Dude Ranch Cowboy

Vacationing on Horseback?
Plan Activities
To Match Your Horseback Riding Skills

Whether you fall off a horse every time it turns left or you can ride as fast as your horse can run influences the kind of vacation on horseback activities that best suits you or your horse lover.

For most vacations you just need to show up. But to best enjoy a vacation on horseback you'll want to be in good physical condition while having the necessary horseback riding skills to fully enjoy the experience and have a safe outing.

A wilderness trip could be less than a wonderful experience for novice riders, especially if halfway through they don't want to get on a horse any more while someone with basic riding skills might find participation in a horse or cattle drive too much to handle.

Just to make sure we're on the same page-

  • A novice rider has never been on a horse (pony rides as a 6 year old and carousel rides don't count!) or been around horses much - his or her horseback riding skills are basically at zero.

  • A beginning rider has had some time in the saddle, possibly a few lessons in hand, knows some horseback riding skills - starting, stopping, and turning the horse, and is reasonably comfortable at the walk and trot but not necessarily at a canter.

  • The intermediate rider has a good seat, soft hands and is comfortable at the walk, trot, and canter - the intermediate rider is in full control of the horse under most riding conditions.

Child on Horse Equestrian Jumping Rodeo Rider on Ground
Novice or beginner?
Youngsters are often fearless riders.
Intermediate and expert riders can handle most anything a trail ride has to offer.
Then there's those of us who aren't quite as good as we think we are.


So, as far as vacation plans are concerned -

  • The novice could well be ill-at ease around horses if not downright afraid. This is OK - with more and more exposure to horses this fear normally turns into respect - a healthy thing.

    I wouldn't recommend bringing a novice along on a trip over rough terrain or where going any distance at a canter or gallop is anticipated.

    The novice needs a well-mannered horse - one used for riding lessons or a "bombproof" trail horse who will be forgiving of the mistakes bound to be made in the saddle.

    The best vacation activities for the novice-

    • a stay at a dude ranch where lessons are provided
    • trail rides over gentle terrain with a gentle horse and for not too long a duration

  • The beginner generally is learning to respect the horse more than fear it, has reasonably good control over his/her mount but may not be able to handle a horse which shows some spirit. With a few hours in the saddle the beginner can normally take on longer trail rides including pack trips which may last several days. Outfitters generally make an effort to are match a horse to the abilities of the rider - a beginner would normally be provided with a gentle, well-mannered mount.

    The best vacation activities for the beginner -

    • a stay at a dude ranch (more lessons won't hurt)
    • all day trail rides over gentle to moderate terrain
    • pack trips (avoid trips involving rugged terrain where the rider may have difficulty handling a horse)
    • cattle drives where just "being along for the ride" is permitted

    Horse drives or roundups may be beyond the skill level of the beginner - even if just "along for the ride". The pace is normally much faster than would be the case for a trail ride or cattle drive

  • There are few limitations for the intermediate rider. This rider has been on horseback enough to be aware of his/her capabilities and shortcomings. So the options for the intermediate rider are -
    • day long trail rides are ideal, especially when part of the trip is done at a trot or canter
    • pack trips should pose no problem unless extermely rough terrain is in the picture (normally this would not be the case)
    • cattle and horse drives where participating on some of the "work" is permitted. There may be some activities such as roping which might be avoided if one hasn't had some previous experience or practice.


Guest Ranches and Ranching Vacations

Whatever your skills you can either opt to try something new and more difficult and iincrease your competence and confidence in the saddle or play it safer and just enjoy riding activities within your comfort zone.

Don't spend an undue amount of time fussing about these levels of competence Unless you're an expert, you fit into one of the three categories above and you likely know which one. Dude ranch and working ranch hosts as well as trail ride bosses and pack trip outfitters will generally ask what level you're at and advise accordingly. They'll want you to enjoy yourself to the fullest and not get hurt in the process.

So when you're making your plans, do get in touch with the hosts (not the travel agents) and talk to them about what is suggested or in some cases required in the way of riding skill. And as a final note - if the vacation is going to be the first experience with horseback riding for someone I would strongly recommend a half-dozen or so lessons in preparation.

Then you'll be ready to do the most important thing of all -

Having Fun!

Mare Running  - Mane Flying

Many Thanks To-
  • Yihaaa! - (My son taming a wild Mustang)
    Leonbiden - Adegem, Oost-Vlaanderen, Belgium
  • Horsewoman
    Iwan Beijes - Houten, Utrecht, Netherlands
  • Unseated cowboy
    Bri C - Citysville, Snoo, Namibia
for permission to reproduce their fine photographs.

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