Searching for the perfect gaited-horse escapade? We found eight destinations that offer gorgeous trails, smooth-gaited horses, and a big dose of hospitality – all the ingredients you need for a perfect vacation!
Bar Fifty Ranch, Bismarck, Arkansas
Hosts: Owners Julian McKinney and Bette Clay.
Overview: Bar Fifty Ranch, a working cattle and horse ranch, is located in the foothills of the Ouachita Mountains, with 20,000 acres of forest nearby for trail riding. The 200-acre guest facilities include a petting zoo, catch-and-release fishing ponds, hayrides, a bonfire pit, a sauna, and a swimming pool (open May through October).
Season: Year-round; however, trails are closed during deer-hunting season (November). Call the ranch for trail-closure times.
Accommodations: The ranch offers a comfortable bed & breakfast lodge, as well as cedar log cabins (breakfast optional). During seasonal celebrations, other meals are served; otherwise, meals are self-catered or guests visit local restaurants in nearby towns.
Horses: About 35 gaited horses are available to guests, including Peruvian Horses, Tennessee Walking Horses, Tennuvians, Rocky Mountain Horses, Kentucky Mountain Horses, and Mountain Pleasure Horses. Most are bred and trained at the ranch.
Trails: The adjoining forest trails offer something for everyone. You can ride on flat or hilly terrain, or a combination. Most of the trails are wooded and shady, and creeks run throughout the area.
Rides: Bar Fifty Ranch offers guided rides, but experienced trail riders can go out by themselves. After assessing your level of horsemanship, the ranch will accommodate your riding needs.
Skill levels: All; rides are tailored to your abilities.
Limitations: Riders must be 6 years or older; 6- and 7-year-olds are ponied behind a wrangler. Riders under 16 must wear a riding helmet. Weight limit: 275 pounds.
Cowboy Hideaway Ranch, Upper Lake, California
Hosts: Owners Jeff Irvine and Ann Zollinger.
Overview: “Corkscrews and horseshoes – need we say more?” Cowboy Hideaway Ranch offers three- or six-day wine tours on horseback. Savor the beautiful and varied Napa Valley, from Napa to Mendocino, aboard a Rocky Mountain Horse. Enjoy breathtaking views, taste varietal Napa Valley wines, and visit Ridgewood Ranch, once home of the late racehorse Seabiscuit.
Season: April to November.
Accommodations: A luxurious lodge boasting a breathtaking panoramic view of Clear Lake and the surrounding valley. The lodge has several queen-sized bedrooms, cozy sitting areas, an enormous kitchen serving gourmet food, and a homey dining area. Most meals are provided.
Horses: The ranch’s Rocky Mountain Horses are born and trained at Mountain Magic Ranch in Three Forks, Montana (406/285-9017/www.gaitedmtnhorses.com), using natural-horsemanship techniques. On the first day, you and your mount are matched for the entire week.
Trails: All rides depart from the 750-acre Cowboy Hideaway Ranch; some include trailering to your point of departure. You’ll ride through California’s varied wine-country terrain – around the Highland Springs reservoir; through vineyards and ancient redwood groves; and along the rugged Mendocino Coast. Each day’s ride is different; all nights are spent at the ranch.
Rides: Vacation packages for either three- or six-night stays.
Skill levels: All.
Rider limitations: The wine tour is limited to eight guests; call for availability.
Hacienda de Cordobes, Cochran, Georgia
Hosts: Owners Angel and Andrea Rodriguez.
Overview: Hacienda de Cordobes, located in central Georgia’s Magnolia Midlands, preserves the heritage and tradition of the Peruvian Horse. Related to the guest ranch is a Peruvian Horse breeding and training ranch, Rancho Loma Linda. Along with typical Southern hospitality, you’ll get a taste of Peru, with authentic Peruvian food and entertainment, as well as Saturday-night barbecues.
Accommodations: Two cabins with kitchenettes are available; one sleeps four, the other sleeps two. Guests can either have meals provided or self-cater.
