History, Heroines & Saving Species: Horseback Vacations That Take the High Road

KENYA. Looking for that ‘Out of Africa’ experience? Kenya’s Donyo Lodge Safari Ride lets you ride with wildlife while supporting conservation efforts.

BY L.A. Sokolowski

Bucket lists are out and life lists are in, according to experts with a finger on the pulse of a reawakening travel industry. Elizabeth Blount McCormick, president of the international travel management company Uniglobe Travel Designers, told The Washington Post in April that people “don’t want to put [travel] off anymore. They want to create experiences.” 

The last year spurred an urgency for fulfilling those “life list” items that people are no longer willing to put off. They want to seize today, while they have the health and freedom to enjoy it.

Equestrian entrepreneur Stacey Adams suggests considering one of three types of trips to replenish the soul rather than adding to a souvenirs collection. Since 2008, her Active Riding Trips, LLC, has offered curated, conscientious, and handpicked horseback riding trips. 

“I call 2020 the year of dreams,” says Adams, of Stanfordville, NY. “We were all dreaming about things that we should have been doing or we’d like to be doing.”

It’s time to dream again. Want to improve your equitation? There’s a trip for that. Want to become the heroine of your own life? Can do. Protect endangered species? Sure. Ride real-time history? You got it.

Saddle up. It’s time to get active again.

Trips to Train and Transform

Training vacations are perfect if you want to come home a wiser rider than when you left home. 

Riders can experience a truly through, upper level dressage horse for a day (or week) in Florida or Massachusetts with a Classical Dressage Program getaway to Vitor Silva’s Sons of the Wind Farm. Riders will have the opportunity to mount horses that look like they trotted out of a Cara-vaggio painting, and have been schooled through Prix St George to Grand Prix. 

“It’s nearly impossible to find a vacation in the United States that offers upper level training on highly schooled horses,” Adams says. Here, horses “move with strong top lines and impulsion.” And you can also focus on “how the movements should feel in your own hips, legs and upper body.”

For a cross country experience, there’s Train and Trail Ride at Fox Run Farm, in the bucolic heart of New York’s Hudson Valley hunt country. You can ride daily over fences and through the fields over a three- or six-day stay with A-show trainers Lynn Reed and Tammy Geiger. This trip leaves riders happy, tired, and often finding “breakthroughs” in their progress. The 1798 farmhouse, on 130 acres, has indoor and outdoor arenas, a field of natural obstacles and miles of groomed trails for riders of all ages and abilities.

Trips into Living History

Italy’s Roman Countryside Ride offers a balance of lessons and trail riding at Country Relais I Due Laghi, the first British Horse Society-approved ‘agritourismo’ estate in Italy. A week’s stay promises ample flatwork and cross country jumping on agile and athletic Maremmano horses descended from the same North African stock that became the traditional ‘cowpony’ of butteri cattlemen. The Maremmano were courageous WWII cavalry horses navigating the Russian steppes. And your mount will carry you down ancient roads like the Via di Polline (VIII B.C.) to explore Etruscan ruins, an aqueduct built by the son of Julius Cesar, or the 15th century Castle Odescalchi where Tom Cruise married Katie Holmes.

Ever hear of a transhumance? It’s a type of nomadism that (unlike actress Frances McDormand’s journey in a van) involves the seasonal movement of livestock between summer and winter pastures that’s been going on for centuries. Today, it has evolved into a new horseback travel experience.

“It is a true horse drive,” Adams says of France’s Seasonal Round Up. “You join the adventure by assisting guides as they bring horses back from winter pastures in Peyruis in upper Provence to begin a new season. It’s a fun way to see the French countryside, watch horses in their natural environment, and test your riding as the horses start their ‘school year.’” 

November’s drive begins along the foot of the Luberon and Cézanne’s beloved Sainte Victoire mountain and, after crossing the Aiguebrun, it’s on to the 11th century Carluc Priory and village of Simiane-la-Rotonde-Céreste in upper Provence. Next up: a seven-hour ride through the lavender fields of Lure Mountain to winter pastures in Cruis-Peyruis. 

