A horsemanship school like no other

CABADBARAN CITY, Agusan del Norte (MindaNews / 3 Aug) – “When are we going to see the horses again?” Aryana, my four-year-old apo asked me immediately after we left the Calo Horse Farm here. “You like to riding the horse?” I replied and she gave me a resounding yes like there’s no tomorrow.

She is probably the keenest guest of Daniel “Toto” Calo, the owner and fourth generation horse trainer-gentleman whose passion is to raise horses and teach horsemanship professionally and develop the skills of horse handlers.

Toto Calo and wife Fe Leonor at the main building of the Calo Horse Farm, which will soon be opened to the public. Photo courtesy of Andre Pena
Toto Calo and wife Fe Leonor at the main building of the Calo Horse Farm, which will soon be opened to the public. Photo courtesy of Andre Pena

Toto is a veteran of the outdoors: a mountaineer, scuba diver, a spelunker and adventurer (a member of the Balangay expedition team). Now retired, he devotes his time running the farm, considered the only horsemanship school in Mindanao.

“We have a few graduates now in the basic English riding course 1 and 2,” says Toto. The students, mostly young, come from Luzon and abroad. The two courses require 12 sessions each.

All guests who wish to test ride or simply look around can do so through a short demonstration with the help and encouragement of Toto and his horse handler. Aryana and his elder brother Rob were portraits of controlled excitement, an exhilarating experience to both. Adults like me were as excited, a little scared stiff but want to do it again (always on my bucket’s list). Now I know what professional horseback riding can do to adults: it can make a child of one again.

“A good-looking horse and a good ride is projection,” Toto proclaims. I can perhaps relate to that. As I was riding I felt power and significance as the wind was blowing around me. Perhaps that feeling is twice as much when one manages to finish a course and explore the football size field where horses of different crossbreeds mill and chew grass from all corners.

A few selected horses parade before us: Akbar, the beige one; Good Boy, the white one; Omar, the father of four; and Sundance, the hunk. “I like Good boy.” Says Aryana. Rob’s favorite is Sundance, confident and proud dark brown.

Aside from horses, other attractions have shaped up in this place, slowly evolving and merging itself into a perfect outdoor and cultural experience. Thanks to Fe Leonor, Toto’s artist wife whose world-class art (exported candles and wax art and crafts) is another reason to seek this fast growing destination.

An authentic mid-size Manobo house stands in one area and two others inspired from indigenous tribes of Caraga Region will follow. An art gallery, a museum, a wellness center and other relaxing facilities are in the works.

Toto is not just a “horseman” but an educator as well. As environmentalist he practices his advocacy. School children come to listen to his lectures on birds, trees and wildlife. College students are regulars for their outdoor training and fun-camp. Fascinating to see is the cluster of endangered native and endemic trees the Calos have collected and nurtured through the years. “My children, more than us parents, will know how relevant they are to their lives,” one parent of a pre-school child commented about the trees.

Can’t wait for the Calo Horse Farm to gallop to a full grown educational nature resort.