Horses: The Peruvian Horse boasts strength and stamina with a calm and gentle disposition, perfect for the trail rider. However, unlike other gaited breeds, Peruvians are bred for brio, or spirit. The ranch is home to 18 quality Peruvian Horses, ranging in age from yearlings to 15 years old.
Trails: Whether you want to gait lazily across open pastures or glide through the wooded trails, Hacienda de Cordobes can accommodate your needs. With more than 100 acres of private trails, you can get a real sense of the Peruvian’s smooth gaits in a relaxing setting. The ranch offers a hands-on riding program, with unguided riding opportunities, beautiful onsite trails, and riding on nearby national forest lands.
Rides: Hourly trail rides, lessons, and weekend stays are available. The trail rides are guided, but if you bring your own horse, you’re welcome to explore the trails without a guide. (Negative Coggins test required.)
Skill levels: All levels are welcome; rides are tailored to your riding ability.
Limitations: Children above the age of 6 are welcome. Weight limit: 250 pounds. Pets must be kept in the stables or leashed.
Prairie Garden Farm, Fairfield, Iowa
Hosts: Jennifer and Doug Hamilton.
Overview: Prairie Garden Farm couples comprehensive riding lessons with breathtaking trail rides, allowing riders to completely experience Icelandic Horses and the Iowa countryside. Iowa – “beautiful land” in the Mesquakie Indian language – offers lush landscapes and wildlife. Riding a strong, sweet-natured Icelandic Horse is the perfect way to see the unique Iowa scenery.
Accommodations: None onsite, but there are numerous inns, bed & breakfasts, and motels nearby, and a variety of restaurants in the town of Fairfield, one mile north of the farm. The Hamiltons can help you find a place that suits you.
Horses: Each Icelandic Horse is chosen personally by the farm’s owners for clear gait and good character. The horses vare bred and trained in Iceland, then imported and further trained to meet American standards. The farm also has a breeding farm, Icelandics fra Slettunni (“Icelandics from the Prairie”).
Trails: The trails travel through rolling hills of prairie grass, wooded groves, rivers and streams, and Amish farmland. Weekend-long rides navigate the 9,000-acre Shimek State Forest, which offers 25 miles of equestrian trails, and the Brinton Timber Park, which runs along the bluffs of the Skunk River.
Rides: Riders start with a private lesson to acclimate to riding the tolt. Each ride is tailored to the riders’ abilities. There are half-day and full-day rides for all levels and interests. Weekend-long rides are also available for the experienced rider. The Hamiltons create a fun, confidence-building experience, giving each guest individual attention.
Skill levels: All levels are welcome; rides are tailored to your riding ability.
Limitations: Maximum of four riders per ride.
RS Ranch, Bourbon, Missouri
Hosts: Owners Tanya and Roy Shoenbeck.
Overview: RS Ranch is a 500-acre working cattle and horse ranch in the Missouri Ozarks that offers trail rides astride Missouri Fox Trotters. Fishing, hiking, campfire cookouts, paddle boating, and hayrides are available.
Accommodations: Bed & breakfast accommodations in a cowboy-themed log cabin that has all the necessities, including a full kitchen, grill, fire pit, and fireplace. Lunch and dinner are self-catered; local restaurants also are nearby. Maximum occupancy is eight.
Horses: The ranch breeds and trains Missouri Fox Trotters; guests have about 30 horses to choose from.
Trails: Every trail ride traverses land filled with an extraordinary biodiversity of plant and animal species, including wild turkey, white-tailed deer, and many other native animals. The rides explore local rivers, caves, forest, and ranch lands.
Rides: Multiple rides are offered, including vacation packages that range from three to seven days, along with hour- and day-long rides. Trail rides include a cowboy saddlebag lunch at a scenic spot along the trail or river. The Shoenbecks customize each ride to their guests’ abilities.
Skill Levels: All.
Limitations: None specified.
Ruidoso Equine Experience, Nogal, New Mexico
Host: Irene Howcroft.
Overview: Located in the Lincoln National Forest in the mountains of southwestern New Mexico, Ruidoso Equine Experience has access to 10,000 acres. Guests can ride on forest trails or on private property in the plains. Hiking, fishing, golfing, skiing, and gambling are available nearby.
