Adventures on Horseback

Written by  Claudia Flisi

The variety of trips and operators with an equestrian focus is mind-boggling. To sort out what trip is best for you, remember the ABCDs: ability, "brand", cost, and destination.

Written by Claudia Flisi's photoClaudia Flisi


Let’s start with ability. Many riding holiday companies make it easy for you by marking their offerings for "novice", "intermediate", or "experienced" riders. Some trips – but rarely those that involve trekking from place to place – have multi-level programs that can accommodate riders of different levels, including family trips including young children.

The reputable operators will always try you out in the ring before they slap you on a horse and send you into the wild. Their concern is not only for you: an inexpert rider is a risk to the physical and emotional well-being of the horse and to other horses and riders. Be very leery if you are put on a horse without any prior questioning or instruction. Your horse may be a hack but your operator is a gonif.

B is for Brand

B is for brand, also known as "style" of vacation. There are almost as many styles of holiday on four legs as on two. You may want luxury or simplicity, camping in tents or luxuriating in lodges, riding back to the same place each night or moving from one location to another, The basic categories can be classified as:

1. Instruction

These holidays are in one place, offering one or more hours of lessons a day (usually in the morning) followed by included or optional hacking in the afternoon. Instruction isn’t only for beginners; in fact many experts seek to improve their jumping or dressage on these trips. Some locations offer Monty Roberts-style seminars on communicating with your horse as additional options. In Argentina, polo camps are a popular alternative. Some ranches in the Western US offer lessons in cowboy skills such as lassoing and rounding up cattle.

2. Lodge-based

These may be offered at ranches or hotels, estancias or plantations anywhere in the world. The common denominator is that you sleep in the same place each night and ride out to different locations each day. Each ride may be an hour or two, several hours, or an entire day. Some lodgings include a certain number of hours with their basic package while additional riding is optional; others allow you to ride as long as you want for the one fee. You may have the same horse each time or change horses daily, again depending on the policy at your specific lodge. This is a good choice for a beginner or a group of riders of different skill levels.

3. Horse treks

On a trekking vacation you start in one place and end up in another, transported primarily (not always exclusively) on horseback. You might be roughing it in tents along the way with your horse munching grass just outside your tent flap. Or you might choose a lodge-to-lodge trek where you sleep in four-poster beds with gourmet meals and hot baths each night. In some horse treks, you change horses when you cross borders, as in Patagonian rides between Argentina and Chile, or African rides between South Africa and Botswana. A minimum of intermediate experience is required for most treks.

4. Horse safaris

Safaris may be lodge-based or trail trekking. What distinguishes them is that they are in Africa and are designed to bring riders in close contact with wildlife. Because of the high degree of risk in such encounters, only expert riders should consider a safari on horseback.

C is for Cost

A vacation on horseback is never a low-cost option, but there are common sense guidelines, just as there are for other holidays. High-level accommodations are going to cost more than tents, expensive countries are going to carry higher price tags than developing countries, world-class facilities are going to charge more than the owner of an agri-tourism operation, and so on. But caveat emptor. In a developing country where the logistics are complex, you may wind up spending as much as for a riding vacation in Western Europe. A tented trek in Mongolia, where you sleep in sleeping bags and eat boiled mutton and ride tough little horses that have been trained for Mongolian riders, cannot be directly compared to a trek in India with spacious tents and sleeping cots, full course meals and elegantly-gaited Marwari horses, although the per diem cost might be about the same.

D is for Destination

Your choice of destination will depend on the "ABCs" noted here. If your ability is limited, a Kenyan horse safari is not a good idea. If you want a luxurious experience, an endurance trek in Namibia is not recommended. If cost is a major consideration, you might want to stick close to home to save money on travel expenditures. For example, you can ride like the wind in Mongolia without fences, but you can do something similar on the Hungarian puszta. If the world is your oyster, lucky you! You should base your decision on what you want to see, how you want to see it, and what kind of horse you’d like to take along for the ride.

More Great Riding Experiences

Comments by other travellers

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