After a year of living life largely on screens, it’s little wonder hands-on, experiential vacations are trending.
That includes equine vacations. Around the country, there are ranches and resorts that offer horseback riding activities and events. Horseback riding gets kids off the couch and into the fresh air—and can even teach them a lasting skill and love for animals.
We’ve rounded up a list of hotels around the country that offer horse-focused experiences, from riding to herd feedings to horseshoeing demos. Whether your kids are seasoned riders or have never seen a horse up close before, there’s some four-legged fun out there for you.
Paint a Horse at Barnsley Resort
A vacation at Barnsley, a rustic retreat on 3,000 acres of North Georgia wilderness, is all about spending time outdoors. Try your hand at archery, sample an axe-throwing class, or grab a pole and head to the stocked pond for catch-and-release fishing. Guided group trail rides and horsemanship lessons are available—as well as the more unusual Animal Canvas program. Kids from 3 to 10 get acquainted with horses before getting hands-on with supervised finger-painting begins. Children dip into various colors of non-toxic paint and gently create designs on the horse’s shoulder, neck, side, and hindquarters. From $239 a night, barnsleyresort.com
Learn Horsemanship at Salamander Resort
Salamander Resort is in the cradle of Virginia’s horse country, surrounded by stately farms and steeped in equestrian traditions. Fittingly, it’s home to a top-notch equestrian facility, with 25 acres dedicated to riding and a 14,000-square-foot stable. English and Western riding lessons are on offer, though for very young children, it may suffice to snuggle with Cupcake, the mascot miniature horse. Kids 5 and up can join the one-hour Essential Horsemanship program, where they’ll learn grooming, tacking, braiding, and more. Families can also splash in the indoor pool, bike, hike, play tennis, and fish in the stocked pond. Camp Salamander is a daily drop-off program for children 4 to 10 with a supervised dinner program on weekends allowing parents time for an adult meal. Posh rooms have views of the Piedmont’s rolling hills and leafy pastures. It’s only an hour from Washington, D.C. making it an easy add-on to a Capital vacation. From $679 a night, salamanderresort.com.
Become a Horse Whisperer at The Resort at Paws Up
This ultra-luxurious mountain resort is planted on a 37,000-acre cattle ranch that showcases Montana’s natural landscape. At the heart of Paws Up is the robust equestrian program that goes way beyond riding. Consider a three-day Junior Wrangler program for kids 8 to 13, where they’ll learn to brush and saddle the horses before they explore the countryside on trails. The Mustang Mindfulness Demo allows guests over age 6 to watch a professional cowboy use movement and voice to “gentle” a mustang. Kids 12 and up can even step into the pen with a wild mustang when they participate in Horse Whispering 201. The goal is to establish trust with the horse through appropriate demeanor, voice modulation, and subtle movement. Upscale accommodations present a Western-chic aesthetic, ranging from expansive freestanding homes to seasonal safari-style luxury tents. From $1,640 a night, pawsup.com.
Visit Wild Ponies at Refuge Inn
Chincoteague is a serene island on Virginia’s Eastern Shore known for the wild ponies who have lived here for centuries. The children’s novel Misty of Chincoteague, written here in 1947, helped to put the island and its ponies on the map. These diminutive horses spend their days grazing on dune grass and drinking warm pond water. Each July, the annual Pony Swim draws a crowd of spectators. The horses are herded across the narrowest slice of the channel, examined by a team of veterinarians, and auctioned off to keep the herd at a manageable number. The family-owned Refuge Inn offers simple rooms in a peaceful location. Three Chincoteague ponies, Honeymoon, Pocahontas, and My Corona, currently live on property. The attention-loving horses are especially partial to the sweet feed you can place in the troughs right at the fence for an up-close experience. From $89 a night, refugeinn.com
Bond with Beauties at Carmel Valley Ranch
Carmel Valley, California
Nestled in the vineyards of Monterey County, Carmel Valley Ranch welcomes children of all ages. It offers a large menu of unusual artisan-led experiences from beekeeping to lavender harvesting—plus a new Equine Experiences program that gives families an innovative way to connect with horses. In the immersive Getting to Know Our Herd program, families with children 3 and up can interact with the five resident horses. Supervised by professionals in the field of equine assisted learning and psychology, the program aims to demonstrate that a meaningful exchange with a horse may help to ground, calm, and positively affect the emotional well-being of people of all ages. When you’re not in the corral, you can take a dip in the family swimming pool surrounded by ping-pong tables and a playground, or swing a racket at the tennis courts. Guests stay in suites, which all have fireplaces and private decks. From $545 a night, carmelvalleyranch.com.
