Equine Vacations: Let's Go Ride!

"You can have the best of both worlds," is how Karen May of the North Fork Guest Ranch described a ranch vacation for horse people. "It's riding with all the amenities. You can ride and enjoy seeing different country on horseback, go above the timberline, and also have the perks of everything a resort has to offer!"

She said most of the time people who come to North Fork are horse-oriented, and the first thing they want to know is what type of riding is available. That is the key question to ask yourself before you start shopping for a vacation that includes horses, either your own animals or those provided to you by a ranch, resort, or training facility.

"What are you looking to do?" is the question that Karen Lancaster of Cross Country International first asks. "Do you want to improve your riding with training, relax with trail riding, or both?"

What it boils down to in seeking an equine-oriented vacation is where do you want to go, what do you want to do, and how much do you want to spend?

What And Where?

Many people want to visit exotic locations, and getting there on horseback suits them just fine. There are companies which specialize in equine tours around the country, and around the world. Again, you need to first decide what it is you want to do on your vacation.

Is the most important thing to be in the saddle all day and see new country? Do you want to fish or hunt? Pack into the high country? Ride along the beach? Be schooled by top riders in a certain discipline? Ride for fun and relax in a four-star resort? Herd cattle?

Sometimes it's hard to know what to do when you don't know what you can do. There are many books available for the equine vacation enthusiast, including: Gene Kilgore's Ranch Vacations, an informative book billed as a complete guide to guest and resort, fly-fishing, and cross-country skiing ranches; Frommer's Horseback Adventures by Dan Aadland, who writes from a personal experience with horses; John Muir Publications' Saddle Up!, which states it is a guide to planning the perfect horseback vacation; and Lynne Johnson's annual directory of Western and English riding vacations entitled Horse Lovers Vacation Guide.

If you plan to travel with your horse, you probably will need one of the directories available for overnight stabling, such as Equine Travellers of America's The Nationwide Overnight Stabling Directory and Equestrian Vacation Guide. This type of directory will list camps, bed and breakfasts, inns, and other places where you can safely and comfortably stable your equine companion and yourself. It is wise to call ahead for a reservation and to check on accommodations.

It is important to make sure your horse's vaccinations are up to date and that he has a recent negative Coggins test before you travel. The state veterinarian in your state of destination can tell you what is required. Remember that each state through which you travel will probably have different requirements, and it is better to be safe than sorry and make sure you meet the strictest health requirements rather than take a chance on being sent home.

You also should make sure your horse is in good condition. Remember, if you want to ride in the Rockies, and you're not from a state with high altitude, it can affect your horse as much as you. You also need to know if you have to bring your own water, picket lines, hay, etc. for your destination.

You should check the condition of your riding equipment, as well as your towing vehicle and trailer, before you start out on any trip, but especially on a long trip to a new and perhaps remote destination. Your first aid kits for human and horse should be replenished (see The Horse of October 1996, page 48).

For those of you with exotic expectations, you can head to the Far East with Boojum Expeditions, which book treks to China, Tibet, and Mongolia. Other international outfitters include Equitour and FITS Equestrian. Saddling South specializes in treks and pack trips in Mexico.

Lancaster of Cross Country International said if you are having someone plan a trip for you into another country, make sure and ask if that person or a member of the staff has been to the location, knows the people at the destination point, and is familiar with the horses and facility.

"We go over and take these trips every year," said Lancaster. "All of our staff have been there and ridden and know the horses and trainers."

Cross Country specializes in "training" trips, allowing horse people to immerse themselves into a certain discipline of riding with top professionals.

"We offer dressage, hunt seat, cross-country jumping, stadium jumping, carriage, and basic equitation," said Lancaster. "The coach of the British dressage team teaches even beginners."

And the locations couldn't be better, whether for training or pure pleasure: The Irish coast, Southern France, the mountains of Italy, rugged rides through Scotland and England, inn-to-inn rides, and stationary trail rides where you are based in one place and go out in different directions daily.

"We talk to people and find out what they want to improve," said Lancaster. "Are they nervous galloping down hills? Do they have a fox hunter that charges the fences? Do people tell them they land on their horse's mouth, and they don't seem to get any better? We send out a client information sheet that gets very specific on what the client wants and needs."

Cross Country doesn't book tours in the United States, although there are places advertised as training facilities across the country. Lancaster said while there are very good instructors in this country, in England, Ireland, and France the instructors have to go through a two- to three-year training program to teach, and they must have competed nationally.

Mays of North Fork Guest Ranch said they don't offer unsupervised rides, but with a string of about 65 head, there are horses for every ability of rider. One of the first riding trips takes you into an area where you have various terrain, in order to expose you to what lies ahead on longer treks. From narrow paths, up and down hills, to lopes across mountain valleys there is something for riders of every ability, she said. There is a 45-minute horse orientation for everyone who comes to the ranch, whether or not you are an experienced rider, in order to explain how the ranch's horses have been trained, and to evaluate each rider's ability.

And how many of us would like to sink into a hot tub or take a dip in a heated pool after several hours of riding, with the vista of the Rocky Mountains as a backdrop? Then have dinner served to us? That is a vacation!

Also, most state horse councils have a Trails Committee that works to promote, improve, and maintain riding trails in their area. (A list of state horse councils can be found in The Horse Source you received with your April issue of The Horse. There also are sections on Travel/Tours and Vacations.)

How Much?

Although excluding airfare, the prices of most of the equine vacations are very reasonable, considering most offer lodging, entertainment, training, meals, and riding all for one price. That price can range from $100 to $400 a day and up, depending on the amenities. The most expensive vacations offer private fishing and hunting guides and five-star accommodations and food.

Lancaster of Cross Country said the week-long trail rides range from about $990 to $1,600, depending on the destination. (She noted that Ireland, one of the most beautiful settings, is also one of the least expensive.) A week of training can cost $1,350 to $1,850, and includes meals, accommodations, riding, training..."everything but airfare," she noted.

"These people are in it for repeat business, so it is important to them that each guest is satisfied," noted Lancaster.

May and her husband, Dean, of North Fork Guest Ranch, both were staff on other guest ranches as youths. They came to North Fork as working managers, and worked their way up to ownership. They have two children, Tyler, 4, and Hayley, 7, and said they operate the ranch because, "It is a fabulous lifestyle for us and our kids."

Cost at North Fork varies due to seasonal demand, as do prices at most guest/dude ranches. A trip in the early season is $170 a night, and includes everything from meals and accommodations in a lodge or private/semi-private cabin, to riding, white-water rafting, and target and trap shooting. There are overnight pack trips, fishing, swimming, and entertainment.

Some ranches specialize in family vacations, while others have "adults only" times for those who want to escape the youngsters. Some ranches offer bunk beds, outhouses, and authentic cattle drives, while others cater to your every whim. As expected, costs vary with amenities.

Both Lancaster and May noted that the horses must be gentle, strong, and suited to their tasks, whether it be upper-level dressage, cross-country riding, or a pack trip along the South Platte River. The horses also must be well-cared for and sound. This will make it a pleasure for both the horse as an athlete or work animal, and the horse lover who is using the animal for experience, training, or relaxation.

Editor's Note: The mention of books, ranches, associations, or tour agencies in this article is not to be construed as endorsement of any particular company or product.

About the Author

Les Sellnow

Les Sellnow is a free-lance writer based near Riverton, Wyo. He specializes in articles on equine research, and operates a ranch where he raises horses and livestock. He has authored several fiction and non-fiction books, including Understanding Equine Lameness and Understanding The Young Horse, published by Eclipse Press and available at www.exclusivelyequine.com or by calling 800/582-5604.

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