My horseback riding experience is limited to nose to tail, group trail rides in tourist destinations and I love it. It is a beautiful way to see and experience a place. I didn’t think we’d be able to ride in Belize due to our children’s ages so was happily surprised when we learned they could accommodate us.
We depart Sleeping Giant for a 30 minute drive into Belmopan. Our driver turns down a narrow, dirt road surrounded by brush. The road comes to a dead end and he tells us we have arrived. 9am, not a soul in sight. There is an abandoned shelter to my right surrounded by high grass. Where are the horses? He gets out of the car and rings a bell letting them know we are here. No one comes. We follow him down a path that opens up to reveal the river ahead and my hesitation vanishes. Our boat arrives. Using strength and a rope our boat captain literally pulls us across the river to bring us to Banana Bank. Leisa greets us. She tells us they use horse whispering techniques to train each and every horse. The result is a horse who is gentle yet responsive and attentive to the riders ability and command. Over 100 horses; grazing, roaming free. Oliver confidently mounts his horse Samson. Being one of the larger horses we are a bit intimated but Leisa reassures us that he is the most sure-footed and gentle horse. Penny declines a guide and says she will steer her horse Sea Chips. Lucas tentatively mounts Romeo. Big Red is calm and responsive to his reins and Anthony and Ali Banana make a great pair. Our two hour trail ride takes us through the jungle and open fields, to the river and the stunning teak forest. The leaves of the teak tree, when crushed, reveal a vibrant red often used for dye.
One of our guides is a young rodeo star. Born and raised in Belize, the farthest he has traveled is to Mexico for a rodeo. His nephew is following in his footsteps, already participating in rodeo events for which he is qualified at the young age of 10. During our ride they give us a brief lesson in Creole and what it takes to be a cowboy.
After we finish our ride we explore their property which includes a visit to Tikatoo, a rescued jaguar. We learn that Banana Bank is a jungle lodge and offers inclusive horseback riding adventures.
In 1973 John Carr, inspired by a National Geographic article, traveled to Belize. At the time Banana Bank was a cattle ranch. Although run down with broken fences John was immediately enchanted, buying the 4000 acres two weeks later at $18 an acre. John moved his family to Banana Bank when Leisa was 12, living in the “old green house” which was the original train station main house dating back to 1910. In 1985 they built a new house and a hotel and in 2001 electricity was brought to Banana Bank. Leisa has lived in the states and Guatemala but Belize is her home. Her mother, an artist, and her father, a cowboy, still live at Banana Bank.