I’ve been yearning for since I first stuck myself in an office two years ago. The previous stage of my life taught me some valuable skills and helped me get to know myself and my desires better. The next stage of my life will be one of uncertainty, adventure, thrills (and some spills, most likely), and I couldn’t be more excited.

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Doors are already opening for me. Put out there into the universe your heart’s desires, and you may just get what you wish for. I’m passionate about yoga on horseback and am receiving inquiries about clinics. I was yearning for more travel, and because of some magical serendipities, the next two months I’ll be away more than I’ll be home. I’m heading to Kuntz Nokota Horse Ranch this month to teach a yoga retreat, and a few days after I return from that, I’ll be on a plane to Reno to make my way to my first ever Burning Man. Right after my week in the Playa, I’ll be on a plane to Bolivia, where my dad is from, where I’ve wanted to go my entire life.

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After that I have no idea where I’ll go or what I’ll be doing, but what excites me most is that I’ll have the freedom to make my own way. I must make a living, but that doesn’t mean I have to be tied to a desk every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. If that life makes you happy, great, go be the best at it. But it’s not for me. There will be challenges as I try to find ways to make my life financially sustainable doing what I love, but because I’m committed to following my heart and doing work that speaks to my soul, I know the universe will provide all I need.

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Some may believe faith is for the foolish, but I believe it takes a brave and wise soul to have faith. Having faith means trusting in the good, believing that good exists at all, believing that the heart’s wishes should be heeded and the soul’s yearnings fulfilled. How else should we ever live our lives than doing what we love? What else could possibly be more important than lifting each other up and making this world a better place by utilizing our own unique gifts? So I say cheers to uncertainty, for it gives us an opportunity to immerse ourselves in the flow of the universe and be guided by our hearts and souls.

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“Just living is not enough…one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.” ~Hans Christian Andersen

Curiosity Killed the Close-Mindedness

Home is behind

Curiosity drives us, as babies, to crawl and then walk. Curiosity drives us, as adults, to take road trips, buy plane tickets and hike mountains. Curiosity drove all the great inventors of history and drives all of today’s innovators.

In my yoga practice, curiosity drives me to find my edge in each pose. Do I ever fall? Of course—that’s part of the practice! We all fell when we were learning to walk, too, but it didn’t stop us from trying again and again until we mastered our own two feet.

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In my travels, curiosity leads me to places off the beaten tourist path, to strangers who become friends, to foods I love and to adventures I never could’ve planned.

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In my horsemanship, curiosity opens my heart to what my horse is saying. Curiosity enables me to deepen my connection with Snowy and maintain a relationship built on trust, respect and love.

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When’s the last time you let curiosity lead you? When’s the last time you let curiosity beat fear? If you’re curious, you’ll learn. If you’re fearful, you’ll hate anything you don’t understand. If you’re curious, you will come to know and understand many things. If you’re ignorant, your world will only become smaller with each passing day. If you’re curious, you’ll find that answers usually only lead to more questions, but instead of feeling disappointed, you’ll relish the opportunity to continue seeking knowledge. Curiosity enables you to change and grow.

Let curiosity lead you today and let me know what you find.

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5 Bloggers You Need to Know

I read A LOT of blogs before deciding to start my own. It’s scary to start your own blog. What if no one likes it? What if you run out of things to write about? And the scariest question of all: What if no one reads it?

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You can’t always see what’s ahead. Sometimes you have to go on anyway, blind and hopeful.

I still struggle with those fears, but I have a new mantra: If you write it, they will come. I truly believe like attracts like, and I know my words will reach those whose hearts they’re meant to touch. The scariest acts in life are often the most rewarding. I once jumped off a 30′ cliff into water. By far one of the scariest things I’ve ever done, but also one of the most exhilarating and memorable. I jumped a total of three times, and every single time was scary. So I’m not going to tell you it gets easier, pouring your heart onto a page and trusting the world not to completely mutilate it. What I will tell you is that it’s worth it. So meditate today and find the things hiding in your soul that scare you. Pull them out into the light. Hit the gas and don’t look back. The only things worth doing in life are the things that make your soul sing.

I hope if nothing else, I inspire you to make time for the things that make this life worth living to you—writing, dancing, riding, traveling, decorating, painting, surfing, whatever it is that fulfills you.

