Home / Choosing a riding holiday
Before you spend your hard earned money on a riding holiday you really need to ask yourself and your chosen riding holiday company some important questions.
What sort of riding holiday do you have in mind?
This has probably got to be the first question. Just what kind of experience are you looking for? Is it to ride in spectacular scenery? To see wildlife from horseback? Or just to get away from it all for a few days and enjoy riding a good horse.
In The Saddle finds it helpful to classify riding holidays into four broad categories. Riding Holidays; Safaris on Horseback; Ranch Holidays and Riding Expeditions.
On a Riding Holiday, whether to Spain, South Africa, California or Mexico, you are sure to have some great riding, be hosted well, have good food and wine and overall a really good time. You can even enter an endurance ride in Namibia. These holidays don’t involve too much planning or specialist packing and you could phone up on Monday and be away on Saturday.
A Safari on Horseback in Africa is truly spectacular. It’s surely impossible to beat the wonder of watching a large herd of towering giraffe as your horse quietly grazes or the heart beating excitement of being face to face with an elephant. Some safaris on horseback are in areas where there is no dangerous game and so are suitable for all levels of rider, including children. Other safaris, in areas where you might encounter elephant, lion or buffalo, are only for experienced riders. Accommodation varies from luxury safari lodges and very comfortable spacious safari tents with their own private bathrooms to simple bush camps with long drop loos and bucket showers.
A Ranch Holiday gives you the opportunity to live out a dream and take yourself to the world of John Wayne. These holidays are often in stunning parts of the world. You could choose a working ranch where you have the opportunity to be a cowboy and move cattle on horseback or a guest ranch with stunning mountain scenery.
A Riding Expedition is a journey on horseback, which may entail a few hardships but reward you with an experience to remember and scenery which you might otherwise not have the opportunity to see. On these rides you need to take a little more care to pack the appropriate clothing for the trip and to make sure you are fit enough for the journey. On many of the expeditions you camp in small two-man dome tents with sleeping bags on mats and limited washing/loo facilities, but hopefully the views make up for that. On others you stay in hotels or farm houses and so have a more comfortable place to spend the night.
So, are you the sort of person who needs a shower every night and a comfortable bed? Or are you more interested in the scenery and a loo with a view? Do you love the idea of riding to a new destination each day or would you prefer to unpack, settle into your room and ride out from a base. If you feel like a short ride one day or you fancy taking a whole day out for relaxing or sightseeing then this is a lot easier on a centre based ride.
I would be travelling on my own – is that a problem?
Not at all – about one third of our clients travel on their own. Riding holidays are very sociable and, with a common love of horses and the outdoors, people generally get on very well together. On many holidays there is no single supplement if you are willing to share and on some you can be guaranteed a single room without supplement.
How good a rider do I need to be?
There are riding holidays for all levels of experience. Make sure you choose a ride that matches your expectations and riding ability. Find out as much as possible about the pace of ride and how many hours you will actually spend in the saddle. This is where a specialist riding holiday company can really make a difference. Ask to speak to the member of staff who has actually been on that ride and can talk to you about it from personal experience. Also, its likely that the staff person will have been on other riding holidays and so by comparing and contrasting can help you reach a decision on the best one for you. They won’t be pushing one riding holiday over another; rather they are there to help you choose the right holiday for you, based on your riding experience, fitness level and what you actually want from a holiday.
You might also wish to check out what other people are saying about the ride. In The Saddle posts all client feedback on their website so you can read the comments from people who have recently been on that holiday.
Will the horses be in good condition?
This is obviously our first priority. Your riding holiday company will have checked the ride and will be vouching for the horses. You will be amazed at the strength, fitness and willingness of the horses you encounter on riding holidays. They work hard, are well cared for and fit.
Am I fit enough?
If you are fit enough to ride 40kms at 12 km/hr, then you are likely to be fine for the vast majority of riding holidays. Some don’t require this level of fitness and some are more demanding. If you are uncertain about your overall fitness, then choose a ride which isn’t going to be too physically demanding. It is your holiday, after all.
