Once used for pack animals and transportation, horses have played an important role around the world throughout history. Now a popular leisure pastime, equestrian excursions are a way to venture off the beaten path and get a unique look into a destination or culture. Whether you were born in the saddle or a newbie to riding, sometimes mounting up is the best way to get to know a place.
Here are 11 places better experienced from the back of a trusted steed.
Wadi Rum, Jordan
Horses and the Arabian desert go hand-in-hand. Early Bedouins were likely the first group to domesticate equines and their progeny have been galloping across Jordan’s red, rocky sands for millennia. Jordan Tracks’ multi-day trips through Wadi Rum give visitors the chance to race iconic Arabian horses by day and sleep in Bedouin-style tents by night.
For centuries, nomads forged empires spanning the wide open steppes of Central Asia. Today, the horse-centric culture continues in a more peaceful vein throughout the region. Herders move livestock between seasonal pastures, hunters partner with eagles to spot and snag quarry, and festivals honor the animal that’s shaped humanity. On multi-day excursions, nature-loving tourists can file over mountain passes, dine alongside shepherds, and sleep in tents or traditional yurts. Whether joining a guided tour or going at it alone, Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan offer the most options for horseback treks through Central Asia.
From its famed steeplechases — think Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet — to fox-hunting royals, the United Kingdom celebrates its equestrian culture with verve. And with verdant rolling hills off in the distance, the countryside begs to be explored on horseback. Experienced riders with a solid sense of direction can rent a steed to navigate the spider-web of bridleways independently. These established and signed paths connect farms, homes and pubs throughout the country, but can be confusing. For those who prefer taking advantage of local wisdom, plenty of facilities offer guided rides.
Siem Reap, Cambodia
If the crowds at Angkor Wat seem overwhelming, get off the beaten path with The Happy Ranch. Guided trail rides mosey through villages and between rice paddies, culminating at some of the area’s more isolated ruins. While these smaller temples lack the scope and grandeur of Bayon or Angkor Wat, they provide a peaceful refuge to get spiritual.
While lots of places offer the opportunity to ride horses on the beach, Jamaica’s sandy coves and temperate waters invite you and your mount into the surf. Chukka leads tours throughout the island, including trail rides that meander through tropical forests and peak with a horse and rider swim.
One of Europe’s most diverse ecosystems, Doñana National Park occupies a delta in southern Spain, where the Guadalquivir River opens into the Atlantic Ocean. On horseback, you’ll cover a lot of ground, traversing salt marshes, lagoons, dunes, forests and shrublands that provide sanctuary for deer, boars, migratory birds, and even the Iberian lynx. For those looking to get the adrenaline going, many rides also include gallops along the park’s wide beaches.
Wyoming & Montana, USA
Horses helped build the American west as we know it, and they remain a great way to explore its wilds. To sample some old-time adventure, let loose in contemporary cowboy culture of the Rocky Mountains. Consider a pack trip into the backcountry where your days will be spent watching golden eagles soar overhead and blankets of high-desert wildflowers spread into the distance. Mills Wilderness Adventures leads day trips and multi-day treks through Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness, while Wind River Mountain Outfitters offers a variety of tours in Wyoming’s Wind River Range and Absaroka area.
Famed for it's charming villas, sweeping farmland and gastronomic delicacies, Tuscany tempts all the senses. And touring the Italian countryside by horse just adds to the romance of it all. Guides lead riders along dusty roads and through medieval alleys to get up close and personal with castles dating from the 11th to 15th centuries. Most equestrian tours can be combined with wine-and-dine indulgences for a complete mind-and-body experience.
Take a cue from the locals and traverse the rugged landscape on horseback, following paths traced by Vikings thousands of years ago. Horses served as the nation’s primary form of transport well into the mid-1900s and remain an important part of everyday life. The spunky, good-natured miniature Icelandic horses are known for their trademark tolt, a speedy and silky smooth four-beat gait. Short trips near Reykjavik give city-lovers and those on European layovers a quick glimpse at the contrasting tundra — from plains of neon moss to lava-strewn fields. Longer treks venture deeper into the landscape, complementing time in the saddle with trips to healing hot springs and underwater canyons.
Machu Picchu, Peru
Get off the beaten path — literally — by riding a horse along one of the less frequented routes of the 15th-century Incan ruins. The trail known as Mollepata or Salkantay crosses mountain passes and glacial lakes, providing views into the often-snow-capped peaks of the Andes. Days spent ogling condors over the wide-open landscape wrap up with luxury accommodations as you await catching sight of Machu Picchu in the distance.
While the Serengeti’s parched grasslands and mega-fauna lure wildlife watchers, the Nile River’s lush banks show a different side of Africa. Based in Jinja, Uganda, Nile Horseback Safaris leads day trips, overnight visits, and multi-day treks through a mix of jungles, villages and sugarcane plantations. This isn’t lion country, but riders may spy vervet and red tail monkeys dancing among walls of orchids and creeper vines.