February 29, 2024

Bucket List Horseback Rides For Every Equestrian Traveller

Calling all cowpoke, wranglers, horse girls, and equestrians!

Whatever you want to call yourself, let’s be honest – there are a lot of us around the world. Horses are one of the things that can connect cultures – whether it’s classic cowboy culture in the western USA to a saddled-up safari in Africa, horses unite the world without a common language….they’re a common language in and of themselves!

If one thing’s for sure with horses, they’re not cheap. By no means are many of the rides below super “budget” friendly, but, hey, what’s life without a bit of a splurge every now and then? These can be added into backpacking trips as the big “hurrah” or standalone rides to check off your bucket list. The cost not only includes accommodation and most meals, but also ensures the welfare and health of the horses, so it benefits not just you, but your trusty steed as well!

 

Iceland Horse & Sheep Round Up

For those looking for a ride in the isolated faraway regions of Iceland, consider joining in on either a horse roundup or rettir, a sheep roundup. Anyone who has been to Iceland during their peak of summer is no stranger to the numerous sheep (there’re nearly three sheep for every one inhabitant of the country!) and fluffy horses that cover the landscape.

Every summer, farmers from across the island release their stock to the highlands. With no natural predators and unlimited access to public land, horses and sheep spend the summers grazing safe and sound. When late September rolls around, it’s time for farmers to round up their animals and bring them back home for the fast-approaching winter months. This process entails herding all the livestock and bringing it down to a sorting pen so that each farmer can separate his or her animals for transport back home.

Riding alongside tens of thousands of sheep or a few hundred horses is an opportunity not to be missed. Available for experienced riders, as rides can take you across uneven terrain at high speeds, these rides entail many hours in the saddle. Don’t worry – you’ll get used to the Icelandic horse’s tölt in no time!

To learn more and book, check out certified tour operators like Island Hestar and IsHestar.

 

Phantom Ranch Mule Ride

Okay, maybe I am a bit biased here. As a former guide in the Grand Canyon, I had the pleasure of guiding groups up and down the Bright Angel trail of the South Rim multiple times a week. Unlike many other rides on this list, this ride is open for those of all levels. I’ve led groups of experienced equestrians and those that have never pet a horse (or mule, in this case) in real life. As opposed to other rides, the ride down the Phantom Ranch is done via mule, but don’t let that fool you! These surefooted, smart, and sturdy creatures trump their horse relatives when it comes to rough terrain, a near mile elevation change, and survival in the dry heat of Arizona’s Grand Canyon.

Day one includes a 4.5 hour ride down to Phantom Ranch. Be prepared for lots of switchbacks, the infamous “oh JESUS” corner (care to guess how it got its name?), and a celebration once you reach the bottom. After crossing the Colorado River via mule bridge, you’ll be met by your ranch hosts. From there, the afternoon is yours to soak in the Bright Angel Creek, hike around the ranch, or nap in your air-conditioned cabin. Your ride out starts bright and early- get ready for a much longer ride up! The 10-mile (16 km) trail takes almost six hours to get back up, as nearly 30 stops are added to allow the mules to catch their breath. They’re doing most of the hard work, after all!

To learn more and book, check out Grand Canyon Mule Rides.

 

African Horseback Safari – Botswana, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa  – all levels available

An African Safari is on the bucket list of many travellers and tourists, so why not do it on horseback? There’s no better way to experience the beauty of the African bush than on the back of a horse. Riding through the bush allows you to get up close and personal with the Big 5 of Africa – leopards, lions, buffalo, elephants, and rhinoceros. Horses can reach places of the land that most safari vehicles can’t! The horses you’ll be riding aren’t your normal run-of-the-mill horses – they won’t be fazed by any of the large animals you’ll be sharing the land with. These rides are available for experienced riders, as you’ll need to be able to safely run away from danger, should that happen. However, many of these trips allow for non-riders too! They can opt for a 4×4 safari, while you gallop across the desert.

Many countries across Africa offer horseback safaris, so do your research and find the ride that’s perfect for you! Whether you want luxury and comfort or the rugged wilderness of a bush camp, there’s a ride you’ll love. When doing your research, keep in mind the country you’re wanting to travel to – some offer certain animals and experiences, while others will offer beachfront rides as well as other unique wildlife. Popular destinations include South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Tanzania, to name a few.

To learn more and find your dream horseback safari, check out sites like African Horse Safaris.

 

Volunteer – Worldpackers, Workaway

 

If you’re looking for a longer term riding situation, or maybe hoping to settle down in one spot for a few weeks, loads of farmers look for help from travellers on sites like Worldpackers and Workaway.

In exchange for a few hours a day, usually helping around the stables, you’ll be provided with a place to stay and sometimes even meals! Oftentimes these duties include mucking stalls, helping with feeding, and fixing things around the barn, but a few hours of work pay off when you finally get to mount up. Opportunities to ride vary by farm, but some will offer lessons and even take on beginner riders. If you’re wanting to learn to ride, a work exchange might be right for you! Other farms may allow you to teach lessons in exchange for pay, or even the chance to compete in local horse shows. For those competitive equestrians, volunteering is a great way to get involved competitively and still travel on a budget.

Some agencies like African Horse Safaris specialise in travel in specific locations, while other outfitters like UK-based Far and Ride, Australia-based GlobeTrotting, and Dutch-owned Hooves Around the World highlight rides worldwide. If you’re in New York or planning a trip, check out woman-run Manhattan Riding Club for rides of all levels in and around the city.

Other things to keep in mind when booking a horseback ride includes allocating for travel insurance in your budget. As anyone with experience around animals knows, they’re unpredictable. Accidents happen, no matter how experienced or prepared you are. Insurance agencies like World Nomads have coverage for higher-risk activities, whereas many will just cover illness and minor accidents.

Regardless of your experience with horses, there’s a horseback holiday waiting for you. What are you waiting for? Grab those cowgirl boots, throw on that helmet, and saddle up!

 

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