When I was 9 years old my family took a vacation near Jackson Hole, Wyoming. As we strolled the streets of that wacky, offbeat yet perfectly rhinestone cowboy little town I spied a flyer in a tour office window. I tugged my mom over to read about the trail rides advertised and explained (or whined, more likely) that I’d likely die if I didn’t get to do this.
“But you have horses at home? Why do you need to ride here?”
I grew up on our family-run horse farm, the green pastures teeming with Appaloosas. We kept a stallion with a desirable pedigree and our annual crop of weanlings and yearlings sold for a profit. I spent years in the show ring riding my then 8-year-old gelding to championships under both Western and English tack.
Riding was all I ever wanted to do, even when we traveled. My mom, dad, and brother were all accomplished riders but none of them had the passion for it that I did. My brother never shrieked as only a 13-year-old girl can as we drove past a ranch in west Texas with a giant sign offering trail rides, but one time we did stop and I got to go on a ride.
I was as miserable as the horse I was sitting on.
I’d envisioned galloping over the vast expanse of Texas desert, perhaps penning a cow or two, atop a trusty steed to carry me through. The reality was far different. This was a nose to tail ride and anything faster than a trot was prohibited. I nudged my horse to the head of the line and approached the guide, my heels down and my eyes up. Certainly when he saw my boots in perfect position and the reins held just so above my horse’s withers he’d allow me to gallop, right? No. I was politely told to get back in line and, stupefied and ashamed, I never asked to go on another trail ride again.
Many horsey families run into these exact scenarios when they travel. For instance, there’s a string of horses for hire on the beaches of Mexico but their handler often insists on walking beside the horse the entire time. To add to the frustration, horse people know healthy horses when they see them and most of the horses you’ll meet on the beach haven’t seen a farrier in months and could really use a good dose of Ivermectin and some Calf Manna (if you’re a horse person you’ll know that’s not a good sign).
So how does the traveling family accommodate the riders in the bunch without asking them to compromise the skills they’ve worked so hard to perfect?
Today’s equestrian tourism is a far cry from the dude ranch vacations most explorers are familiar with. Adventurous families can explore almost every corner of the globe and find not only spectacular riding opportunities that are fun and challenging but can also be combined with activities that appeal to those family members who are not riding. In fact, this niche aspect of travel has grown so much in recent years that planning your travels around equine activities is easier than ever.
So, in the spirit of promoting humane and safe equine tourism I’ve compiled five spectacular travel options for the globetrotting, horsey family.
The Aille Cross Country Trail (Galway, Ireland)
Described by Equitours, the company that offers this experience, as one of the best ways to experience the spirit of the Irish horse this ride puts you on the back of a sturdy Irish draught or a Connemara. Both breeds are native to Ireland and Irish horsemen and women are immensely proud of these strong yet gentle animals. Originally bred for working the fields of Ireland, these horses are used today for another reason: following hounds and jumping anything that crosses their path.
During your stay you’ll first be taken out on the cross-country trail and asked to navigate the obstacles. Once the guide has assessed everyone’s ability you’re free to take your horse over the entire string of natural and manmade jumps among various courses around the area.
If you plan your visit during the winter months you’ll have an opportunity few outsiders get: a chance to hunt with the esteemed Galway Blazers. This hunt club proudly dates back to the 19th century and follows strict rules put in place by the Irish government and within their own governing body. Hunting with the Blazers is a privilege and all rules must be obeyed. The hunt prefers that guests are strong riders with experience in eventing and cross-country and the preferred minimum age is 16, although younger riders may be considered with demonstrated ability.
Please note that this is a live foxhunt. For those who prefer not to take part there are many more options to ride cross-country trails that will challenge your abilities while taking in the gorgeous Irish countryside.
Minimum Required Riding Ability Level: Strong Intermediate with Jumping Experience.
Masai Mara Safari (Kenya)
When most think about a safari in Kenya they imagine beefy Land Rovers full of people rumbling down dirt tracks, cameras in hand, hoping for that one shot of an elephant or zebra. But when you’re in Masai Mara country on horseback, the entire scenario changes. You and your horse become part of the landscape, easily able to approach herds of zebras or wildebeests and gallop your horse alongside them.
This is a challenging point to point ride that spans 11 days and you can expect to spend hours in the saddle as you gallop your way across Kenya. In fact, on day three of your trip you’ll cover nearly 50 kilometers. However, at the end of each day you’ll find yourself glamping in campsites that have every possible amenity.
