In the October 2018 issue, we started on a journey to “Discover The Horse” with local equestrian Alyssa Mathews. We had a chance to catch up with Alyssa exactly five years later and find out about where her journey has taken her. Enjoy!
What is DiscoverTheHorse?
It is an award-winning Equine Adventure Series, YouTube channel and Breed Education Project that documents my journey to ride every horse breed. I have ridden over 100 breeds around the world, so far.
How do you decide which entity representing a breed to visit?
I meet up with breed registries, associations, breeders, equine business owners and individual horse owners. People from around the world send invitations to come and film with them, and my viewers also send in suggestions for breeds and places they would like to see featured. I also do lots and lots of research and contact people directly as I am setting up film trips in specific areas.
What is the most complicated trip to see a breed you have experienced?
Google translate is my best friend while traveling, but it can still be challenging to figure out logistics of travel and organizing filming sessions. One of the main things I need to communicate and confirm is that I actually need to do a ride instead of just seeing the horses. Although I did accidentally ask someone if I could ride their “rare rooster”… (Thanks Google translate!)
How do you finance your trips? Personally, breeders bring you, Youtube?
As most readers probably know, being a horse person tends to cost money. I’m no exception to that, which is why, as a teenager, I started an online horse advertising business to help afford my horses. I continue to find ways to support my passion as an equestrian. It took a lot of dog sitting and horse training for the first DiscoverTheHorse trips to become reality. Now, with an increasing social media presence, I have been able to increase the frequency of DiscoverTheHorse trips and get better equipment. I am also thankful to have passionate supporters on Patreon who provide financial support. If any readers are interested in supporting the project, you can learn more here: Patreon.com/DiscoverTheHorse
Are there breeds that are still on your list that you are struggling with logistics to make it there to see? What is the biggest obstacle?
Yes, the scope of this project is so large and although I have some amazing people who volunteer their time to help me film, I do all of the breed research, video editing and social media management myself. So, having the time to do everything is really my largest obstacle. There are breeds all around the world—some of the places are definitely going to be more challenging. (For example, the Yakutian Horse in Siberia.)
What have you found in common between all of the breeds?
The universal language of horses! It is amazing to go anywhere in the world and connect with people who are passionate about their culture and sharing their love for horses. Whether I’m riding a small pony in the Faroe Islands, on the world’s largest draft horse, or being carried by an athletic show jumper in Sweden, the language that we speak with our horses is universal and we understand each other. I love it.
What are the general outstanding differences between breeds?
It is fascinating to me to discover the origins of each breed and why they have developed into the horses they are today. Some breeds were built for farm work, others for transportation, some were needed for wars, and many were developed for specific competitions. These specialities are tied to the course of human history. Each time I ride a new breed, I get a real feel for those origins and sense a connection to our collective history.
What is your most memorable trip to see a breed?
Oh my goodness, where to even start? I always joke that we never know what to expect when we are heading to a filming session, and it really is true.
One episode, I rode at the Royal Windsor Castle grounds; another I was cantering bareback on a beach in Belgium. One time, in Australia, I got to drive six horses at once. Another day, in Spain, I was given a dress and asked if I knew how to ride sidesaddle. The horse experiences and cultural diversity on each trip makes every one an adventure.
What is the most surprising/unexpected thing you learned about a breed?
During summer celebrations, called “Fiestas,” on the island of Menorca in Spain, there is a tradition where festival goers reach up to touch the chest of a rearing black stallion, which is a sign of good luck for them in the year ahead and is a moment of glory for the horse and rider. I was very surprised to learn about this tradition. If a stallion was rearing in a crowd surrounded by hundreds of people, I would expect the people to run away instead of getting closer and reaching out! Check out my Menorquin Horse episode on YouTube if you want to see me learn this spectacular movement on one of these beautiful stallions.
Have you found breeds that are very similar, but geographically very different?
Yes! My Quest horse for the Kiso Pony in Japan looked almost identical to the Exmoor Pony from England. Both breeds have a long history in their own countries, yet I could not believe how similar they looked, acted and even felt during my ride!
While discovering the horse breeds, what is your: Scary experience? Surreal experience?
Eating fermented shark in a cave in the Highlands of Iceland was certainly not an experience that my younger self would have expected. Also… not something that I would recommend. Watching my videographers gallop alongside me while holding a camera and trying to capture the moment without them falling off is sometimes scary and not always successful. Don’t worry, so far no videographers have been harmed during the creation of DiscoverTheHorse videos—a status I am hoping to maintain, because said videographers include my husband and a close friend!
How many more breeds do you have to see?
Because no one has done this before, a big part of my project is researching and getting accurate numbers. There are approximately 300 official breeds. In Finland, at an equestrian college, I rode my 107th breed, so I am roughly one-third of the way there. My next film trip is to Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Slovenia! It has been an absolutely incredible journey. We now have 190,000 people across the different social media platforms following along, as well as over 10 million video views on YouTube.
What is the best way for someone to ride along and share in the adventure?
Head to my YouTube channel (YouTube.com/DiscoverTheHorse) to watch the videos. I can also be found on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and at DiscoverTheHorse.com. Make sure to send me a message if there is a
specific breed or location you would like to see featured!
Thank you, Alyssa! What an amazing journey to follow around the world by one of our own mountain folks! If you don’t already, subscribe and follow along on Alyssa’s journey and consider helping her on her travels!
Heather McWilliams © 2023