Bring Your Own Horse Vacations: Adventure & Clinics
If you are anything like me you saw “Buck” as soon as it came to theaters. If you are really like me then you saw it twice. And if you are even more like me you went home and tried to figure out when the next Buck Brannaman Horsemanship Clinic was coming to a town near you.
Check out this diverse selection of horse vacation adventure destinations and clinics, where you and your horse can learn from Buck, say “Tally-ho” on a fox hunt, test your endurance and explore the wilds of Texas.
by Alexandra Begley
Herding cattle is part of the every day experience at McGinnis Meadows Guest Ranch. Photo credit: Desiree Sides.
Montana Horse Clinics with Buck
McGinnis Meadows Cattle and Guest Ranch in Montana hosts the famed master of horsemanship, Buck Brannaman, for two weeks each summer and you and your horse are invited. The ranch also has several horsemanship classes throughout the summer, and they specialize in preparing you and your ride for working with cattle. Trail rides, roping, and cutting the yearlings are popular among many of the guests staying at McGinnis Meadows.
The best part about the ranch are the special additions: hikes through Montana’s Cabinet Mountains, trout fishing on the Kootenai River, and hunting for anyone in your family who isn’t exactly horse-crazy. Don’t forget to pack your horse’s Coggins and vaccination records -- they are also required to have Rhino and Influenza vaccinations at least 3 months prior.
Texas Horse Vacations
Just outside San Antonio, Texas, in the Hill Country State Natural Area near Bandera is the Running R Ranch. Now, if you didn’t grow up in Texas you may not know about the beauty of the Texas Hill Country. In spring, the valleys are speckled with drifts of wildflowers and the hills are lush and green from thunderstorms. In the summer, the climate is dry and dusty, but the heat isn’t so oppressive far away from the swampy lowlands of the Gulf Coast. During the warmer months, you also can’t go more than a few days before running into a rodeo.
At Running R you can bring your own horse and explore the Hill Country at your own pace. The barn and arena are available for your use and they’ll even supply pack lunches for guests embarking on daylong rides.
If you are looking for something a little more luxurious, Lajitas Ranch and Golf Resort has an equestrian center with an indoor arena for private lessons. With Big Bend National Park -- often called one of the most beautiful spots in Texas -- on one side and the Rio Grande on the other, a vacation at Lajitas with your horse could take you trekking across mountains or through a river canyon.
Horseback riding with Lajitas Golf Resort & Spa between Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park in Texas.
Virginia Fox Hunts
“Tally Ho” are two words a fox never wants to hear because it probably means a gaggle of horses, hounds, and red hunting coats are on their way. Fox hunting is a controversial sport, but most hunt clubs in the United States no longer kill the target. Be sure to check with your hunt club if this is an issue for you.
Originating in 16th century England, fox hunting is still steeped in tradition and strict etiquette. Forgetting your hair net, speaking to the hounds (if you are not a hunt master), trampling across property without respect to the paths, riding ahead of the field master, and having an unruly ride are all grounds for dismissal. The rules are strict for a reason: safety of the group is an important aspect of the hunt, though we aren’t sure what hair nets have to do with it.
Going on an organized fox hunt means being prepared. Your horse should be in good shape, your clothes coordinated (different clubs have different dress codes), and be sure to have any capping fees and necessary registrations and licenses ready before arriving. Also, you should be absolutely confident that both you and your horse are mentally prepared for a hunt. Above all, remember to have fun and some rules embody just that:
“A time-honored hunting tradition is the involuntary dismount,” says one site. “Should you part company with your horse, provide the Master with a fifth bottle of spirits (your choice). Taped to the bottle should be your name, your horse’s name, the date of the hunt and the place where you found yourself on two legs.”
Virginia is the unofficial fox hunting capital of the United States and has set the scene for many of America’s greatest riders, including native son George Washington who was an avid huntsman. Some hunt clubs in Virginia that allow participants to bring their own horses are The Middleburg Hunt, Colonial Foxhounds, Blue Ridge Hunt, and Loudon Hunt, though more can be found here: www.foxhuntva.com
Endurance Riding and Competitive Trail Riding
Two equestrian sports that are distinctly American are Endurance and Competitive Trail Riding. These sports were developed in the 1950s and 60s in the United States and have since spread to Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. Equitrekking.com even featured champion endurance racer Darolyn Butler in the “Dream Jobs” series.
These are not your average trail rides. Endurance riding is sanctioned by the International Federation of Equestrian Sports (FEI) and consists of 50 to 100 mile races across varied landscapes. Some races are completed in a 24-hour period, while others may span days and all horses must pass veterinary exams along the way to determine whether or not they are fit to continue on. The most famous competition, The Tevis Cup, takes experienced riders across 100 miles of the Sierra Nevada mountain range from Lake Tahoe to Auburn, California in a single day. Shorter rides, or limited distance competitions, are more suited to beginners to the sport.
Competitive trail rides are usually shorter, between 15 and 40 miles, and the winner isn’t always determined by speed. The goal of these races is to demonstrate horses and riders working together as a team and many competitions judge riders on how well they navigate the trail and how fit the horse is.
If you’re looking for a way to experience new landscapes with a competitive edge then these two sports might be just the adventure for you and your horse. Don’t be caught unprepared: all horses must pass a fitness examination before being allowed to race. There are several sites with tips and detailed training guides that will help you prepare for your first race.
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* The above information was correct at the time of this article’s publication. Always be sure to call ahead to make sure you have the proper records and permits for your horse and to check on trail closures due to inclement weather.