The guides are intimate with the area; they’ll be able to spot wildlife from miles away, making for fantastic photo opportunities. You’ll be able to visit with the Masai Mara tribes who are known around the world for their hospitality and unique cultural traditions. You’ll see one of the most photographed river crossings in the world and, if you’re lucky, you’ll spot the massive herds of wildebeests hurling themselves through it. Most participants on this ride are fortunate enough to spot all of the “Big Five.”
While one of the most spectacular ways to immerse yourself into Kenya, its landscape, and its culture, this trip is not for everyone. Your young riders will be challenged in ways they’ve never experienced and their strength and commitment will be tested. However, along with the profound experience of seeing Africa’s wildlife in their native habitat and learning more about the local culture this trip is one your family will remember for a lifetime.
Required Minimum Riding Ability: Strong Intermediate
Rancho las Cascadas (Juárez, México)
The Mexican people have a long and storied history with horses. As some vaqueros have said, “The only good thing we got from the Spanish were horses”. True to this fact, horses are revered in Mexico as companions, partners, and friends. The horses that the Spanish brought have morphed into the Mexican Azteca, a distinct breed that combines all of the best qualities of the ancient criollos and American Quarter Horses.
Located in the highlands of Mexico is Rancho las Cascadas. This trip is unique in that it’s perfect for families that include members who don’t ride. The ranch itself is an oasis with an onsite spa, infinity pool, and convenient day trips to significant cultural and historic sites can be done in or out of the saddle. But for the equestrians there are a number of rides to choose from, ranging from lessons in the ring to 11 day rides that combine saddle time in the rugged Mexican highlands with non-riding days for sightseeing.
Rancho las Cascadas keeps a stable full of impeccably cared for horses, you can choose almost any type of riding you want to do, and the magic of the Mexican culture has a distinct presence in every portion of the experience. This trip is designed to meld the excitement that riders of all ages crave with a luxury, all-inclusive stay and the ranch staff has the skills, knowledge, and quality horses to offer a great experience to riders of all ages and abilities.
Required Minimum Riding Ability: Beginner
Nagaur Fair Ride, Rajasthan (India)
India can intimidate even the most seasoned traveler, but bringing your young riders to this country will forever change their worldview. It’s a humbling experience yet by exploring the region by horseback in locations that see few tourists it’s also an intimate portrait of a fiercely proud people and the pageantry of the their festivals.
The Nagaur Fair Ride is a lengthy one. You’ll be there for 14 days and six of those days will be spent in the saddle atop a magnificent Marwari horse, a breed native to India. Once used as cavalry mounts, the Marwari is an athletic horse with a great deal of stamina. These horses are revered by the Indian people and have been carefully bred since the 12th century. They’re easily distinguished by their curved ears which touch at the tips.
The accommodations for this ride range from luxury tents to overnight stays in ancient castles. However, the highlight is the visit to the Nagaur Fair. This is India at its best. Chaotic and colorful, farmers from all over the region bring their camels to the fair for sale and trading purposes. Most tourists tend to visit the Pushkar Fair so you and your kids along with the rest of your group may be the only tourists in sight.
You’ll cross a number of different terrains on this ride and while parts of it are challenging the experience you’ll give your children in the magical land of India is well worth the work.
Required Minimum Riding Ability: Strong Intermediate
Epona Equestrian Center (Sevilla, Spain)
If you have a budding dressage rider in your family or simply want to allow them access to the fundamentals then a week at the Epona Equestrian Center in Sevilla, Spain is the perfect place. With a stable full of Andalusians capable of carrying both experienced and novice dressage riders and an instructor who is considered to be one of the best in the country this week will test the skills of both you and your child in a stunning location.
The surrounding area is one of the most beautiful and fascinating parts of Spain. While you’ll be trail riding in the morning and receiving dressage instruction in the afternoons there are still ample opportunities to visit the beautiful city of Seville and you’ll spend time at the Royal Spanish Riding School to see horses and riders working at the highest levels of dressage.
This trip is especially wonderful for non-riders in the family. Golf, food tours, wine tastings, and city tours are all available just minutes from the Equestrian Center. The entire family will enjoy this equine experience as it truly combines a little bit of everything with a solid week of world-class dressage instruction.
Required Minimum Riding Ability: Beginner
Giving your kids the chance to ride at their ability level while exploring the world as a family is the essence of equestrian travel. Be sure not to overestimate anyone’s ability level, be in good physical shape, and saddle up. Fine horses all across the globe are waiting for you.