Finding The Perfect Horseback Riding Vacation For You

Interview of Darley Newman by Lindsay Brown
Courtesy of SmartPak

For most people when they think of summer, they think of vacation. However, for most of us riders (at least if you’re anything like me), the thing we love most about summer is riding! Whether we’re looking forward to hitting the shows or hitting the trails, there’s nowhere else we’d rather be than snug in the saddle on a beautiful, sunny day. Unless, of course, we could be in a saddle on vacation.

Darley Newman knows horseback riding vacations better than anyone—after all, it’s her job. As a lifelong rider and host of the Emmy award-winning travel show Equitrekking, Darley gets to explore diverse locations all over the globe from the back of a horse.

Not only does Darley have the world’s coolest job, but she’s also one of the friendliest people I’ve met, and when you talk to her you can sense the real passion she has for what she does. So when I asked if she’d be willing to share some of her tips about equestrian vacations, she was more than happy to take a break from her busy globe-trotting schedule to answer a few questions. While we can’t all have a job this amazing, you can still see the world from the saddle for yourself! Check out Darley’s expert advice so you can find the ride of a lifetime that’s perfect for you, your interests, and your riding ability.

In your opinion, when is the best time to go on a riding vacation?

Spring and fall are generally great times to travel to most destinations, but it depends on where you’re headed. There are riding vacations literally all over the world. If you’re interested in Iceland, July and August are peak season with the best weather and almost 24 hours of sunlight, so there’s lots of daylight for riding.

If you’re headed to the American West or the Canadian Rockies, summer is a fun time to enjoy beautiful weather and longer riding days. Some ranches have year-round riding both outdoors and in heated arenas for those who want to enjoy riding in the snow.

If a horse safari Africa is on your mind, you might want to aim to travel surrounding animal migration periods. I was able to gallop with zebra and wildebeest on my August trip to Botswana’s Makgadikadi Pans, but I lucked out. Normal migration periods are November to April in the Pans.

How far in advance should you book your trip?

As far in advance as possible is always a good idea for booking a riding vacation, as many places that offer horse riding tours cater to small groups and book up quickly. I advise riders to get travel insurance when you book your trip. That’s in case you have to cancel your trip for reasons like a riding injury, which does happen to us riders.

If you’re looking for a relaxing riding vacation, where would you recommend?

If you are looking for a more relaxed riding vacation, you might want to pick a stationary riding vacation, as opposed to a progressive vacation. Progressive vacations include inn-to-inn rides and adventures where you may stay in a different lodging or even campsite each night. On a stationary adventure, you unpack once and may stay at a dude ranch, guest ranch, castle or manor house and ride out each day or take lessons to brush up on certain riding skills. On these types of riding vacations, you’ll want to choose the number of hours you want to ride up front or even while you’re there. You may want a leisurely trail ride one morning and then opt to read a book in a flower filled-meadow or visit a village pub in the afternoon.

Are there some locations/trips that are better for more novice riders or mixed experience levels?

There are a lot of ranch vacations that cater to beginners or groups of riders with varying abilities. There are also riding vacation destinations where you can take riding lessons or take a short riding vacation, which can be good for folks not used to being in the saddle.

Were there any locations that really forced you to get out of your comfort zone?

I’m out of my comfort zone quite often on my travels and riding adventures, as I’m constantly challenged with new horses, different tack, and different riding styles in totally new and sometimes extreme environments. In Botswana, I was charged by an elephant while I was horse riding, which was really out of my comfort zone. My guide laughed after and said, “You mean you’ve never been charged by an elephant before?!?!?” I, of course, said no. I was also able to gallop with zebra and wildebeest, which, while really fun, was also really, really fast—much faster than I’m used to going at home.

In Uruguay, I rode in round stirrups on a very wide sheepskin saddle, which took some getting used to. Many times the local food is really good, but once in a while it’s something a little too exotic and can be a challenge, but that’s all part of the adventure of travel.

What packing advice would you offer first-timers?

For anywhere you go, pack layers, including sweaters or jackets that zip or button up the front, so it’s easy to take things on and off during your riding days. Try to wear fabrics that aren’t so noisy, as they may annoy or scare your horse. I like to travel with well-worn paddock boots or all-terrain riding boots and half chaps as opposed to tall boots. These are easier to pack and you can hike in them or wear them at night if you desire. You can always ask the destination that you are visiting if they have chaps or rain gear you can rent or borrow. Many places do, and that saves space in your luggage. I always bring riding gloves, sunscreen, chapstick, and my own helmet. Pack lightly and practically, and whatever you bring, make sure that it’s not something you have to “break in” on your trip.

What is your favorite thing about riding horses all over the world?

I love the adventure of it all and the wonderful people and horses that I’ve met along my travels. In riding horses with locals, your travel adventure is so much more personal and authentic, as they are showing you their favorite places to travel and ride. I love to horse ride to beautiful, natural places that many people won’t experience, as these places are hard to reach!