Horseback Vacations: Some of my fondest memories take me back to the various horseback vacations I took during my teens and early twenties. I did it all, from pony trekking through the hills of Wales and the moors of Devon and Cornwall, to instructional riding courses at top riding centres throughout England. Each week-long vacation brought with it a wealth of experience and knowledge that seems out of proportion to the time spent. Emersing yourself in horses, horses, horses for a week seems to give you a sense of familiarity, knowledge and confidence that takes much longer to build with weekly lessons.
I consider it a shame that since moving to the United States in 1982, my work schedule (not to mention my finances) have not allowed me the freedom to experience that epitomy of all things Western -- the Dude Ranch horseback vacation.
Whether your idea of the perfect horseback vacation is to spend a week honing your dressage skills with a respected trainer, or to spend a week traversing breathtaking countryside on the back of a horse, there's something out there for you.
In order to narrow down your choices, get some paper and a pencil and start making a note of what you want from your vacation. Make a note of whether you would prefer a place that:
Offers instruction in your favorite discipline
Offers trail riding in a part of the country/world you haven't been to before
Lets you take your own horse
Gives you a horse you can call your own for the week
Offers packages for adults and/or children
Offers instruction in horsemanship and horse care
Gives you an opportunity to participate in other (non-horsey) activities
Provides modern, hotel-style rooms, or "stay with the family" accomodations.
Equestrian Vacations tend to differ in the various countries. For example, in the UK, instructional riding holidays are very popular. The itinerary usually includes a morning lesson with an escorted ride in the afternoon. Quite often the holiday includes some sort of competition at the end of the week, where riders can display their improved skills and win a souvenir rosette or ribbon.
In the United States, Dude Ranches are very popular. These can be actual working cattle ranches, where guests take part in daily ranch work, or they can offer daily rides in over some beautiful scenery.
In other parts of the world, such as exotic destinations like Mongolia or Africa, you can take part in an adventurous riding tour, riding the local horses and meeting the local people.
My Equestrian Horseback Vacations section is divided by country, to help you narrow down your search.
Whichever type of equestrian vacation you choose, asking as much information as possible prior to making your reservation will help you avoid disappointments:
Do they cater to your skill level? If you are a beginner, let them know ahead of time.
Do they have suitable horses for you? Riding a horse suitable for your skill level will be more pleasant, not to mention safer.
If you are taking your own horse, what is provided? Some facilities will provide bedding, feed, hay etc. Others will expect you to provide your own.
Are the rides fast or slow? An A-type personality may get easily bored on a slow ride through hilly terrain, preferring lots of opportunities to canter and gallop.
What is the weather usually like at the time of year you plan to go? Even if it's generally cold or rainy, being prepared will make your trip more enjoyable.
What are the accomodations like? Don't be surprised if you have to share a room, or help with cooking and cleaning.
What other activities are available? Not everyone can stand nothing but horses for an entire week. Many facilities offer activities such as swimming, tennis, shopping and more.
I hope this has helped you in your search for the perfect equestrian vacation for you. Don't forget to stop by the Horses Discussion Forum when you get back and tell us all about your horseback vacation!