Have you ever wondered what it would be like to spend vacation time at a luxury guest ranch in the Rockies? Or, do your vacation dreams run more toward roughing it, packing into the wilderness? What about the chance to stay at a romantic inn, with the option to bring your own horse? Would you rather help drive a horse herd, camping out along the trail? Are you someone who insists that "vacation" and "winter warmth" must go together?
We're here to help you try out such choices. From experience (yes, we do go on riding vacations ourselves), we know that while there's a horseback getaway for just about anyone, not all experiences are right for every rider. So here's a rundown of what to expect from five riding vacations, each one representative of a popular kind. You're sure to be inspired one way or another, and can take further planning from there.
Vacation type: Spend a week at a luxury guest ranch, out in the American West.
The allure: You get to experience the West and its grand open spaces and be pampered while you're at it. Expect fine accommodations, gourmet meals, the option of spa treatments, and attention paid to your every need. In the luxury guest-ranch vacation genre, you'll usually find other activities besides horseback riding, giving non-riding family members something fun to do, too.
Sample venue: Vista Verde Guest Ranch, near Steamboat Springs, Colorado. (800) 526-7433; vistaverde.com.
What you'll find: Vista Verde is a family-owned ranch headquartered in a small valley about half an hour from the ski-resort town of Steamboat Springs. You're truly in the Rockies here (elevation 7,800 feet), with beautiful aspens and granite peaks, plus a front-row seat to some of Mother Nature's best atmospheric shows. The ranch's main lodge, guest quarters, and outbuildings are of log and timber-frame construction, adding to the iconic, classic-Colorado appeal. With a 40-guest capacity, the ranch maintains a one-to-one ratio of staff member to guess, meaning you never lack for attention and hospitality service.
What's special: Vista Verde is home to a performance-horse breeding and training program that's led by pro trainer and reiner Terry Wegener. Wegener also does on-site horsemanship clinics for Vista Verde guests, and supervises the training of its guest horses. Advanced riders will find themselves just as well mounted as beginners or those new to mountain riding.
How and what you'll ride: In a typical week's program, you'll begin with arena riding for orientation, then explore trails, maybe even round up cattle. You can test your skills in arena competitions, too. You'll be assigned a horse and gear that'll be yours for the week, but a staff member will saddle/unsaddle your horse each time you ride, and otherwise take care of it. On trail rides, you'll go out in groups of just two or three, with your own assigned guide.
Where you'll stay: Some guests choose to stay in the main lodge, for convenient use of the dining hall and great room. But you also get the option of a cabin elsewhere on the grounds, and these are like no other cabins you're likely to have seen. They're two-story, with granite countertops, luxurious linens, and other high-end amenities. Your cabin (or lodge room) is perpetually restocked with complimentary beverages and snacks. Your bed gets remade while you're out riding, and at the end of each day, you're treated to turndown service and a chance to use the private spa-tub on your deck.
Other particulars: Vista Verde guests can take lessons in fly fishing and rock climbing, or ride mountain bikes if they like. The ranch has a swimming pool, its own pond stocked with trout, and summertime activities created especially for kids. Guest rooms have no TVs, but Internet service is available in the main lodge. The ranch is known for the tantalizing meals created by its chef and produced three times a day from the lodge's kitchen.
Great memory: The weekly steak-fry on the trail, with a moonlight ride back to the ranch, is among the stand-out rides.
Cost: $2,900 to $3,500 per person for the week, depending on dates and lodging type chosen.
Classic New England
Vacation type: Stay at and ride from a quintessential New England inn and resort.
The allure: With its long ties to American history, mixed forests of deciduous and evergreen trees, and centuries-old innkeeping tradition, there's no other place quite like northern New England. Its inns, resorts, lodges, and grand camps helped define "vacations" as first known in this country. Add horseback riding, and the resulting vacation picture is one Normal Rockwell could have painted.
Sample venue: Mountain Top Inn and Resort, Chittenden, Vermont. (800) 483-2311; activetravelinc.com.
What you'll find: Here's that romantic Vermont inn you might envision from book or screen—it's no surprise that the Norman Rockwell Museum of Vermont isn't far away. Every guest room has a bucolic view, and the lodge's great-room fireplace is lit every afternoon, year-round, at teatime. You're tended by a warm and welcoming staff, most of whom have worked here for years. The inn's lodge, chalets, equestrian center, and riding trails are in the Green Mountain National Forest, and the lodge itself overlooks a peaceful lake.
What's special: Though excellent guest horses are provided, at no additional fee to guests, you also have the option of bringing your own horse if you wish—also at no additional fee. Your horse gets a private paddock. The inn's own horses include a team of Percherons used for pulling wagons and sleighs. If you wish, you can get lessons in how to drive horses, at the lines of this team.
How and what you'll ride: Riding activities are tailored to guests' interests, abilities, and preferred style of riding (Western or English). You can ride on the cross-country field near the lodge, take lessons in jumping or other disciplines, and/or explore logging-type roads and wooded trails. If you'd like to bring a casual rider with you—a significant other, let's say, or a friend who hasn't ridden much—you can do so here, as the range of guest horses accommodates riders of all levels.
Where you'll stay: Some guests stay at the inn's main lodge, with some 40 rooms, while others are housed in one of the nearby chalets. These range in size and the number of guests they'll accommodate.
Other particulars: Though well off the beaten track, the Mountain Top Inn and Resort is readily accessible from all major cities in the Northeast, and just an hour from the airport at Vermont's largest city, Burlington.
Great memory: If you book your riding vacation for autumn, you'll be treated to New England fall colors at their glorious peak.
Cost: $1,100 per person, four-night stay.