Need some inspiration to follow your dreams? Here are the bloggers who inspired me to follow mine:

1. Yoga Girl

Handstanding like a boss

Handstanding like a boss

Rachel Brathen is Instafamous and is quickly becoming actually famous. I first found her on Instagram, but now I stalk her on Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat. I’m obsessed, I know. Rachel writes about her life in picturesque Aruba, traveling the world to teach yoga, rescuing dogs, and yummy recipes for smoothies and vegan and vegetarian dishes. She and her husband, Dennis, also have an adorable blog together.

I just found out Rachel’s going to be at Burning Man this year and so am I! I’m so looking forward to meeting a fellow yogi who has been such an inspiration to me. Rachel is one of the most authentic people on social media. You won’t regret following her.

2. Global Frolic

Surfing like a boss

Surfing like a boss

I’m stoked to say I know Emma Doyle personally. We met when we were both studying abroad in Córdoba, Spain, and I was instantly attracted to her positive vibes. Now she has this super-inspirational blog that will make you pack your bags and book a one-way plane ticket faster than you can say “baby turtles.” You can stalk her here and here. And no one will blame you if you develop a girl crush.

3. World of Wanderlust

Touristing like a boss

Touristing like a boss

Warning: Brooke Saward’s blog will give you hardcore travel envy. She’s a super-talented photographer and blogger and manages to stay at some uber fancy places when she travels. She has truly turned her love of travel into a full time career. No matter where she is in the world, you can find her here, here and here.

4. This American Girl

Mermaiding like a boss

Mermaiding like a boss

I love Camille Willemain because she’s the perfect blend of inspirational and real. Breathtaking beach photos and amazing travel stories make up her blog just as much as real talk about getting sick, money struggles, and other challenges that come with a life of travel. One of my favorite times is when she got real about travel and white privilege. Find Camille here, here and here.

5. Meg At… 

Horsing around like a boss

Horsing around like a boss

Last, but most definitely not least, there’s Meg Banks. She’s the go-to blogger if you’re into horse shows. Whether you’re a competitor, horse show mom or dad, or even a horseperson who isn’t on the show circuit, you’ll enjoy her candid photos and clever commentary. She captures moments and scenes that may otherwise go unnoticed, but it’s those little details she sees that make the shows special. Meg came to my neck of the woods to attend the Upperville Colt & Horse Show, but I was traveling in Europe, so we sadly didn’t get to meet in person. It’s okay though, we’re totally social media besties. You can be her best friend, too, here, here and here.

Each of these bloggers inspires me because they had the courage to follow their hearts and write about something they love. Pouring yourself onto a page is one of the most vulnerable acts you can perform. Following your heart is one of the scariest choices you can make in life. I say go for it. Will your heart break? Many times. Will you heal and be stronger for it? Absolutely. So whatever it is you’re dreaming of doing, whether it’s starting a blog, buying a one-way plane ticket to a place you’ve never been, quitting your job to create art full time, or anything else you dream of, do it. The universe will be there to catch you and, who knows, you may even grow wings.

Traveling This Wild, Wonderful World

I’ve had dreams of traveling since pretty much the day I was born. My father is from Bolivia, so my feet have been itching to go there all my life. Bolivia hasn’t been checked off my list yet, but lots of other places have, and I intend to continue exploring this big, fascinating world until my wanderlust is satisfied which, I suspect, may be never.

Two of my biggest passions are horses and yoga, and I often combine them. Finding unique spaces in which to practice yoga and discovering innovative equestrian programs are two things that drive me to explore. I don’t limit my destinations to those that have yoga and/or horses, though, as it’s a big world, and I intend to explore it all.

Wengen, Switzerland - land of the greenest grass you'll ever see and idyllic snow-capped mountains.

Wengen, Switzerland – land of the greenest grass you’ll ever see and idyllic snow-capped mountains.

What you can expect from this blog:

1) pretty pictures (rural, urban, horsey, yoga)

2) travel advice (where to go, where to stay, what to eat, what to do)

3) travel stories

4) horse stories

One of my favorite things about traveling is turning strangers into friends. I’ll write about the people I meet, my experiences traveling as a woman, unexpected delights, and making the best of missing a train and other travel mishaps.

Thanks for joining me on this whimsical journey. If you have any questions or feedback, leave a comment below. Follow me on Instagram and Twitter for more photos and instant updates!

Cinque Terre, Italy has the cutest train stations and they smell good. Just look at all those flowers.

Cinque Terre, Italy has the cutest train stations and they smell good. Just look at all those flowers.