Horse-Vacation Planning Tips

When was the last time you took an actual vacation-the kind where you go somewhere and stay for a weekend or a week or longer? Riders are often vacation-deprived. Some simply can’t imagine going without their daily riding “fix”; others would gladly go off if they could take their horses with them. Don’t worry, be happy-there’s a wide variety of vacations designed for you.

Here, we’ll give you the lowdown on bed & barns, riding vacations (here and overseas), and guest ranches. Along the way, we’ll profile two bed & barns, plus give you travel-planning tips and explain a bit about the paperwork you’ll need to cross state lines with your horse. We’ve also included a resource guide listing helpful books, newsletters, and websites.

Bed & Barns

Want to go on vacation with your trusted trail mount? Unless you’re horse camping, packing, or going for a day ride, you’ll want what’s known as a “bed & barn”-that is, an overnight stabling facility that will welcome both you and your horse. Many such places are old houses or small private hotels; some are converted taverns, churches, or stables. Look for those with beautiful scenery and easy access to trails.

After you’ve narrowed down your list of possible B&Bs, here are some suggested questions to ask the proprietor:

  • What are your equine-health requirements?
  • What’s the per night, per horse charge, and what does it include (feed, bedding, stall cleaning, etc.)?
  • Do you have any package deals?

Riding Vacations

If you’d like to focus solely on riding, then a riding vacation-either in the United States or abroad-is for you. You’ll typically ride with others at your own riding level, on a mount matched to your skills. You’ll return to central overnight accommodations, or ride to a different place every night, ranging from cottages to castles.

Here in the United States, clinics and riding lessons by nationally known instructors are popular. Overseas, you can take classical dressage lessons in Portugal, ride inn-to-inn through France’s Provence region, get a horseback view of volcanoes in Iceland or glaciers in Chile, or ride on the beach in Costa Rica or New Zealand.

The owners and staff at each of these reputable riding-tour companies personally check out each ride. “The first time we go, they don’t know it’s us,” says Karen Lancaster, owner of Cross County International. Then, she says, they go the extra mile. “We might make some changes to a ride to make sure it’ll be comfortable for American travelers. For instance, we make sure there’s a private bath and food items that Americans are used to. A riding vacation should be comfortable and fun!”

Ranch Vacations

Some guest ranches allow you to bring your own horse, but most don’t. However, this can be a plus: You’ll be able to trail ride in places to which you wouldn’t necessarily have the time or inclination to trailer your horse, freeing you to travel farther afield. You’ll also be able to ride different types of horses. And, when you’re finished riding for the day, a wrangler will do most of the horse work for you. Guest ranches are also ideal for families, especially when some family members prefer other activities to trail riding. Here’s a rundown of types of ranches.

Working Ranch. A working ranch is, well, a working ranch. It’s a ranch that takes guests, not a ranch designed for guests. Guests-usually just a few at a time-come to experience the nitty-gritty of life on a ranch, and the guest activities consist of participating in the day-to-day operations. Working ranches have an authentic, “down-home” atmosphere. You’ll sleep in a bunkhouse, cabin, or lodge, take meals with the family, and enjoy good home-style cooking. If you want to get a feel for what ranch life is like, this is the place for you. If you prefer to trail ride outside the context of ranch work, this may not be the place for you.

Dude Ranch. A dude ranch is guest-oriented-that is, dependent on guests for most of its income, and is set up for their comfort and convenience. Dude ranches typically have many guests at one time, and offer horseback riding, guided trail rides, and a variety of other activities. Some have special programs for young children. If you want a vacation in Western surroundings with horseback riding, cookouts, and other activities that may appeal to the less horsey members of your family, this may be the place for you.

Resort Ranch. Some dude ranches go far beyond the traditional offerings of trail rides, riding lessons, cookouts, campfires, and sing-alongs. They offer gourmet cooking, pools, hot tubs, fitness centers, spa treatments, golfing, tennis, seminars, lectures, area tours, and planned evening entertainment-they’re effectively resort ranches. If your ideal vacation location would be a luxury hotel and spa with horseback riding, a resort ranch may be the place for you.