The long riding expeditions which involve camping do have a cumulative effect on the body and are physically the most demanding (eg Across The Andes or Crossing the Namib Desert). If you are going on one of these outside of your regular endurance season, then do get as fit as possible before you go by doing plenty of walking, cycling or swimming. But don’t forget your ibuprofen; most of us are going to ache a bit at the beginning of the ride but by midway, the muscles will be well in tune and you will be taking it in your stride.
Booking with a Tour Operator vs Booking Direct
I will try not to be too biased but in these uncertain times there are many reasons why booking your holiday through a specialist riding holiday tour operator is unquestionably the safest thing to do.
First of all, the riding holiday company will have checked out the riding holiday and takes responsibility for the quality of the horses, the standard of guiding and safety arrangements and that the actual holiday is provided to you as advertised.
The riding holiday company may also book flights for you but if you wish to book them yourself, they will make sure the flights tie in with local transfers. For long haul destinations you should expect your riding holiday company to be able to book hotel accommodation and perhaps pre or post ride extensions.
It is important to remember that you will not pay more by booking through a riding holiday company and sometimes less.
In these times of extreme exchange rate fluctuations it is important to find out whether the riding holiday company will surcharge if sterling were to fall further against the dollar or euro. In The Saddle will fix the price at the time you book and guarantees not to surcharge regardless of exchange rate movements. This means you get peace of mind and no nasty surcharge invoices just before you fly.
And finally, its very important to check that your riding holiday company is fully bonded, which means that any payments you make to the Tour Operator are fully protected in the event of the company going out of business. If you have booked flights through the riding holiday company then they must have an ATOL (www.atol.org) and your holiday money will be guaranteed by the Civil Aviation Authority. If you have booked just the ride, then the riding holiday company must have in place separate arrangements to ensure your money is safe. In The Saddle has a bond with ABTA for this type of business.
So, this means you don’t have to worry about sending thousands of pounds overseas and wondering if the ride organiser is actually going to still be there when you go on holiday.
What clothes should I take?
Endurance riders almost certainly already have the right clothes for a riding holiday since we know how important it is to be comfortable in the saddle when riding for many hours. Always take your own hard hat - lightweight riding hats are now common on riding holidays all over the world. If you are going to a hot country, then a long sleeved cotton shirt will create a nice draught and keep you cool. If you are going to ride in a cold country, then you will need a good quality fleece and coat. Sometimes full-length chaps will protect your legs and provide extra warmth but usually half chaps such as the comfortable and light weight ones from “Just Chaps” are sufficient. Your riding holiday company will give you a detailed equipment list to aid your packing.
Do I need to have any jabs before I leave?
For some destinations you will need to have a course of inoculations before you travel. Speak to your doctor who will check the current advice.
When actually on your holiday, just about the most important thing is to keep hydrated and drink plenty of water. Check if you will need to bring your own water bottle and holder or if one is provided (endurance riders normally have one that clips onto your saddle but if you don’t Performance Equestrian have a full range). If it’s a hot climate then we recommend a sachet of rehydration salts (such as diaralyte) into your waterbottle each day to keep dehydration and headaches at bay.
You should bring a small medical kit with any medicines you normally take as well as painkillers, plasters etc.
Will I be safe?
Of course there are inherent risks when riding and travelling abroad, but your riding holiday company will have checked that the holiday you have chosen is following good health & safety practices in everything they do from selecting and training their horses and guides to designing the itinerary to the accommodation and food.
You should ensure you have a valid travel insurance policy and check that it covers you for a riding holiday.
On a day to day basis, the local guides and hosts will advise you on where you can go and what you should not do. For specific incidents of unrest, we follow the advice of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (www.fco.gov.uk). If the FCO advises against travel to the country, then it is most likely that your holiday would be cancelled and your riding holiday company would refund you whatever you have paid them. (another reason to book through a riding holiday company rather than direct).
Where do I start?
Request a brochure or view the website of your chosen riding holiday company. That is sure to whet your appetite. Then call them with your short list and speak to the relevant person who knows that ride. Hopefully they will help you narrow down your choice and then just book it. You can always go on your second choice next year.