Written by The Leap on 03 / 02 / 2022
Gap Year Advice
There are many ways to see a country’s sights – by train, from an open top jeep, on foot or perhaps by bike. None of these, however, are quite as magical as admiring different landscapes from the back of a horse.
Novices, don't be deterred. Perhaps the best thing about combining travel with riding is that it really doesn’t matter whether you’re the next Frankie Dettori or you’ve never held a pair of reins in your life. There are plenty of places around the world you can go riding without any previous experience. Below I’ve listed ten of the most beautiful spots to go horse riding with details, including the ability level required, of each one.
A ride through the sacred valley of the Inca, from Cusco to Machu Picchu, is a truly spiritual experience. The dramatic setting in the Andes with its cliffs, valleys, lagoons and impressive archaeological sites is what makes it such a unique place to go horse riding, and it’s unlikely you’ll find anywhere that compares.
During the day you’ll be able to appreciate these wondrous views before tying up your horse at night and camping under a starry sky. But be warned: you’ll probably need a few days in Cusco to acclimatise, as you’ll be at extremely high altitudes here.
Argentina is home to many wonderful equestrian routes, especially around ranches in the countryside where horses still play a vital role in daily life. Up in a small village in the province of Salta you’ll find Sayta, a warm and friendly ranch that offers a variety of horse riding experiences, as well as providing you with an insight into the gaucho lifestyle.
Here, you can opt for a half-day, full-day, 2-day or even 10-day horse trek in the stunning surrounding areas. Contact Sayta via their website to enquire about prices.
The Serengeti is Tanzania’s oldest park and arguably the most famous destination for safari in Africa. Its vast, open plains are roamed by millions of wildebeest, zebra and others, can now be explored on the back of a horse too.
The Singita Equestrian Centre, located at the top of Sasakwa Hill overlooks the endless plains of the Serengeti, with stables that are home to 18 magnificent horses. You can either join a group or opt for your own private equestrian safari, led by an experienced guide. The best time to ride in these parts is in September and October, when the grass is short, making it the optimum time for spotting game.
The Dordogne is like a fairytale land in southwest France, defined by small villages, ancient castles and fields of enormous sunflowers. Unsurprisingly, it is one of the most popular destinations in the country and there is no better way to explore it than as part of a riding holiday.
French-speaking English host Jane Hanslip runs Dordogne Riding to offer holidays to do just that, discovering some of France’s hidden treasures and famous sights in the process. A standard weeklong riding holiday consists of five days in the saddle, but it’s also possible to have a day off or - if you’re pressed for time - ride for just three or four days instead.
Explore the region known as Mad River Valley, where you can tour mountains, meadows and forests on Icelandic horses - the world’s oldest breed. These horses are so small and light that they almost dance along the land, making them ideal for novice riders.
They have been bred over the centuries to conquer the elements and terrain in Iceland, so riding all year round in Vermont is no problem for them. At Vermont Icelandic Horse Farm, located in the heart of Sugarbush ski resort, you can partake in a half or full-day ride. Two- and six-day treks on these unique horses are also available.
The Tuscan countryside couldn’t be much more idyllic if it tried really, making it a wonderful place to enjoy a spot of horse riding. A 90-minute exploration of the vineyards and rolling hills just outside of Florence will set you back 78 euros with Tuscany On a Budget, which is a great deal by any stretch of the imagination.
You'll visit a ranch located in a peaceful area of the region and hop on your horses, before trotting through vineyards, woods and olive groves with a local guide. The guide will provide you with information on the area and tell you some interesting facts about the locals, before taking you to Monteriggioni, a nearby medieval village, where you’ll have time to relax with a coffee or ice-cream before heading back to the ranch.
Horses are an integral part of local culture in Mongolia, a country that’s home to mountains, forests, lakes and round felt tents lived in by nomadic shepherds. Multi-day treks around the ancient capital city Karakorum (like this one offered by Mongolia Horseback Riding) are the pinnacle of horse tours in the area. They'll take you along the country’s most interesting scenic routes and into the 'cradle' of Mongolian civilisation, which contains a number of ancient monuments.
But it’s by no means cheap to do this, so if you’re a horse-lover and you fancy something a little more budget-friendly, why not take a 2-day tour to the Takhi horses of Hustai National Park? These wild horses became extinct in the middle of the 20th century, when they could only be found in zoos but, with the help of environmental agencies, they were reintroduced and now approximately 150 remain in Hustai. In the afternoon, you can choose explore the park on horseback instead of by foot - an added bonus!
Bryce Canyon National Park is possibly THE most breathtaking place to ride a horse. It's filled with tall, thin spires of rock known as 'hoodoos', which the Native Americans believed were people that had been turned to stone as a punishment for bad deeds.
Today, you can ride through these beautiful rocks and along mountain trails, experiencing the same country as Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch experienced over a hundred years ago.
To find out about how and where to ride in this area, check out Ruby’s Horseback Adventures, which has several options for routes you can take. I recommend travelling there in spring, when the hoodoos are still partially covered in snow, making them all the more striking.
Monteverde is famous for a reason – it has cloud forests teeming with plants, delicious coffee plantations, friendly locals and equally friendly animals. You can gallop on the beaches and along forest trails with Horse Trek Monteverde, a company that provide tours to some of the area’s best spots, accompanied by a savvy guide. Whether you’re looking to ride for just half a day or want to complete a horse trek of several days, they will be able to cater for you.
Alternatively, if you fancy a more intense taste of the pura vida The Leap has some great options that will allow you to volunteer and travel in Costa Rica on your gap year. Included is four weeks in Monteverde, combining equestrian antics with worthwhile conservation and projects.
So, have I convinced you to pack up your riding gear and book a ticket to one of these marvellous destinations? I hope so!
If you have any top spots for horse riding that you’d like to add to this list, mention them in the comments box below - I'd love to hear your thoughts.
on 03 / 02 / 2022