Horse Riding Vacation Basics

As a photojournalist, I have made a career of being a horse riding vacation junkie. I find experiencing little pockets of the world the typical tourist never ventures into with my rump in a saddle is the best way to experience new places.

horse riding vacation
Riding through the Taylor Creek Canyon at Geronimo Trail Guest Ranch, located in the 3.3 million-acre Gila National Forest of southwest New Mexico, is an idyllic U.S. dude ranch experience. Photo courtesy Geronimo Trail Guest Ranch

There are many questions to ponder when choosing your perfect horse riding vacation. Budget, amenities, riding ability, sleeping accommodations, and food are worth investigating before giving up your hard-earned dollars for a dream vacation on horseback.

What’s My Horse Riding Vacation Budget?

Services such as hotels, shuttles, meals off premises and activities outside of the outfitter’s package all increase the cost. Outfitters hosting rides on their own (or permitted-use) land will be much more affordable than one that ventures outside of their region.

If you’re on a tight budget, consider something close to home to save on airfare. If a ride-share service or rental car is necessary, request the contact information of other guests to help split up this cost.

Where Do I Want to Sleep?

If you are going to wake every morning in pain from sleeping on the floor or cot in a tent, will you be happy in the saddle all day?

horse riding vacation
If you opt for a high-endurance ride like crossing the Andes, you’ll need to be fit for hours in the saddle over all terrain. Photo by clix/Shawn Hamilton

Even camping has variations, from sleeping outside under the stars to glamping in a canvas tent with running water. Choose what works for you.

What Amenities Do I Need?

Not all rides provide toilets and hot showers; you may find yourself straddling a hole in the ground. If you prefer modern convenience when on the throne, be sure to inquire about the facilities.

A hot tub is an added bonus. It helps if freshly made margaritas are delivered upon request, but as long as it is clean, hot and has jets that will soothe aching joints after a long day in the saddle, it will do the trick.

What Do I Want to Eat?

From mutton soup and guinea pig on a stick to pairing Malbec with an Argentinian barbecue, the food possibilities are endless.

What is your tolerance? Can the outfitter accommodate dietary restrictions? Food is an integral part of pleasing guests, and most do their best, but depending on where you are in the world, a delicacy to them may not be your cup of tea.

If you’re traveling from one location to another and camping, the food may be more basic than a five-star ranch dining room. That being said, I’ve had some excellent meals in the wilderness.

What’s My Horse Riding Level?

Simply put, be honest about your riding level. Your mount can make or break your trip. Just because you were a high-level rider as a teen doesn’t mean you’re still an expert. Unused muscles will not enjoy the ride on a high-energy or strong horse. A beginning rider who enjoys the occasional canter on a trail ride should not sign up for a week’s worth of hard, day-long rides.

horse riding vacation
A ride in Cuba incorporates more advanced stretches of galloping. Photo by Clix/Shawn Hamilton

Check the itineraries for hours in the saddle. Are there rest periods at lunch to give your body a break? Unless the adventure of crossing the Andes or galloping the Mongolian desert outweighs the aches of long hours in the saddle, look for something easier. On the other hand, you don’t want to be disappointed that the rides are too short. Choose what is best for you.

Typically rides that go off-property for days will give you the first day at home to test your mount. If you’re unhappy with your horse for any reason, let them know!

What’s My Horsekeeping Tolerance?

Look at the photos on the website and study the horses’ demeanor and tack fit. If an outfitter asks your weight and has a maximum, it’s a good indication that your outfitter prioritizes the care of their horses.

Do your due diligence and talk to people who have been on the ride or look at testimonials.

What Do I Want to See During my Horse Riding Vacation?

Are you interested in the culture and history of the area? Want to learn how to rope a cow, team pen or square dance? How about swimming with your horse, learning to fly fish or the basics of natural horsemanship in a round pen?

Maybe a retreat to find your inner self or a ride combined with yoga will be better suited to your needs.

Who is the Guide?

If your guide speaks your language and is knowledgeable about the local history, flora and fauna, it will make for a much more entertaining trip. Ask about your guide’s language and knowledge of the area.

horse riding vacation
A trip to the Pushkar Fair in India aboard a Marwari could be the unforgettable experience you’re looking for. Photo by Clix/Shawn Hamilton

Will I Be Safe?

When looking at photos on an outfitter’s website, watch for guides placed both in the front and back of the clients. Look for radios on a guide. Did they ask you for your medical insurance or who to call in case of an emergency? Do photos show riders in proper footwear, or are they in running shoes?

Thinking about and clarifying the above questions may paint a better picture of the ride. Manage your expectations. There will always be surprises, but keep an open mind and bring your sense of humor along with your sense of adventure.

This article about choosing a horse riding vacation appeared in the 2021 special edition of Western Life. Click here to subscribe to Western Life Today!

Shawn Hamilton

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