Horse riding in Bulgaria is an inimitable experience, which offers a great deal of satisfaction, whether you are a novice or an experienced rider. The rich Bulgarian landscape, particularly the mountain areas offer varied terrain and some great routes for riding. Seeing Bulgaria from the saddle will also enable you to take in the breathtaking scenery at a slow pace as well as spotting some of its abundant wildlife.
You will also encounter many of Bulgaria's horse breeds - the country has many different breeds, many of which are renowned for their compliant temperament. Many Bulgarian horses are used as working horses and are often dressed in beautiful, coloured headdresses, bridles and saddles. These horses are extremely strong and because their owners demand so much of them they are well fed and looked after. They are used to pull carts and timber as well as to plough the land. There are also many wild horses in Bulgaria roaming the countryside and often straying into nearby villages. Whilst these horses appear tame enough to ride, they are likely to buck and bolt having never experienced the weight of a rider on their backs.
Trekking through the Pirin Mountains
Many would argue that the Pirin Range is Bulgaria's most natural and picturesque mountain range. It lies in the south western part of the country between the Struma and Mesta Rivers. Pirin has an alpine relief with many stony marble and granite cliffs and peaks, deep, steep sided hollows, pretty glacial valleys and many lakes. The areas Mediterranean influence on its climate means that it is the area with the sunniest days making it a pleasant place for long treks throughout the year. The abundance of small mountain lakes, the valleys covered in rare wildflowers and the white pine and fir filled mountain slopes make this every rider's paradise.
Saddle up in Stranzha
The Stranzha Mountains in the south east of Bulgaria are picturesque and little explored by tourists. The area is covered with exquisite, old beech and oak trees. The eastern part slopes down to the Black Sea and is the area with the highest population; the rest of the mountain area is sparsely populated. The surrounding villages like Bulgare preserve many old Bulgarian customs and traditions including the old Bulgarian Nestinari ritual of dancing over hot coals barefoot. The Strandzha is also home to many rare species of flora and fauna. The real beauty of this area is its close proximity to the sea enabling tired riders to refresh themselves in the warm, calm waters of the Black Sea.
Riding through the Rhodopes
The Rhodope Mountains are some of the oldest mountains in Bulgaria. They are often viewed as the land where panpipes and the ancient Greek musician and poet Orpheus originated. This is a region rich in gems and mineral ores, rounded forested peaks, scenic villages and welcoming people. There is some spectacular scenery particularly in the karst areas with their deep river gorges, large caves and detailed sculptured forms. The area is home to some of the best conifer woods in the country and there are 15 nature reserves, some of which are UNESCO protected sites.
Blazing through the Balkan Range
A trail through the majestic Balkan Mountains will take you across the old beech forests at the foot of the Vezhen and Sveshti Plaz peaks. You will canter past the Etropole Monastery, which dates back to the Second Bulgarian State and is stooped in legends, and pass through the Tsarichina and Boatin biosphere reserves, which are part of the UNESCO Man and Biosphere Program. Boatin has been a natural reserve for over 50 years. It lies at the foot of the Tetevenska Baba peak, close to the village of Cherni Vit. The area is rich in beech some of them 200 years old. Tsarichina reserve on the northern slopes of the Balkans is a self-supporting eco-system. The area is full of fir and beech trees, with spruce and white fir being particularly beautiful on the upper slopes. The terrain in this reserve is in many parts rocky and this is responsible for the survival of more than 600 plant species, 23 of which are so rare they are listed in the Bulgarian Red Book of rare and protected species. The area is also home to over 60 species of bird and many use the dense forest for nesting. The brown bear is also a common site here as are wolves, wild boar and red deer, but from the riding trails you will not come to any danger and most of these animals only show themselves at night.
Choosing a Riding Vacation
Bulgaria is home to many good riding schools and with such a varied and beautiful landscape, making it perfectly suited to a holiday in the saddle. In fact there are a growing number of niche market operators who can organize your holiday around your love of horses.
The best horse riding holidays are with companies who have well developed stables combined with good riding conditions and accommodation. The best way to choose a suitable stable is to read up first on its location, checking out the area's natural resources. It is also crucial to check that the stable has a variety of well-schooled horses to suit all tastes, ages and abilities. You will also need to ensure that you are accompanied by an experienced guide who knows both the area and the horses well.