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Choosing a Riding Vacation

Photo by Shawn Hamilton/Clix

As a photojournalist, I have made a career as a riding vacation junkie. In my opinion, having the opportunity to experience little pockets of the world the typical tourist never ventures into with my rump in a saddle and feet in the stirrups is the best way to experience new places.



When I am asked, “I want to go on a horseback riding trip, where do you suggest I go?”

I cannot answer, “You should go to (fill in the blank).”

There are many things to consider when choosing your perfect riding vacation. Questions regarding budget, amenities, riding ability, sleeping accommodations, and food are worth asking yourself or the outfitter before giving up your hard-earned dollars for a dream vacation on horseback.

A quick stop during a ride in India is long enough to cook up some naan bread and curry. Photo by Shawn Hamilton/Clix

What’s My Budget for Choosing a Riding Vacation?

Services such as hotels, shuttles, meals off premises and activities outside of the outfitter’s package all increase the cost. Outfitters hosting rides on their own (or permitted-use) land will be much more affordable than one that ventures outside of their region.

If you’re on a tight budget, consider something close to home to save on airfare. If a ride share service or rental car is necessary, request the contact information of other guests to help split up this cost.

Where Do I Want to Sleep?

If you are going to wake every morning in pain from sleeping on the floor or cot in a tent, will you be happy in the saddle all day? Even camping has variations, from sleeping outside under the stars to glamping in a canvas tent with full hydro. Choose what works for you.

If you dream of soaking in the spa after a day in the saddle, a trip such as the Las Cascadas ride in Mexico may fit the bill. Photo by Shawn Hamilton/Clix

What Amenities Do I Need?

Not all rides provide flush toilets and hot showers. You may find yourself straddling over a hole in the ground. If you prefer modern convenience when on the throne, be sure to inquire about the facilities.

A hot tub is an added bonus. It helps if freshly made margaritas are delivered upon request, but as long as it is clean, hot and has jets that will soothe aching joints after a long day in the saddle, it will do the trick.

What Do I Want to Eat?

From mutton soup and guinea pig on a stick to pairing Malbec with an Argentinian barbeque, the food possibilities are endless. What is your tolerance? Can the outfitter accommodate dietary restrictions? Food is an integral part of pleasing guests, and most do their best, but depending on where you are in the world a delicacy to them may not be your cup of tea.

If you opt for a high-endurance ride like crossing the Andes, you’ll need to be very fit for hours in the saddle over all terrain. Photo by Shawn Hamilton/Clix

If you’re traveling from one location to another and camping, the food may be more basic than a five-star ranch dining room. That being said, I’ve had some excellent meals in the wilderness.

There are many things to consider when choosing your perfect riding vacation. Questions regarding budget, amenities, riding ability, sleeping accommodations, and food are worth asking yourself or the outfitter before giving up your hard-earned dollars for a dream vacation on horseback.

At the Bar W in Montana, you can learn ranching skills like steer roping. Photo by Shawn Hamilton/Clix

What’s My Riding Level?

Simply put, be honest about your riding level. Your mount can make or break your trip. Just because you were a high-level rider 10 years ago but haven’t been in the saddle since doesn’t mean you’re still an expert. Unused riding muscles will not enjoy the ride on a high-energy or strong horse. A walk/trot rider who enjoys the occasional canter on a trail ride should not sign up for a week’s worth of hard, day-long rides.

Check the itineraries for hours in the saddle. Are there rest periods at lunch to give your body a break? Unless the adventure of crossing the Andes or galloping the Mongolian desert outweighs the aches of long hours in the saddle, look for something easier.

On the other hand, you don’t want to be disappointed that the rides are too short. Choose what is best for you.

Typically rides that go off-property for days will give you the first day at home to test your mount. If you’re unhappy with your horse for any reason, let them know!

A trip to the Pushkar Fair in India aboard a Marwari could be the unforgettable experience you’re looking for. Photo by Shawn Hamilton/Clix

What’s My Horsekeeping Tolerance?

Look at the photos on the website and study the horses’ demeanor and tack fit.

If an outfitter asks your weight and has a maximum, it’s a good indication that your outfitter cares more about the horses than cashing in on clientele. Do your due diligence and talk to people who have been on the ride or look at testimonials.

What Do I Want to See and Do?

Are you interested in the culture and history of the country? Do you want to learn how to rope a cow, team pen and square dance? How about swimming with your horse, learning to fly fish or being taught the basics of natural horsemanship? Maybe a retreat to find your inner self or a ride combined with yoga will be better suited to your needs. There are so many options out there.

When choosing a riding vacation, check the itineraries for activities outside of riding.

Typically rides that go off-property for days will give you the first day at home to test your mount. If you’re unhappy with your horse for any reason, let them know!

A ride in Cuba incorporates more advanced stretches of galloping. Photo by Shawn Hamilton/Clix

Who is the Guide?

If your guide speaks your language, is knowledgeable about the local history, flora and fauna, it will make for a much more entertaining trip. Ask about your guide’s language and knowledge of the area.

Will I Be Safe?

When looking at photos on an outfitter’s website, watch for guides placed both in the front and back of the clients. Look for radios on a guide. Did they ask you for your medical insurance or who to call in case of an emergency? Do the bulk of the photos show riders wearing helmets, or are they in running shoes with baseball caps?

Thinking about and clarifying the above topics may paint a better picture of the ride when choosing a riding vacation. Manage your expectations.

There will always be surprises, but keep an open mind and bring your sense of humor along with your sense of adventure.

Happy trails!

Make the Most of Your Vacation

1) The time between meals on some rides can be quite a bit longer than you may be accustomed to. Keep a few easy-to-reach snacks, such as granola bars, in your saddle bag to tide you over between meals or when camp is being set up.
2) If you have a sensitive stomach, bring appropriate medication—just in case.
3) Bring your own water bottle with a built-in purifier to decrease your likelihood of getting sick if water sources may be questionable.
4) Bring you own helmet, boots, half or full chaps and neck cover for sun and wind protection. Many bring a seat saver, but check the shape of the saddles first to make sure it will fit.
5) Make sure you are physically able to do all the activities listed on the itinerary, and if you aren’t, ask about alternatives and which activities you can skip.
6) Don’t be a Debbie Downer! To keep it enjoyable for everyone, if there is something you’re unhappy or uncomfortable with, take it up with the outfitter instead of complaining about it on the trail.


This article on choosing a riding vacation appeared in the January 2020 issue of
Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!

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