Horse Riding Paradise and Shirley the Goat – Welcome to Skaratki

After several failed attempts to add Ośrodek Jeździecki Skaratki (Skaratki Riding Centre) to Trip Advisor, I’ve settled for leaving my review here. Your loss, Trip Advisor.

Skaratki, pronounced Skaratki, is a village in Central Poland, about 40 miles from Łódź, pronounced Woodge, the second largest city in Poland.

Skaratki Riding Centre offers the best introduction to horse riding you could ever wish for. Ever.  It is also a holiday destination so friendly and so laid back, you will be tempted to pinch yourself every now and again to check whether all this is for real.

By day two, you will feel as if you’d travelled back in time to an era when people focused on simple things in life and found pleasure and contentment in nature, home-made food and having meaningful conversations with animals.

Five dogs of no particular breed play an important role in everything that goes on. So do five goats, including Shirley who has secured exclusive rights for the supply of milk to the Centre. A special mention goes to my favourite, Theodore the black cat, rumoured to have killed a hare a couple of weeks prior to our arrival.

The place is run by Zuzanna and Krzysztof, a youthful pair whose boundless energy, hard work and passion for everything they do defy their chronological age.

Skaratki is a fairly new enterprise for Zuzanna and Krzysztof who moved here from Łódź and built the horse riding facility from scratch four years ago. Not a day goes by without them discussing bold plans for further expansion and improvement.

My 15-year old daughter Amelia had always fancied having a proper go at horse riding, and a few months ago she teased out a firm promise from me, and so here we were on a Ryanair flight, from Stansted to Łódź on the first Sunday of summer half term 2018.

In Skaratki Amelia had 2 one hour riding lessons a day. On Monday she got off to what seemed to me a slow and uninspiring start and after two days of watching her being led on a long rein around a small circle in the training enclosure, I was beginning to lose faith. However Krzysztof, her main instructor, himself a professional rider who had recently returned to competitive level after several years’ break, sounded pleased with Amelia’s progress.

Three days into steady circling in the sand came the first breakthrough. Amelia swapped horses and was allowed to trot the perimeter of the enclosure by herself for the first time. No matter how hard she tried, and she did not try hard at all, she could not wipe a permanent proud grin off her face. What was more endearing still, was an authentic happiness with which Krzysztof and Zuzanna witnessed Amelia, on Elvis the horse, reach each new skill level.

Another two days later, Zuzanna suggested that Amelia could try turning with the horse, to spice up her riding route a little.  Amelia and Elvis raised to the challenge with enviable elegance and grace. Cheshire Cat could take lessons from Amelia now.

Krzysztof watched bemused, Zuzanna came onto the pitch to record Amelia’s latest achievements. What was noticeable at every step, was their deeply personal involvement in their new student’s progress. They celebrated every well executed turn with Amelia, and skilfully encouraged her to push herself to what they recognised as her limit each day. This in turn had an amazing effect on Amelia. It gave her a new confidence and poise I had never seen in her before. I really cannot praise their dedication and professionalism enough, words fail me, and that is a new thing for me.

What is no doubt a bonus to non-Polish speakers among their clients is the fact that Zuzanna had spent the first twenty or so years of her career as an English teacher and translator.

The house offers three guest rooms, each room sleeps 2 or 3 people. The rooms are not en-suite, but if that is an issue for you, you should stop reading now, Skaratki is not for you.

The owners have a couple of bicycles which they will happily lend to you at no extra cost. Country roads starting from the front gates offer hours of cycling heaven among fields of rye, oats and barley.

Talking of cost, we agreed a very reasonably priced package of accommodation, 2 horse riding lessons a day and full board, i.e. three home-made meals a day.

Meals are hearty and simple. You will not go hungry, but if you are not satisfied with scrambled eggs and a selection of cold meats, freshly made goat cheese and tomato salad for breakfast, chicken or pork with rice or potatoes and vegetables, or spaghetti bolognese for lunch (main meal of the day in Poland, served around 2-3pm) and light supper, then please do not come to Skaratki, it really is not for you.

Zuzanna prepares all the meals herself. She caters for vegetarians too. How she finds the time, what with milking the goats, feeding the horses and the dogs, busy teaching timetable and inevitable admin, I have no idea.

Zuzanna’s motto, which she repeats several times a day, and which goes a long way to explaining how she holds it all together with such ease, is a Polish phrase ‘damy radę’, which translates as a cross between ‘we’ll manage’ and ‘it will work out’. It does the trick. She manages perfectly and it all works out beautifully.

Thank you, Zuzanna and Krzysztof! We will be back.

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