This time last year, my family started planning a vacation. We were going to do something we’d thought about for years, but never tried. Something that we might love or we might not…there was only one way to find out. So we did it—we booked a Caribbean cruise. For June of 2020.

Like so much this year, the cruise never happened. But before the world stopped for COVID-19, I spent a good amount of time researching activities that my family might do in the different ports of call. The sheer variety of excursions, such as scuba-diving with local guides or tasting local food, were a bit overwhelming, so I asked friends who had cruised before what they recommended.

Almost without fail, my non-horsey friends would recommend a riding activity: “You like horses, right? Ride horses on the beach!” or “Take a horseback tour through the rainforest.” Each time I winced, and asked about other activities more specifically. Riding horses while on my vacation held zero appeal to me, but I couldn’t articulate why. I like horses. They make me extremely happy. Why don’t I want to ride them on vacation?

Maybe it’s the extremes that vacation horses tend to fall into. Don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with sitting on a quiet, saintly, reliable horse who knows his job as he winds his way through the woods. But that’s not really riding to someone who knows how. I enjoy a bit more interaction with the horse and, in my limited vacation riding experience, the seasoned, steadfast horses are so good at their job they don’t need or want my suggestions on how they might do it differently. I am aware of that and feel bad interrupting their work.

On the other hand, if you let a guide know you are an experienced rider able to manage a horse with a bit more “spunk,” you run the risk of the getting a horse with gaps in his training or a bad habit. It’s hard to appreciate the beauty of the beach when you’re trying to not get bucked off. If there’s a horse that falls between these two extremes, the trail guide is usually on it. And they don’t let you ride those horses, as nicely as you might ask.

I’ve never had the opportunity to take a vacation tailored for experienced riders—such as trekking through Iceland on native ponies, or hunting in Ireland—where the mounts hit the sweet-spot of being engaging without problematic, but even then I’m not sure I’d want to. My job is horsey and my hobbies are horsey, so I’m around horses and horse information almost all the time. The vacations that recharge me most offer a change of pace and scenery, so while a “busman’s holiday” (a British term for a vacation similar to your job, which has a surprisingly horsey etymology) is appealing to some people, it’s just not for me.

A family cruise vacation isn’t going to happen anytime soon, if ever, but I continue to struggle somewhat with my vacation-riding bias. Am I not as dedicated a horse person as I think I am? Should I be supporting the jobs of these horses, who are the foundation of these local businesses? Or am I really overthinking this? What about you, fellow horse people: Do you enjoy riding on vacations? 

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