Or you can ride further back in time within the glacial Emigrant Wilderness of California’s Northern Yosemite Ride, with guide John Rosica of Kennedy Meadows Resort and Pack Station. 

“Native peoples occupied this area for 10,000 years, hunting the high country and trading with groups like the Sierra Miwok and Piute,” says Rosica. “A true jewel in Yosemite is Upper Twin Lake, which will never be seen by a majority of people due to its remote location.” John promises trails up and through the canyon to breathtaking vistas at Haystack Peak and Bond Pass, where you can “almost touch the sky.”

Be a Heroine for Yourself or Another Species

Looking for something with deeper resonance? What about a riding retreat for ‘Women of a Certain Age’ or one where you can ‘Be the Heroine of Your Life?’” 

Bobbi Wade, owner and head wrangler at Blue Sky Sage riding retreats for women in Wyoming, calls a retreat a quiet or secluded place in which one can rest and relax; a period of seclusion for the purposes of prayer and meditation; and a place one goes for peace. With a willing horse to carry you and Wyoming’s wide open spaces, the possibilities to prioritize the healing and serenity of your own heart and mind are as vast as the big sky country. “You can hold your own space here,” says Wade, “whether meditating in the saddle or soaking in the creek. Peace can be found with Mother Nature.” 

Wyoming’s Wide Open Spaces offers room to gallop and to breathe. “Depending on the day’s riding and how many miles a group wants to cover, you can expect to be on horseback about five to six hours, and cover 10-25 miles each day,” Stacey says. “Add the possibility of seeing mustangs in their natural environment and this will be a week of riding that you will never forget.”

Seeing wildlife is one thing—helping to save it bumps a trip up an eco-tourism notch. Looking for that ‘Out of Africa’ experience? Kenya’s Donyo Lodge Safari Ride takes you along the foothills of the Chyulu hills, a volcanic range that Ernest Hemingway called the “green hills of Africa,” and from the lodge you’ll have a stunning view of Mount Kilimanjaro.

“Experientially, the best vacation ever,” Stacey was told by a happy dad, after making an heirloom memory with his daughter. “Julia was a great traveling companion who loved riding every day. I liked doing a safari where we did not sit in a truck all day but got to ride.” 

“Being the equine manager [at Donyo Lodge], I feel that riding amongst wildlife brings you closer to nature,” says Lana Flowers. “Our stables are five minutes from the lodge and we regularly get elephants and other animals visiting the stables to drink from our troughs. We have a stable of 18 horses, with a mixture of Arabians, Boerperds, and Friesian and Shire crosses, who roam freely during the day to become accustomed to the wildlife and terrain.”

In an effort to curtail poaching, Great Plains Conservation, which pioneered the concept of luxury safari experiences sustained on solar power, adds a conservation and community levy to each stay. Through this levy, each traveler to the lodge helps conserve and expand natural habitats and contributes to projects like Rhinos Without Borders and Project Ranger. 

When travel and tourism were brought to a standstill by COVID-19, many wilderness areas were left vacant and workers were left with uncertainty of personal income. This ‘perfect storm’ left endangered animals highly vulnerable to wildlife crime. Project Ranger is filling a critical gap in monitoring, surveying, and anti-poaching operations of existing NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) in Africa through an emergency fund supporting those on the front lines of conservation.

The Best Revenge Is to Travel Well

Another post-pandemic phenomenon is the concept of ‘revenge travel.’ 

“While revenge travel is the hot new term,” says Tripscout app CEO, Konrad Waliszewski, “it explains exactly what travelers have been saying since the pandemic started. We are no longer going to take for granted that there will always be a flight tomorrow and an open border waiting to greet us. We will make up for lost time and experiences with a vengeance.”

And with a horse. 

Follow updates on domestic and international travel plans and learn more about horseback riding trips to more than 17 global getaways at ActiveRidingTrips.com.

*This story was originally published in the July 2021 issue of The Plaid Horse. Click here to read it now and subscribe for issues delivered straight to your door!