Saddle Up! These Are the Best Scenic Horseback-Riding Adventures Across the Country
To fans of all things equine, May is synonymous with horserace season thanks to both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. But if you'll be leaving your wide-brimmed, feathered hat hung this year in search of more socially distanced activities, there are still plenty of ways to get into the equestrian spirit. You can find fresh perspective—and get some welcome fresh air, too—by saddling up yourself at a scenic spot offering guided horseback rides (no prior experience required).
We've rounded up the top locales around the country where you can take the reins and trek through backcountry trails, along sandy beaches, across grassy meadows, and more:
Amelia Island, Florida
On a beachside jaunt with Amelia Island Horseback Riding, you'll ride high (and dry) above the ocean's edge—a prime vantage point for spotting dolphins, known to catch air close to shore (from $100 per hour). If you're lucky, you could even spot a Right Whale, an endangered species that lives off the northeast coast of Florida, enjoying the area's warmer waters. To make your experience that much more special, book an early-morning ride (from $150), and you'll clip-clop along the shoreline in almost complete privacy with a perfect view of the sun rising over the horizon.
Benton City, Washington
Saunter through the sun-dappled vineyards of this quiet wine region on horseback with Red Mountain Trails (from $70 per hour). Add a wine flight to your ride (for an extra $15), and after you dismount, you'll head to the pavilion to sip and sample four local vinos selected for their seasonal availability (a few days prior to the tour, you'll have the chance to choose from the current menu). You can also add on a fire pit for your group to gather 'round post-trot (for an additional $10)—just be sure to pack a bag of marshmallows to make the most of it.
Estes Park, Colorado
Take in the majestic Rocky Mountains from a whole new level with Sombrero Stables, which shares its Estes Park ranch land with the newly built Mustang Mountain Coaster. Most of its horseback rides happen on public lands by way of a permit with the National Park Services, and the company tour guides take special care to ensure they always leave them just how they found them. 30-minute, hour-long, and two-hour-long rides are available (at $40, $70, and $90 per person, respectively), with the longest option climbing up to 900 feet in elevation for panoramic views of the Continental Divide, Long's Peak, and the Estes Valley.
To immerse yourself in equestrian heaven, pay a visit to Kentucky Horse Park, home to 1,200 green acres of paddocks, campgrounds, and trails, as well as a museum on the history of horses and a Hall of Champions, where you can admire retired star thoroughbreds in daily meet-and-greets. Admission to the park is $16 per person (including the next day free), and upon arrival, you can reserve a 35-minute guided horseback ride, weather-permitting (for $25) to trot over grassy knolls along the outskirts of the park. If you have little ones in tow (ages two to 12), you can also sign them up for an afternoon pony ride (for $5).
Before leaving Kentucky horse country, consider arranging a behind-the-scenes tour at one of the 400-plus championship thoroughbred horse farms in the area, like nearby Spendthrift Farm, where you'll lay eyes on esteemed Derby and Breeders' Cup star, Authentic.
Do as many Olympic riders do, and hop on a horse in the Loudoun Valley, where there are more horses than in any other Virginia county. At the Salamander Resort & Spa, a 25-acre equestrian center is dedicated to helping you do just that: Beginners can meander along wooded trails crisscrossing the resort grounds as part of an hour-long group ride (from $135 per person), while more advanced riders can book an hour-long stone wall private trail ride for a more individualized experience in the surrounding countryside (from $235 per person). What's more, there are programs on equine communication and horsemanship, as well as personalized riding lessons covering grooming, leading, and ground safety, not to mention pony rides for the kids.
At Tanque Verde Ranch, you can amble past soaring saguaro and prickly-pear cacti on horseback by joining one of the resort's daily walk-rides throughout its desert surroundings, which always start with a 15-minute basic lesson for newbies (from $60 per hour). Or catch some true western spirit in the two-hour-long horsemanship clinic, "Harmony with Horses," during which you'll learn classic wrangling techniques and even get a primer on horse behavior and psychology before ponying up (for $200).