Board a Horse-Drawn Sleigh at the Woodstock Inn
The Woodstock Inn sits in the middle of this fairytale hamlet, where covered bridges and church steeples form a quintessentially New England panorama. A short stroll brings you to Billings Farm & Museum, committed to educational programming that showcases traditional agricultural methods and techniques. Owned by the same foundation as the inn, it’s a bona fide dairy farm with Jersey cows, a flock of Southdown sheep, and a team of Mennonite-trained draft horses. The horses pull sleighs, wagons, and farm equipment, demonstrating the strength and training that would have once made them a farmer’s most valued asset. Families may watch the horses at work or opt for a horse-drawn sleigh ride, particularly suggestive when snow blankets the landscape. From about $300 a night, woodstockinn.com.
Enjoy Texas Trails at Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort
Lost Pines, Texas
Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort sits along the banks of the Lower Colorado River, only 23 miles from Austin’s urban attractions. It’s a sprawling resort with 491 rooms and suites, many with private patios or balconies. Guest rooms are generously sized, so there’s space for a family even in the most compact accommodations. Recreational activities include floating down the pool’s lazy river, pedaling a bike along tree-lined trails, and ziplining for those who crave an adrenaline rush and weigh at least 50 lbs. Guests ages 6 and up can get into the authentic Texas spirit and book a guided horseback ride along the leisurely trail. Time your visit for spring and you’ll be surrounded by a carpet of bluebonnets that tinge the landscape purple. From about $280 a night, hyatt.com
Ride the Weekend Away at Rocking Horse Ranch Resort
Highland, New York
Tucked in the Shawangunk Mountains just a few hours from New York City, Rocking Horse Ranch is a jackpot for East Coast families who want a taste of a Western ranch without venturing far from home. Guest rooms have kitschy faux-log furnishings and playful cowboy-themed bedding. Family rooms with two queen beds and bunk beds will sleep six comfortably. The children’s program includes a supervised nursery for infants and toddlers plus a day camp for kids 6-12.
With over 100 horses and a rambling network of interlocking trails, the extensive riding program is at the resort’s core. In addition to horse and pony rides, there are horseshoeing demos, barn tours, and horse-drawn wagon rides. A waterpark, nightly entertainment, and arcade should prevent boredom. Plentiful meals and activities are included in the rate, so there’s no sticker-shock when it’s time to pay the bill. From $499 a night, rockinghorseranch.com
Breakfast with the Herd at C Lazy U Ranch
C Lazy U Ranch has been introducing families to the traditions of the American West for over 100 years. The dude ranch’s vast acreage supports a wealth of plant life and animals such as moose, black bears, elks, and eagles. Programming is anchored by extensive year-round horsemanship and horseback riding opportunities along the patchwork of trails, plus a heated indoor arena for inclement weather. Rise and shine and join the wranglers on the morning feed wagon as you watch the herd of over 200 horses eat breakfast. Guest rooms and cabins have stone fireplaces, exposed beams, and reclaimed timber trim, characteristic complements to the Continental Divide surroundings. Cabins with bunk beds work well for families. You’ll build an appetite in the mountain air and three full meals are included in the daily rate. Pack more than just tee shirts—a blouse or collared shirt is requested at dinner. From $410 a night, clazyu.com