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Horseback Riding Vacations: An Overview and Videos

Updated on August 30, 2012

Enjoy a riding holiday

Ever dreamed of being a cowboy? Ridin’ the range…roundin’ up strays…checking fences…sittin’ around the campfire at night. All this can be yours – for a month, a week, or even a long weekend! Many states across the U.S., especially those “out West,” have guest ranches where you can trade your city duds for a pair of jeans and a cowboy hat. such a riding holiday is possible for almost all ages.

When perusing various horseback riding vacations, you’ll find an astounding number of choices. You might prefer a traditional dude ranch vacation, an authentic working ranch vacation, or a spa ranch vacation that’s the ultimate in horse vacations. If you want to bring the whole crew, check out a family dude ranch. And if you’re seeking something more intense, try one of the cattle drives.

Different types of horseback riding vacations

Typical ranch vacations are usually hosted at real horse ranches or cattle ranches. The wrangler will assess your horseback riding skills and match you to an appropriate mount from the stables. If you’re a novice, you’ll receive riding instruction. At most vacation ranches, you’ll ride the same horse for the duration of your stay. You’ll probably ride twice a day, both on trails and in the pastures. Many dude ranches offer other activities for their guests, too. These might include fishing, hiking, swimming, archery, target shooting, rock climbing, canoeing, and rafting. Some of the guest ranches even have their own rowdy Wild West town!

If you select one of the family horseback riding vacations, there will probably be special activities for the little cowpokes. These often include pony rides, hay rides, marshmallow roasts, and other activities that especially appeal to families with kids. Most of the family guest ranches have a petting zoo, too.

A horseback riding vacation on a working ranch is a notch up from the dude ranch. On these, you’ll be expected to pitch in on some of the chores. Depending on the individual ranch, the ranch work might include rounding up horses or cattle, checking fence lines, helping feed the animals, or even roping and branding. Many of these vacations on a western guest ranch have their own rodeo at the end of the week, and you’ll get a chance to show off everything you’ve learned.

If you want a horse vacation that’s even more authentic, check out the various cattle drives, where you’ll spend your days much like the cowboys of old. You’ll be in the saddle for hours each day as you and the other hands move the herd from one ranch to another. You’ll eat on the trail – usually from a chuck wagon. At night, you’ll sleep underneath the stars. Don’t worry about not being able to sleep because you miss your comfy bed – you’ll be so tired that you’ll drift off immediately. Unless you’re used to riding or are in good physical condition, a cattle drive might be a little hard on your bottom.

Horseback riding vacations at a spa

Okay, let’s say working and being in the saddle all day aren’t your idea of a vacation or of a riding holiday, but you like the idea of a cowboy ranch where you can ride the same horse for your entire stay. You, however, prefer a little more luxury. At a spa ranch, you can have the best of both worlds! Some of these guest ranches have amazing amenities like Swedish saunas, hot tubs, steam showers, and workout rooms. After a trail ride you can enjoy a facial, a massage, and several body treatments.

Accommodations and meals on horseback riding vacations

What are the rooms like at a western guest ranch? They run the gamut from rustic bare-bones bunk houses to family cottages to quaint log cabins to luxurious suites. Just because you’re in the wilderness doesn’t mean you have to rough it! Unless you want to.

What are the meals like at a horseback riding ranch? Again, there’s a wide variety. Most guest ranches have large dining rooms where meals are eaten family style. Many also include fireside cookouts and barbecues, along with picnics by lakes or rivers. Practically all the ranches include three meals a day plus snacks in the dude ranch vacation package.

All inclusive horseback riding vacations

Most horseback riding vacations are all inclusive. Generally, your riding holiday will include meals, snacks, soft drinks, and activities at the ranch or stables. If the ranch serves alcoholic beverages, these probably won't be included in the package deal.

You might want to take some side excursions away from the stables or ranch, too, that aren't part of your all inclusive vacation package. Find out what interesting sites are located nearby before you go on your riding holiday.

What to take on horseback riding vacations

Cowboys dress the way they do for a reason - it's not just to look "tough." Close-fitting denim jeans protect your legs from brambles and bushes while on the trail. In the summer, the straw hat will protect your face from the sun, and in the cooler months, a felt hat will help hold in body heat. Cowboy boots have a wedged heel that helps hold your foot in the stirrup, along with a pointed toe that helps guide your foot into the stirrup. With these points in mind, dress accordingly for your horseback riding vacation.

You'll also want to take along sunscreen, sunglasses with a leash or strap, some Ben-gay ointment, and some aspirin, Tylenol, or ibuprofen.

Prepare for horseback riding vacations

Being in the saddle for long hours can be punishing. If you're not used to riding, you'll quickly discover muscles that you didn't even know you had. If you ride for an hour at riding stables once in a while, this will help some, but a short jaunt at stables won't compare to spending extended periods on a horse.

Also, if you ride English at the riding stables, you'll find that a Western saddle is very different. Before you go on a horseback riding vacation, inquire at your usual stables whether or not they have a Western saddle you could use. Get used to it before arriving at the ranch.

If you're planning on an intense riding holiday like a cattle drive, you'l need even more preparation. Visit your riding stables more often, and gradually extend the lengths of your rides.

I can tell you from experience, there’s no better way to enjoy the great outdoors than from the back of a good horse. When you’re surrounded by natural beauty, far removed from the hustle and bustle of traffic and noise, you can truly have a “back to nature” experience. And there’s no better way to spend quality time with a special someone or your entire family.

Experience a cowboy vacation.
Experience a cowboy vacation.
The remuda.
The remuda.
Herd cattle.
Herd cattle.
Learn to rope.
Learn to rope.
Round up strays.
Round up strays.
Some guest ranches have their own Old West town.
Some guest ranches have their own Old West town.
There's a horse for just about everybody!
There's a horse for just about everybody!

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