In 2004, Newman was writing travel and horseback riding articles, and riding in her free time, when she got the idea for a website that would provide information about travel on horseback. “No one else was doing it,” she says.
Soon after, she and Ward were posting video of a trip to Ireland and trail rides. Then the couple was mentioned in a Business Week blog “for being innovators in online video,” Newman says, “so we knew we were doing something right.”
Married in 2005, she and Ward decided to try producing a travel show, and approached the Horse TV network. “I had the idea that I’d love to travel the world and ride horses,” Newman says.
The network said it would air the show if the couple could line up advertisers and sponsors. Tourism Ireland signed up (it continues to sponsor the series today) and the pilot was filmed in that country. The episode aired on Horse TV—and Equitrekking was born.
Not long after, the couple decided to approach PBS about airing the show. They figured it would be a better fit because of the educational content—and the added exposure wouldn’t hurt. A PBS station in New Mexico agreed to run an episode if the couple found sponsors. “It’s kind of on us as independent producers to do everything,” Newman says.
After that episode ran, Newman traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with Gronski, a college friend, at television station WETA.
Gronski was struck by Newman’s ease before the camera. “The crew works to build a natural atmosphere for the on-camera guests so they can forget about the cameras and lights and the fact that everything they say is being recorded,” he says. Newman was able to get guests to “just talk, as if they were among friends.”
Since the show’s PBS debut, Equitrekking has picked up additional sponsors and filmed 33 episodes in 33 different locales. It will air two new episodes this spring on Africa.
Each hour-long episode requires extensive research and planning. Newman says locations are chosen based on where she wants to go and what would make a good story. Once on location, the crew usually visits three or four places in a country, filming for five to seven days.
For a recent trip to Botswana, they had to hire helicopters and boats to film Newman on horseback. They’ll use Jeeps at some locations, or Ward and Barna will film while riding along with Newman.
“When we’re all riding, that’s the hardest thing to do…as far as filming,” she says. Ward and Barna sometimes ride ahead and set up for filming, then hope “the walkie-talkies’ frequency is working as they tell us what to do and where to go,” Newman says.
The crew shoots in high definition and downloads to a hard drive while in the field, which can be difficult in remote locations. Sometimes, the crew has to rely on a generator. “Electricity has been a huge issue for us,” Newman says. “Lots of times, there is none.”
Newman says people ask if she and the crew bring their own horses when they travel. They don’t, because different horses handle different terrain, and “the breeds are kind of a showcase for the land and the history and the people, and how history has developed in the country,” Newman says.
She has learned to adjust to unfamiliar horses and asks the owner about any quirks the animal might have. And if she’s uncomfortable with a particular horse, she asks for another.
That’s what she did in Turkey, when a man wanted her to ride his prize stallion. She said no because she sensed the horse would want to run.
“You don’t always get the perfect horse. Different horses have different personalities,” she says. “The horse I ride and the horse the guest rides—they need to get along.”