Bayard Fox, founder of Equitours, has ridden since early boyhood. After graduating from Yale, he traveled widely in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. He has been leading rides at his own Bitterroot Ranch since 1971 and started guiding rides in Kenya with his wife, Mel in 1980. Bayard has been organizing and taking new rides ever since. He has tested scores of rides on six continents and many American states. Few can equal his long experience in leading riding tours and in assessing the qualities of various programs. Bayard rides often with his clients at the Bitterroot during their four-month season, which keeps him in close touch with their reactions and wishes.
What are your thoughts on the value of in-depth Travel?
I love Mark Twain’s wonderful quote – “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” There is a great deal of truth in what Twain says, but the value of travel depends not just on the time given to it, but also on whether it is superficial or in depth, whether it affords real contact with a foreign culture or just a view of the harbor from a cruise ship. On some trips travelers are insulated from meaningful contact with places they visit because they go in groups of people with similar backgrounds who are shepherded from one interesting site to another, housed in international hotels which are similar the world over and fed food much like what they eat at home. Few of us have time to spend a year living with a foreign family in some exotic location in the world and learning the local language. Nevertheless we can avoid the total superficiality and insulation from the local environment of the average cruise or bus tour.
Most of us are confined to a fairly routine existence associating mainly with people who have similar backgrounds to ours. On a riding tour in a foreign setting you will participate in the lives of the local people and have intimate contact with them. It is the kind of meaningful, in depth contact which cannot be achieved through mass tourism. Riding with local guides in small groups through the back country far from normal tourist paths you can get a good feel for the local people and their culture. You will also make new friends with your fellow travelers coming from many parts of the world and varied professional lives. You will find a common bond with local people and other like-minded travelers who share your love of horses and adventure. A riding offers a chance to gain a far deeper understanding through intimate contact with your guides, hosts and other local people. You will also get a much better reception when you ride into a place on horseback than you ever would by pulling up in a tour bus.
Since these tours only last a week or two, it greatly helps one’s understanding of the place you visit to do some reading about its history and culture before you go. For instance, if you are taking a riding safari in Kenya, you could read Isaac Dinesen’s OUT OF AFRICA and Beryl Markham’s WEST WITH THE NIGHT. If you are going to Morocco you could read Gavin Maxwell’s LORDS OF THE ATLAS or if you are going to a Wyoming ranch, you could read Bayard Fox’s WIND RIVER COUNTRY. Books like those will give you a better understanding of what you will see and will put you in a position to ask more intelligent questions of your guides and hosts to satisfy your curiosity. Of course, as Mark Twain points out, digging deeply into a foreign culture is likely to be fatal to your prejudices, bigotry and narrow-mindedness and some feel seriously threatened if these cherished beliefs are challenged. Some are pushed far beyond their comfort zones if plunged into a strange, exotic culture and are fearful of such an experience.
Reflect, if you would, on our on our changing times and the riding tour industry has been impacted.
I have been alive for nearly a century now and certainly the changes in that time are enormous. In the 1920s the need for horses and their ubiquitous use was still more than a vivid memory for most adults and had not yet been completely replaced by cars and tractors: today they are mainly for entertainment or for racing if they are thought of at all. There have been huge changes too in the average level of fitness of Americans which has sadly deteriorated. Now most lead sedentary lives and would have to take rigorous fitness training before they could travel well on horseback or participate in most kinds of active adventure travel. A century ago nearly a third of Americans lived off the land and today it is less than 2%. Urbanites have lost contact with their origins and have little concept of how their food is grown. We have to import Hispanics if we want any manual labor done.
Another huge change in our society is the increased frequency of foreign travel. When I got into the riding tour business 45 years ago only 3% or so of Americans had passports and today nearly half do. Air travel has become more and more common and the most distant corners of the earth have become far more accessible. Travel itself has become more affordable and in most of the developed world vacation time has increased enormously. The US has taken another course and has become the “no vacation nation”. Only China seems to offer as little paid vacation time as we do. The European Union mandates a minimum four weeks a year. The US alone has no mandatory minimum vacation time. Our work culture is such that in many instances people feel they cannot take the small vacations they are entitled to because it would damage their standing in the corporate structure
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