While I knew that it really didn’t matter, I still held my breath, waiting to be paired up with a horse. Perhaps I’d watched too many Disney movies as a kid. Maybe I just kept picturing Legolas atop a snowy, white mare. Whatever the reason, the idea of riding through the Brazilian countryside on a white horse sounded like an absolute dream.
“And Theresa,” Raul turned to me, “you are riding Cacique.”
I tried to keep my cool, but it was official: I was riding a white horse this day. Internally I was freaking out a little because I’d already been excited about riding horses around Brazil, and this was just the cherry on top. I stayed calm on the outside, though, and calmly grabbed a brush, approached Cacique (pronounced “kah-see-kay”) with his head to my left and rear to my right, and began brushing him.
Before Brazil, last time I’d ridden a horse was years. In fact, the last equine I rode was a donkey actually, weaving its way into the depths of the Grand Canyon. So honestly, I couldn’t tell you the last horseback ride I had…probably because it was well over a decade ago. When I heard about horseback riding in Paraty with Raul Sampaio, my lack of experience was the last thing on my mind, though. It’s hard to think about that when you hop online and see pictures like this:
Looking to experience more of Brazil than just Rio de Janeiro, my guy and I headed south of Rio to Paraty, a small little colonial beachside town. Paraty is a lovely little spot, and when I spoke with many Brazilians after that leg of the trip they seemed almost jealous that I got to go there. Paraty is a little slice of heaven, away from the craziness of Rio and with Brazil’s natural beauty all around.
When we were looking for activities to do, horseback riding with Raul sounded perfect. He’d pick us up at our Pousada in Paraty, we’d ride around the lush green mountainside in Cunha (the neighboring town), we’d feel like we’re in The Lord of the Rings, and then we’d go home. Sounds pretty nice, right? Well, this day actually ended up being much, much more than that…
Raul did pick my guy and I up, right on time. Raul Sampaia is a funny and energetic man who embodies the type of unlimited kindness that I encountered throughout much of my time in Brazil. He beamed with positivity and a big smile, and talking with him came easy. As usual, I asked many questions — where did he grow up, what does he like about Brazil, how does he feel about the political system, etc. — and Raul was happy to share with us stories of his life and the history of the area.
Raul owns 13 horses, all of which are free to wander on his property. But he doesn’t just own horses because he wants to run a riding business — you can tell he is actually passionate about horses and truly loves them. He believes they should be able to live their lives there, unrestrained and roaming to their heart’s content. “I’ve learned so much from them. They teach me something every day,” he tells us, and he hopes that we learn something from our time with them as well.
This is perhaps what really sets apart a horseback riding tour with Raul from any other tour I’ve ever been on. He is one man running this business and caring for these horses, and he is truly invested in their quality of life. If you expect to simply show up and hop right on a horse, you’ll be mistaken. Upon arrival, Raul gave us all brushes to spend time brushing our horses and making friends with them, he demonstrated how to approach a horse and how to cross in front of them, and we learned the ropes on the best way to lead the horses as we rode. He actually wanted us invested in what we were doing, and not just showing up to mark something off of our bucket list.
Although I was a little nervous and out of my element at first, I like to think I warmed up pretty quickly. Turns out, riding horses is fun. Like, really fun. Riding Cacique was an absolute blast! It seemed that all the horses were well-behaved and relatively responsive, but after about an hour we all had a much better handle on riding. We were even able to break out into a gallop a few times, which was such a freeing, wonderful experience.
Although I didn’t time it, I think it’s safe to say we were riding a good two hours or more. My bum was starting to feel a little bit sore by the end, which I expected, but it really didn’t bother me because it was just so darn beautiful all around us. This is the kind of unique, lesser-seen side of a place that I’m always excited to see when I go somewhere.
And I should mention that Raul is a pro, and has clearly been doing this for years. He took most of the pictures of me actually! Most memorably, he turned around in his saddle and rode his horse backwards so that he could get video of me from my phone. He wants to make sure you have special memories of your time, and he definitely goes the extra mile to take lots of photos of everyone participating on the tour.
While it is a horseback riding tour, your day may entail way more than that. Another big highlight for me was stopping for lunch at Raul’s brother’s restaurant, Casa de Serra, which is exactly as I imagined it: nestled away on one of the beautiful hills in Cunha, complete with a picturesque view. I ordered some wine and pasta which was absolute perfection, and enjoyed a hearty meal after such a busy morning.
Raul’s tour is different for everyone, but you might also make a stop by a cachaça distillery and waterfall — it depends on a few different factors, from weather, time, and the comfort level and interest of everyone involved. Our group was interested in both, so we ended our tour with a stop at Engenho do Ouro, the cachaça distillery (so many delicious flavors!) and Tobogã, a waterfall that you can actually slide down. At the end of the day, I felt like we’d gotten a glimpse of some very special, off-the-beaten-track places in Paraty and its surrounding area.
If you’re visiting Paraty and thinking of going horseback riding with Raul, I can’t recommend it more. It is such an amazing and magical way to spend the day. You should keep in mind that horseback riding is not a simple, easy activity. The day after riding, my obliques burned from using them so much! As Raul mentioned to me in his initial email, this is not just a tourist activity — it is an adventure activity suited for those who want to try something different. That said, even as an inexperienced rider, it was one of the best tours I’ve ever been on in my life and certainly one of the best things I did in Brazil during my trip.
If and when you go horseback riding with Raul, here are a few things to remember:
– wear jeans or pants, to avoid chafing
– wear gym shoes, or even better, shoes with a slight heel
– bring sunglasses and put on sunblock beforehand
– also bring bug spray
– a cameraphone is the easiest way for Raul to take photos of you
You can learn more about this tour and book it from Raul’s website, Horses4U, or by emailing Raul directly at raulfsampaio (at) hotmail (dot) com.
Many thanks to Raul for having me on this tour! This is a sponsored post from Horses4U. As always, all opinions are my own, and I only recommend tours for you that I am excited about and believe in wholeheartedly.
Have you gone horseback riding before when traveling, or do you hope to one day? Where would you be most interested in doing a horseback riding tour?