If you have a horse lover in your family, you’ve probably imagined making their dreams come true with a chance to see, touch or ride their beloved animals. Here are a few ideas and places with how to enthrall and delight those little ones with a horse-centered family trip.
Aspiring cowboys and cowgirls will be awed by the oldest Junior Rodeo in the United States. In November, kids from 5-18 years of age compete at the Florence Junior Parade in rodeo events including team roping, breakaway roping, chute dogging, goat tying, barrel racing, sheep riding and even bull riding.
2. WAIMEA, HAWAII, THE BIG ISLAND
Hawaii may be the last place you expect to find cowboys, yet paniolo (Hawaiian Cowboys) have a tradition on the Big Island of Hawaii that goes back to 1832. Today, beef production is still a booming industry on the beautiful upcountry pastures of Waimea and the paniolo still use horses (and ATVs) to wrangle steer. If you visit, you can try your hand at the paniolo craft or just enjoy a scenic ride through the tropical Waipio Valley, alongside streams and waterfalls. Nearby, you can enjoy all that Hawaii has to offer: swimming, snorkeling, surfing, hiking, star gazing and the amazing Volcanoes National Park.
If your family craves luxury but still wants a taste of the ranch experience, perhaps “glamping” at the Resort at Paws Up is the way to go. Situated on 37,000 acres, there is plenty of room for the resort’s 250 guests who occupy its 28 vacation homes and 30 luxurious tents. Paws Up offers an extensive children’s program and the largest privately owned equestrian centers in the state. In addition to horseback riding and junior wrangler programs, they offer fly fishing, river rafting, rappelling, paint ball, wilderness workshops and chuck wagon rides.
4. SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY
If your child is a fan of The Black Stallion, they might have an interest in horse racing. While there are plenty of racetracks around, a classic summer destination for horse and race lovers is Saratoga Springs. Here the whole family can enjoy the races and also watch the morning workouts, stand in the paddock while the horses parade by on their way to the track, or visit the backyard where kids can touch an outrider horse and learn more about their daily routines. Nearby, families can enjoy Six Flags Great Escape amusement park, Ausable Chasm sandstone gorge, or take a riding lesson at Old Saratoga Farms.
Located in the heart of horse country, Kentucky Horse Park bills itself as “the leading tourist attraction for all things horse.” So if you want to get up close to horses, this is where you can do it. At the Kentucky Horse Park you can visit the International Museum of the Horse and the American Saddlebred Museum, tour the horse barn, enjoy horse shows, take a horse-drawn carriage tour and, of course, try a trail or pony ride. You can also visit the Keeneland Race Course, tour a real working horse Farm, or visit one of the area’s bourbon distilleries.
6.OUTER BANKS, NC
Another way to experience the raw beauty of wild horses is in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The Corolla Wild Horses have inhabited the remote stretch of beach in Corolla and Carova for centuries. These wild beasts can’t be ridden or touched, but if you want to enjoy the freedom and majesty of the horses from a distance, you can explore on your own if you have an off-road vehicle, or take a 4×4 tour from a company like Wild Horse Adventure Tours. The Outer Banks offer something for everyone with gorgeous beaches, dolphin tours, hang gliding and water sports.
7. CHINCOTEAGUE, VA & ASSATEAGUE, MD
If you’ve ever read Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry, you are familiar with the wild ponies of Chincoteague and the annual pony swim. Each July, a group of wild ponies on Assateague Island are rounded up and forced to swim to Chincoteague Island, where they are auctioned off, affording a great opportunity to see the wild ponies in action and bring a storybook to life. If you want to visit during the annual swim, expect crowds and book a charter boat months in advance for the best viewing opportunities. But you don’t need to visit in July to see the ponies. They roam wild throughout the Assateague Island National Seashore and can be observed from a distance within the park. To get a closer look, you can also take a “guaranteed ponies” boat tour from outfitters like Captain Dan’s in Chincoteague. You can also enjoy the beautiful beach, biking, hiking, bird watching, fishing, crabbing, kayaking and other outdoor fun.
Thoughts of Iceland may conjure up images of northern lights and blue lagoons, but actually, a trip to Iceland is a great way to see and ride horses. The Icelandic Horse is a pure breed, first brought over by the Vikings in the 9th or 10th century, and kept pure by prohibiting any other breed of horse from entering the country. With more than 80,000 horses in Iceland, you don’t need to travel far on the popular Ring Road to see them. But instead of driving to see horses, how about riding horses to see Iceland? Many tour companies, including Hestasport, offer short or long rides for beginners or experienced riders.