Accommodations: Bed & breakfast accommodations for up to four people in a two-bedroom, two-bathroom cabin with fully equipped kitchen. A nearby bed & breakfast can accommodate another two to four guests; a maximum of six riders is preferred. Other meals can be provided, or you can self-cater. Many restaurants and entertainment venues are in the neighboring town. Howcroft provides a riding program for children, ages 3 through 14; babysitting services are available.
Horses: Ruidoso offers Peruvian Horses, Mangalarga Marchadors, Tennessee Walking Horses, Rocky Mountain Horses, and a Paso Fino for your riding pleasure. It uses bitless bridles and treeless saddles, and its horses are shoeless.
Trails: From the ranch, trails enter quiet Sacramento Mountains that abound with wildlife and fauna. Rides also are available on private lands in the plains, which are no more than a 45-minute trailer ride away. The mountain rides vary in both the level of challenge and length of time riders desire.
Rides: Rides are customized to riders’ horsemanship levels – the horses are independently controlled; these are not head-to-tail rides. Each rider grooms and connects with his/her individual mount prior to time in the arena, where time is spent ensuring comfort and confidence. Parties are not mixed. Personal attention allows riders of differing abilities to ride together. Howcroft leads all rides. She also offers natural-horsemanship clinics and trains all her gaited horses in the technique.
Skill levels: All. Young children are accommodated in a special children’s program; they don’t ride on the trail with adolescents and adults.
Limitations: No smoking; no indoor pets.
Trail Horses of the West, Las Vegas, New Mexico
Host: Owner Fred Mau.
Overview: Trail Horses of the West, located at Twin Ponds Ranch, offers the largest selection of mature gaited horses in North America. Rides venture into the picturesque Sangre de Cristo Mountains; accommodations for two are available in the ranch’s guest cabin.
Accommodations: Guests can stay at Twin Ponds’ modern log cabin, shaded by tall ponderosa pine trees. The cabin is equipped with a queen-size bed, a kitchen, and a full bathroom.
Horses: A variety of gaited horses are available – Tennessee Walking Horses, Spotted Saddle Horses, Kentucky Mountain Horses, Rocky Mountain Horses, and Missouri Fox Trotters. These mounts are meticulously trained at the ranch to calmly encounter everything from lakes to stairs to wildlife.
Trails: Trails, ranging from easy to moderate difficulty, venture into New Mexico’s dazzling mountains. You’ll likely encounter water crossings and steep trails. But, Mau assures, there’s no hanging off the side of a mountain on two-foot-wide trails, just beautiful views aboard smooth horses with friendly guides.
Rides: One- to two-hour trail rides are offered, along with day-long (five-hour) rides. Mau enjoys sharing his love of gaited breeds with his guests, and enjoys helping each guest find the horse perfect for him or her.
Skill levels: All riders are welcome; the emphasis is on safety and fun.
Limitations: None specified.
Walking Horse Country Farm, Eastsound, Washington
Hosts: Jeri and Doug Smart, along with their daughters and grandkids.
Overview: This 25-acre farm is on Orcas Island, the largest of the San Juan Islands off the coast of northern Washington State. The Smarts breed and train Tennessee Walking Horses, prized for their comfortable gaits and gentle personalities. The farm is close to the village of Eastsound, which offers restaurants, art galleries, and antique stores. Guests can enjoy swimming, biking, and whale watching, among other activities.
Accommodations: A quaint, two-bedroom farmhouse with queen-sized beds, fully equipped kitchen, and laundry facilities provides you with all the comforts of home. All meals are self-catered. You’ll enjoy the ambiance provided by the Smarts’ antique collection, which includes sleighs and carriages.
Horses: The farm has nine Tennessee Walkers for you to choose from. The week-long Horsemanship Experience Program pairs you with a horse suited to your abilities for the length of your stay.
Trails: Trails on the farm include fenced pastures, ponds, and wooded bridle trails. For rides off the property, farm personnel will haul to island trailheads.
Rides: Rides range from one hour to half-day.
Skill levels: All.
Limitations: No smoking. Weight limit: 225 pounds. Pets must be approved by the owners.