Your dream vacation could be a cattle drive, City Slickers style, or following the outlaw trail of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in Wyoming, or a stay at a dude ranch with your very own horse-for-a-week. It could be learning to jump fences at a Club Med in St. Lucia or Mexico. Or an inn-to-inn ride in Europe. The possibilities are endless, and there are rides to fit every budget.
For those in whom the adventuring spirit burns, but the flesh is unwilling, there are spectator trips to major events like Australia's Melbourne Cup, France's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, England's Grand National, the Dublin Horse Show, England's Badminton Horse Trials, the World Equestrian Games, polo's United States Open or Argentine Open championships, or the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. It's even possible to arrange an escorted "behind the scenes" visit to famous stud farms, training yards and racetracks in the U.S. and United Kingdom.
The Comfort Factor
If you'd like for your riding day to end with a hot tub and gourmet meal, you're not alone, says Coloradan Dave Wiggins, who spent more than 20 years building his American Wilderness Experience into a major booking agency for adventure travel, then merged it with the online adventure travel giant, GORP.com, www.gorp.com.
"In the 1970s, adventure travel was considered an Outward Bound kind of thing, eating bugs and bark and climbing a peak-really roughing it," says Wiggins. "In the mid-1980s we adopted an A.W.E. trademark, "The civilized way to rough it.' That helped us focus on the kind of adventure travel people want today, vacations with some luxuries and amenities."
Riding Vacation Companies
Bayard and Mel Fox offer a variety of equestrian adventures for all levels of riders through Equitour, www.ridingtours.com, which is based at their Bitterroot Ranch in Wyoming. The couple has been organizing riding trips for about 30 years, an enterprise that started with taking ranch guests to Kenya and grew into Equitour. The company now offers seven different rides in Africa, as well as more than 50 other areas of the world.
Ron Warner of Warner Guiding and Outfitting, www.horseback.com, confines his trips to one corner of Canada, but what a corner it is-the Canadian Rockies. Warner grew up on a ranch near Calgary and has been introducing guests to the glories of Banff National Park for nearly 40 years. He bought out other outfitters so that he has an exclusive on the park. The scenery on all the trips is extraordinary, with creature comforts varying from lodge-to-lodge rides to "Adventure Expeditions" that involve camping.
If there must be a beach in your vacation, you can leave hoofprints in the sand in places like California, Bermuda, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Ireland or Greece.
Club Med, www.clubmed.com, offers horseback riding in 19 of its villages around the world, and has developed intensive instructional programs in several locations, including the Caribbean island of St. Lucia.
Many resorts offer horseback riding, including West Virginia's Greenbrier Hotel, www.greenbrier.com, which stables 30 horses for lessons and trail riding on 18 miles of paths through 6,500 acres. The 200-year-old hotel has a full range of activities for non-riders, and a world-famous spa sure to soothe the pain of tired riders.
The Homestead, www.thehomestead.com, Virginia's classic turn-of-the-century resort and spa, has 100 miles of trails, instruction at all levels, and competitive trail riding. There are also accommodations for guests' horses.
Personal mounts are also welcome at Vermont's Mountain Top Inn, www.mountaintopinn.com, which offers instruction and more than 80 miles of scenic trails, plus a full complement of resort activities.
California's San Ysidro Ranch, www.sanysidroranch.com, in the hills above Santa Barbara, has 540 acres of canyon riding and accommodations for guests and their horses.
In Florida, the Grand Cypress Resort, www.grandcypress.com, hosts shows and clinics at its extensive equestrian center, and offers instruction in dressage, hunt seat and Western riding.