For those who love horses, getting a chance to ride them, learn about them, or just watch them can be a getaway in itself. And across the US, there are ample opportunities to explore your horsey side! Here are our top 9 vacation spots for the horse lover.
Located in the midst of Central Kentucky, Versailles is horse-lovers' heaven. Here you can tour thoroughbred horse farms, take in horse races at nearby Keeneland or the Red Mile and visit the Kentucky Horse Park -- an attraction dedicated to the love of horses that features the International Museum of the Horse and the American Saddlebred Museum. In just a short drive, you can head to Louisville and check out Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby.
For horse enthusiasts, WinStar Farm, home of Triple Crown Winner Justify, is a must visit. And horse racing fans will want to schedule their trips in April or October during Keeneland's racing season. Not only can racing fans visit the track to cheer on their favorite stallion or filly, but early risers can hit the Keeneland Track Kitchen for a full breakfast and maybe a few tips from stable hands and trainers dining there too. There's nothing like hearing the pounding of horse hooves coming through the mist of an early morning track work-out.
Along the way, you can enjoy some of the best Southern eating around and sample bourbon from a few nearby distilleries on Kentucky's Bourbon Trail.
The wild ponies of Chicoteague and Assateague Islands are rounded up every year by "Saltwater Cowboys" who swim them from one island to the other. During the annual Pony Swim, one week during the summer is devoted to these wild horses who have lived on the islands for hundreds of years. Descendants of horses from a Spanish galleon that wrecked off the coast of Virginia, the ponies were made famous by the book Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry.
Every year, on the last Wednesday in July, the horses are rounded up and swum from Assateague Island to Chincoteague Island. The next day, many of the foals are auctioned off, with proceeds from the sale going to the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department. For more information, and for exact dates, contact the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company or the Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce.
During Pony Swim week, you'll find other events in the area, including a pony parade, a carnival, a pony auction and more. And, as it is part of the US National Park Service, there are plenty of other outdoor activities to engage in -- like swimming, kayaking, biking and camping.
Calling itself "The Horse Capital of the World," Ocala, Florida is known for its more than 600 thoroughbred farms. Equestrian events happen here just about all year long, with the 500-acre Florida Horse Park serving as the center of attention. The Horse Park is the official training site for the US Equestrian Team, and is home to several nationally recognized three-day events, international- and Olympic-level equine sports competitions and more.
Visitors can train with Olympic-level trainers, or participate in some of the world's biggest equine events. From the Winter Horse Festival in February to the International Horse Festival in April to a dozen more festivals and activities, there's a way to celebrate the horse any time you visit.
And because it's Florida, you can be assured that the weather will be warm and sunny for your visit. Ocala is located in the center of the state and is near the Ocala National Forest, where horse enthusiasts will find more than 100 miles of designated trails riders can use to pack-in/pack-out camp. Ocala is just a short drive to the beach as well, for those who want to give the horse a break and take in the sun and sand for a while.
In this town, horses have the right of way.
For anyone with a horse, Aiken, SC is the place to be. The town is steeped in horse history -- from polo and carriage rides to fox hunting and show jumping. Decades ago, the area gained attention from wealthy Northerners as a wintering equestrian spot. It quickly became known as the "Polo Capital of the World". Various trails lead through the estates in the town and there's even a push button stop light at just the right height for riders.
Aiken's Hitchcock Woods -- the largest Urban Forest in the US -- features more than 2,000 acres of forest and 70 miles of trails for horseback riders. And there are plenty of horse trails throughout the town. Whether it's riding through the heart of polo country at the Aiken State Park, or through the scenic and historic downtown, or at one of the private equestrian facilities where riders can get training at all levels of equestrian expertise, there's a place and a way for everyone to enjoy their love of the horse in Aiken.
There's something horsy for all ages in Lake Lanier, GA. From beginner lessons to advanced equestrian summer camps, there are a number of ways to get your horse groove on along Georgia's Lanier Islands. A the Stables at Lake Lanier, horse lovers can enjoy pony rides for younger kids, guided rides for adults, plus summer camps and yoga on horseback. The Stables even offer a Ride and Romance package where couples can enjoy a trail ride to the lake for a romantic private picnic lunch.
For those with their own horses, boarding and trails abound throughout the area. At Don Carter State Park, more than 12 miles of horse trails let you explore on your own without having to hire a guide to take you everywhere. And many of the stables and ranches in the area feature programs for kids to adults that help both the rider and the horse be successful.
Once a year, riders and their horses gather in Sacramento, CA to recreate the days of the Pony Express. For 10 days, riders, their horses and the mail travel more than 1,900 miles across the Western plains to recreate the legendary Pony Express -- the fastest way to deliver mail before the invention of the telegraph.
During the Pony Express Re-Ride, horse riders who are members of the National Pony Express Association dress in authentic gear and make the same trek pony express riders made in the 1860s. Riding through whatever Mother Nature throws at them, the Pony Express Re-Riders brave rain, snow and heat to make their leg of the trip in the time allotted. Each leg is about 3-5 miles and riders pass off mail to the next rider when the reach them -- and like in the original Pony Express, the riders are riding 24/7. It takes more than 650 riders to make the trip in 10 days like they did in the Old West.
Plenty of ranches and other horseback riding vacation spots are located on or at either end of the trail. But for those interested in just observing, the National Park Service's Pony Express National Historic Trail provides plenty of activities on and along where the trail allegedly ran.
What's better than horseback riding? Horseback riding in Hawaii.
On the big island of Hawaii, you'll find plenty of horseback riding opportunities in Waimea. Paniolo, or Hawaiian Cowboys, have been a part of Hawaiian culture since the 1830s. Today, cattle are still a big business in Hawaii, and paniolo still use their horses to wrangle them doggies.
Visitors to Waimea can try their hand at the paniolo craft, or just enjoy a scenic ride through the tropical landscape alongside waterfalls and island streams. Some tours last as long as three hours and take you past extraordinary parts of the Big Island, list the spectacular Waipi'o valley close to Waimea or the lush rainforest around Hilo.
And since it's Hawaii, there are plenty of other island activities to keep you busy, like swimming, snorkeling, surfing, hiking, volcano watching and star gazing.
It's not so much of a 'pamper yourself' vacation, as it is more like City Slickers on steroids. Head to the Red Reflet Guest Ranch in Ten Sleep, WY, and help out on the working ranch to get a taste of what it's like to be a real cowboy. Wrestle up a few ponies. Ride the range. Do a few chores and ranch activities.
And then, when the work day is done, retreat to a deluxe chalet with a private hot tub and a fully stocked wine cooler to relax, before joining the other guests at a gourmet dinner hosted by the ranch's owners. And the view, from your room or anywhere else on the property, is stunning. Visitors wake up in luxury cabins, surrounded by red and coral-colored sandstone cliffs, outlined against the blue and white snow-capped peaks of the Bighorn National Forest.
For any child who has ever read The Black Stallion, or Seabiscuit, horse racing just might hold a romantic allure, a proof that it's possible to be beautiful and strong at the same time.
Sarasota Springs is the classic summer vacation spot for horse lovers and race lovers. The whole family can watch the morning workouts and the races, or stand in the paddock area as the horses prepare to race. In other areas of the race track, kids can pet horses and learn about their daily routines.
And nearby, you'll find Six Flags Great Escape amusement park, Ausable Chasm sandstone gorge and plenty of riding opportunities. Lessons at the Old Saratoga Farms are available for all different levels of equestrian expertise. And check out the rodeos and polo matches while you're there as well. Contact Sarasota.com for one of their Horse Guides to help you plan your stay.
Thanks for reading. Giddee-up and happy trails!