Horses have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My mom was always horse crazy and as her only daughter it was natural that I too fell in love with equines. I started taking horseback riding lessons at the age of 5 and I’ve been hooked ever since. Horses are in my blood and while I don’t own my own horse any more, I do take regular lessons at a local barn at home.
Since horses and travel as such big parts of my life, I try to ride when I travel. Horseback riding on trails in the countryside is a great way to explore a new area. Riding tours are common all over the world but, as with any activity that involves animals, I always consider the welfare of the horse first.
Not all riding operations are created equal and some companies don’t treat their animals very well. I do as much research as I can before signing myself up for a ride as I want nothing to do with an operation that doesn’t take care of their animals. So far I’ve been riding in 7 countries and I’ve developed a check list for finding the good, ethical operations. These 5 questions will help you to assess which horseback riding company has the equines best interest in mind.
1. Do they offer different rides for various levels of riders?
Since I am an advanced rider, this is the first thing I look for. While this alone isn’t necessarily an indication of a good or bad operation, it does tell you a lot about what type of rides they offer (some operations may only want to offer beginner rides).
I find that if an outfitter offers rides to various levels of riders, they really know what they’re talking about. They likely won’t allow beginners to take a horse for a gallop as this is unsafe for both rider and horse. These operations will keep beginners on easy walking trails while those who have experience will be allowed to try faster gaits and perhaps tackle a more difficult trail. Operations that have different levels of rides have safety for both horse and rider in mind.
2. Do they have a weight limit?
This is a huge factor. Every horseback riding operation should either ask for your weight and/or have a weight limit listed on their website or brochure. I’m going to be blunt here: some people should not ride some horses due to their weight. Period. It’s animal abuse.
Some places, such as dude ranches in the western USA, are likely to have large quarter horses who are used to (and able to) carry larger adults. Think big, burly cowboys! But some counties have smaller horses, such as the Icelandic Horses in Iceland and the Peruvian Paso in Peru. These breeds are naturally smaller in stature and they just can’t (and shouldn’t) be carrying larger adults. This puts a huge strain on the horses back and could affect the horses life-long health.
Think about it. A horse continually carrying excessive weight will develop health issues. Once they have health issues they can’t make the operation money and actually start costing the company. These unethical companies put the bottom line above the welfare of the horse and will likely euthanize or get rid of a horse that is not making them money any more.
If your’e a larger adult, don’t ride unless they have a suitable horse for you. If you aren’t sure, ask the company what their weight limit policy is.
3. Do they offer a brief introductory lesson?
This is another sign of a good company. While it’s not bad for a company to not offer this, it’s a sign that this operation is one step above. Giving a beginner a few pointers and the opportunity to ride in a controlled environment before taking to the trails will make for an easier and nicer ride for everyone.
A beginner rider will learn how best to communicate with their horse. They will be taught things they should and shouldn’t do, like don’t pull on the horses mouth, how to steer and how to sit properly on the horse. This will make the horses job easier and provide a more comfortable ride for the rider.
Even as an advanced rider, I had a brief lesson on the Peruvian Paso when I went riding in Peru. The owner was able to tell me the best way to sit and control my horse as the training of this bred was quite different from the horses I ride at home. Not only did this provide me with a better riding experience, it was an education in culture and history as well.
4. Trip Advisor Reviews
I always search Trip Advisor for reviews on hotels and activities in general before I book. As always, some of these reviews have to be taken with a grain of salt but overall they give me a feel for the horseback riding operation. As an experienced rider, I do prefer reviews from other experienced equestrians as they know what to look for in an operation.
I also look for pictures posted by past guests on Trip Advisor so I can see the condition the horses are in. If they look too skinny and unkempt I don’t have a lot of faith that the operation treats their horses very well.
5. When you arrive, do the horses look healthy and well kept?
Once you feel you’ve found a good company to ride with be sure to pay attention to the health of the horses when you arrive. Do they look well cared for and groomed? Do they have sores where the saddle and girth go? Are they limping (lame)? Is their coat shinny and clean or dirty and dull? Do they look too skinny? Are their ribs showing? These are just a few questions to ask yourself and things to look for once you see the horses in person.
Horseback riding in a new country is a great way to explore and have a fun, unique experience. Not all horseback riding operations are created equal and it can be difficult to find the ethical ones without actually visiting the farm. I hope these tips will help guide you to discovering the good and avoid the bad horseback riding operations around the world. Happy trails!