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Seeing the World on Horseback

March 03, 1985|JERRY HULSE | Times Travel Editor

Wolfgang Hallauer is an aristocratic John Wayne type who insists that a vacation without a horse is, well, not much of a vacation at all.

This depends obviously on which side of the fence one is on. (I'm content to leave horses grazing peacefully in their pastures. Why spook the poor creatures?)

Still, hundreds of horse fanciers are in harmony with Hallauer. They're clamoring to join his equestrian tours, a total of 22 trips that take in France, Hungary, Spain, New Zealand and Kenya as well as other destinations. Everywhere from the Emerald Isle of Ireland to the desert wastes of Morocco.

On one trip through Alsace-Lorraine, riders make their way through forests and among vineyards and saunter off beside peaceful towpaths. They ride through open fields and meadows and stop for picnic spreads in countrysides that are scarlet with poppies; they visit farms and vineyards, tether their mounts at quaint inns and ancient hotels, including one near Ensisheim that's had the welcome mat out for the last 300 years.

In contrast, other riders cross the land of the Berber in Morocco to swim in both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean and spend their nights in tents like early Moors on the march.

The Morocco odyssey begins in Tangier. It is followed by a train ride to Meknes with its medina, narrow streets and medieval walls. This group visits souks and later rides beside rivers and steep cliffs where the Moors once fought off invaders.

One may choose between "rustic Morocco," which is to say a combination of tents and inns, or a more luxurious package featuring hotels exclusively. It's the difference between $595 and $955, this 13-day adventure into a world that's a flashback to a time when the sword was mightier than the saddle.

Wolfgang Hallauer, who lives in Solvang, is a semi-retired surgeon who has ridden all his life. He got his inspiration to trade his scalpel for a saddle after a riding vacation through Spain in 1980.

It occurred to him that there are few places in the Western United States where one may ride freely through towns and villages as the Europeans do. His enthusiasm soared when he and his bride took a horseback honeymoon through Ireland, France, Hungary and Germany in 1982. Never mind that Wolf got tossed from his nag and broke two ribs. None of this fractured his spirit, only the bones.

Hallauer, who practiced medicine in Los Angeles for 25 years and served on the staff at UCLA, settled recently in Solvang where he packages his tours for horse fanciers.

The first year he rounded up fewer than 100 riders. Last year the number grew to slightly more than 300 and in 1985 he expects a record breaker.

The ride through Alsace appeals because of the picturesque countryside, excellent meals and fine wines. Price for seven days, including the horse, comes to $785. And if a non-riding companion comes along--a wife, sweetheart, friend or whatever--they can hitch a ride in the van that delivers the luggage to destinations day by day.

While Hallauer welcomes all serious riders, the inexperienced needn't apply. They'd be plumb out of place in the saddle for six hours a day, says Hallauer.

Except for Kenya, Morocco and New Zealand, riders are provided shelter at inns, castles, hotels and on privately owned farms.

In Ireland they shed their boots at a hunting lodge that's surrounded by parklike lawn at Castle Leslie northwest of Dublin. Others do a night in Galway after exploring bogs and beaches and the Connemara trails.

Having been reared on a horse in Germany, Hallauer seeks out his old European haunts, particularly Lueneburger Heide, which is the heartland of the equestrian area of Central Europe. Hallauer is particularly fond of a converted farmhouse in the village of Linden that's run by an 80-year-old German woman who "mothers the riders," creating marvelous breakfasts and sending them off to bed on crisp evenings with hot water bottles and a slug of schnapps. Aweek in the loving care of this genial widow works out to $470, which includes one's nag, meals and shelter.

Cows graze outside the door of the old farmhouse and fresh produce is served at breakfast. The evening meals are taken at a couple of Old World inns that feature venison, fresh fish and other specialties of the region.

Hallauer waxes enthusiastic over the village and the old German woman who mothers her guests: "We never felt so welcome anywhere."

On the border of Scotland and England, Hallauer's riders explore forbidding moors on a five-day swing through the haunting Northumberland National Park and the Cheviot Hills, riding through Byrness, Morebattle, Yetholme and Kidlandee, an adventure that figures out to $420 for the week.

In Hungary where Hallauer says "the clock has been turned back to the turn of the century," riders take refuge in an old mill that's surrounded by vineyards and forests and rolling hills.

Ride Along Danube

Other riders follow the Danube on horseback from Vienna to Budapest.

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