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Having been fortunate enough to have been on riding holidays all round the world, it was by chance that I came across a rather unique company called Relief Riders International, and was impressed by Alexander Souri’s concept of an adventure in India which combined a riding trip on the proud Marwari horses of Rajasthan with humanitarian programs - in Schools, Giving Goats and running a Medical (Eye and Dental) Camp. ‘Riding with a purpose’ really appealed to me. It is now seven years later and I have recently returned from my third Relief Ride.

The ‘assault on the senses’ begins with a tour of Old and New Delhi, and continues on the overnight sleeper train out into the Thar desert. The next night is spent in a historical Fort or Lodge; the riders are then taken by jeep to the first camp to start the ride. My fellow riders have come from the USA, Canada, Europe and Australia - all with interesting stories to tell and a shared sense of purpose and adventure.

I have now ridden three different and fascinating routes across rural Rajasthan, but all with the same aim - to improve the health and education of children in remote villages. Relief Riders try to encourage attendance at rural schools by delivering educational materials (such as crayons, filled pencil cases and notebooks) and sporting equipment; the riders also emphasise the importance of hygiene for good health by doing practical demonstrations of hand washing using soap and a bucket of water. Depending on Government policy at the time, de-worming medication is sometimes also given to the children.

The riding routes are from village to village across the countryside, along sandy tracks between fields, over plains, dunes and hills and through villages with streets full of cows, goats, dogs, camel carts, motorcycles and people! Water buffalo, antelopes and peacocks (the national bird of India) are often seen in the countryside. It’s a wonderful opportunity for the riders to observe the rural economy and way of life, and to interact with local people who come out to see the horses passing by. The horses are used to noise and chaos and are very well behaved. Riding novices can go at a slower pace in the scenic group and confident riders can look forward to lots of canters and even some ‘dunewhacking in the advanced group.

There is so much going on as well as the riding, all efficiently organised by Alexander Souri, Ranveer Singh, Dr. Arora and their logistics ‘teams’ for all things horses and camping, as well as professional medical staff for the Medical Camp.

The camping is a beautiful surprise! The spacious and attractive tents even have an internal bathroom and water is piped in from a big tank to the flushing toilet and to the basin and shower tray taps. There are lamps in the tent and hot water bottles are put into the beds if the night is cold. The kitchen team prepare beautifully cooked meals in camp, there are alcoholic drinks available and delicious curries are brought out by jeep to beautiful lunch points on the days we ride.

Similar to the school program, the Give a Goat program, gives riders the opportunity to individually present nanny goats (usually in a village centre and with an ‘audience’ of interested onlookers!) to families living in poverty; these may be widows with several children, or people with disabilities. It’s a very moving experience to be able to help these recipients so directly. They can take pride in owning a goat, which is very easy to keep and will provide nutritious milk and the possibility of selling or bartering surplus milk or cheese. There is also the chance to breed more goats!

A key element of the trip is the one day Medical (Eye and Dental) camp, held in a public building in a town or village. This is advertised in advance and around 400 men, women and children make their way there from local communities to be examined by small teams of Ophthalmologists and Dentists brought in by Relief Riders International to provide cataract surgery and dental care as required. The riders assist the professionals in roles such as patient registration, recording data and running the Dispensary table which has medicine for 800 patients. It is a privilege to participate in such a meaningful day, and especially to play a part in providing the gift of sight.

During the trips there are chances to take part in cultural experiences such as visiting the famous Rat Temple in Deshnok, or the annual Pushkar horse and camel Fair. The tour finishes in Jaipur, where there is an opportunity to shop for clothing, jewellery or other souvenirs at much lower prices than are charged in Delhi or the west.

Then it’s back to Delhi for the flights home and the chance to reflect. I always come away so aware of the spiritualism pervading the contrasts, chaos and pulsating energy of life in India, and I hear the sounds of the ‘calls to prayer’ in my dreams for days after I get back!

What a wonderful opportunity this is for horse riders with a kind heart and a sense of adventure to embrace. Just bring your enthusiasm and try it! So many meaningful memories have become part of my soul.


-- Judy Large, UK