By Elizabeth Chang
Sunday, September 14, 2008
Darley Newman had a career in television production, an enthusiasm for horseback riding and a yearning to travel. She found a way to merge the three dissimilar elements into her dream job: as the producer and host of "Equitrekking," a travel show.
Darley, 29, grew up in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and indulged in her interest in horseback riding at camp, during college at George Washington University and in New York, where she worked on a variety of television shows, including "48 Hours" and "Frontline." TV work appealed to Darley because, she says, "you're always doing something different and you're always learning something new." But she wasn't thrilled about being in an office, and she started pondering what she wanted to do with her life. She knew she loved riding and travel, and even combining them: Horseback riding with local guides, she says, is an especially good way to learn the nature and history of a destination.
Darley pitched the idea of a horseback-riding tour of Ireland to a small TV network and was told, "We'll air your show, but you have to raise money for it." She found an underwriter in Tourism Ireland, the country's marketing entity, and was on her way: writing, editing, hosting and producing the first episode, which aired in 2004, while continuing to freelance on other television shows. The next year, she filmed another episode, in New Mexico. It ran on a PBS station and caught the attention of American Public Television, which agreed to air more shows if Darley obtained more underwriters. She lined up backing from sponsors such as Icelandair and Manhattan Saddlery, a New York retailer, and kept churning out episodes -- 22 at this point -- and adding stations. (Now on more than 90 percent of PBS stations, "Equitrekking" was picked up by WHUT in Washington in May; it airs Sundays at 2:30 p.m.)
Meanwhile, Darley's husband, Chip Ward, whom she met in college, built a corresponding Web site. Chip, 30, left his financial consulting job to join the "Equitrekking" empire full time as its photographer in spring 2007, about the time Darley stopped freelancing on the side. In May of that year, they moved to Bethesda to be closer to family and have more spacious living quarters. The couple spends virtually all their time on "Equitrekking": "We don't even call it a weekend anymore," Darley says. They are able to support themselves through the production company and Web site, broke even last year and hope to make a profit this year, Darley says.
Thirteen episodes are available on DVD, and Chronicle Books has just published a book based on the series, with photographs by Chip. In addition to filming more shows, Darley is working on selling the series to stations overseas.
"Equitrekking" has taken Darley from Costa Rica to Turkey to Quebec; every place she goes, she rides local horses, in the local style, with local guides. Such experiences thrill her. On her second trip to Ireland, she recalls thinking: "Wow, I can't believe this is what I'm doing for my job. I'm riding a horse on a beach in Ireland."
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