Can You Enjoy a Horseback Riding Vacation if You have Never Sat on a Horse?

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So, you’ve always wanted to learn to ride a horse, have never managed it, and now want to go on a riding vacation? Can a total beginner enjoy a trip to a dude ranch or riding center?

The short answer is yes.

The long answer is yes, but there are some things you have to bear in mind.

You do Need to be in Shape

You need to be reasonably fit to take one of these trips. Many establishments do have a weight limit, and some have a BMI limit (I disagree with this because BMI is a crock, but I’ve seen it). Equitours, a major agency that helps people book trips overseas recommends this article for specific exercises you should do. (These are also good for occasional riders).

Generally, you should also be able to hear and understand the wrangler’s instructions. A dude ranch is more likely to be able to accommodate disabilities than an outfitter.

(Note, if you have a physical disability, make sure the ranch can accommodate you. I’ve heard good things about Stagecoach Trails in Arizona…they can and do have people in wheelchairs ride and have adaptive equipment. This is relatively rare, but it’s always worth asking. If you’re traveling to the UK, contact the Riding for the Disabled association, which can also recommend driving vacations).

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You Need to Take the Right Trip

I took a trip to California two years ago. Several of the riders had only had a few lessons and had never taken a trip like that before. At least two said that based on their experience they were never getting on a horse again. It was an amazing trip, but it wasn’t a great one for novice riders.

Dude ranches generally split groups by ability, but some specialist trips may require minimum riding experience. If working with an outfitter/going on a moving trip, be honest about your experience. The outfitter in California had a variety of trips. The one we went on? I asked them which was their trip for serious riders… They had trips that were much more suitable for novices. Cattle drives sometimes require minimum experience and horse drives almost always do — they’re a lot more challenging.

You may want to look for a dude ranch that offers lessons as well as trail rides. I highly recommend Bitterroot Ranch for novices…they offer great instruction and had beginners loping comfortably by the end of the week when I was there. But the key factor is to make sure that the trip you take is suitable for beginners and believe the ranch if they say you shouldn’t go on a specific trip or a specific week.

Again, dude ranches and riding centers are better because if you aren’t up to riding you can always stay back at the ranch. If you’re camping you don’t have that option.

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Accept Saddle Soreness

You will be saddle sore. I ride fairly regularly and I am always saddle sore during these trips. Take your mild over the counter painkiller of choice with you. Pro tip: When you get off after a several hour ride, don’t collapse in a chair. Take a short walk around the ranch instead. Helps keep you from stiffening up.

But the fact is you will be using muscles you didn’t know existed, especially in your abs and inner thighs. You’ll have a better experience if you accept that as part of the experience. Kind of like the various discomforts of camping.

Above all, if you’re a novice rider…or even have never sat on a horse…you absolutely can take and enjoy a horseback riding vacation. You just need to do your research and listen to the experts when they tell you what you can expect to be able to do. But there’s no reason you can’t be on the trails in no time at all.

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Freelance writer, freelance editor, novelist and short story writer. Jack of many trades.

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