BYOH (Bring Your Own Horse)
By Suzanne McMinn
That horse trailer you invested in to attach to your Suburban (or Tahoe)* is good for more than just horse shows—it’s also your ticket to some of the best vacations you’ll ever have. When choosing a destination, look for great riding opportunities, accommodations to suit both you and your horse, and fantastic food, along with a variety of other activities to round out your days. Bring-your-own-horse adventures range from luxury spa resorts to back-to-basics nature experiences, so take your pick from these spots around the country.
At the Bar W Guest Ranch in Whitefish, Montana, you’ll find 3,000 scenic acres available for your exploration on horseback. Accommodations include a 6,200-square-foot lodge as well as individual guest cabins. For your horse, there are indoor and outdoor arenas, stables, a barn and a turnout pasture. Organized equine activities include cowpoke lessons, horsemanship clinics, barrel racing, penning and even cattle sorting. When you’re ready to strike out on your own, the mountains, foothills and open prairies offer plenty of variety. The cooking at the ranch is country-style and hearty, and when you want to leave your hoofed friend behind for different sorts of fun, there’s fishing, whitewater rafting, hot-air ballooning, golf courses and more, all within easy reach.
If you’re looking for an adventure geared more toward nature and educational experiences, Zapata Ranch in Mosca, Colorado, might be the place for you. Owned by the Nature Conservancy, this 103,000-acre working bison ranch offers in-depth clinics on everything from horsemanship to conservation. Practice your horse handling and riding skills, and work bison on the range, sorting and moving them as you learn real-life management practices. Nature expeditions include wildlife watching, photography safaris and guided hikes to the sand dunes or Zapata Falls. Overnight camp-out cattle drives and other special events are available throughout the year. In the evenings, you can look forward to dining on grass-fed bison prepared by a gourmet chef. Guests are limited to 25, creating an intimate experience that’s hard to find anywhere else.
For a truly pampered vacation amidst thousands of acres in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Ferguson, North Carolina, Leatherwood Mountains Resort is a horse lover’s paradise. Full-service equine facilities are teamed with miles of forest and mountain trails to fill your days on horseback. The resort offers 75 stalls, a show arena and a round pen. Vacation homes and cabins are available for rental (or even purchase), with a 24-hour staff at your disposal. Whether you need flowers, chocolates or a one-on-one riding lesson, Leatherwood Mountains is ready to indulge you. Have meals delivered to you or dine in the restaurant on dishes prepared by an expert chef. Other activities include fishing, hiking, tennis, swimming and tubing. Children are welcome, too, with special lessons and events created just for them.
The Spotted Horse Ranch in Laurelville, Ohio, is a more down-home alternative, with 50 miles of quiet trails in the Hocking Hills. Camping and vacation cabins are available, complete with cookout facilities, all set amidst the ambience of a working family-style ranch. Barrel racing and youth horsemanship camps are also offered. Caves and cliffs, state parks and forests, and canoeing, as well as antiques and craft malls, will keep you entertained when you’re not in the saddle.
Wherever you’re headed, keep in mind that this is also your horse’s trip. A happy, healthy horse, ready for adventure upon arrival at the destination, starts with a sound, well-maintained trailer. Check your trailer tires for air pressure and tread, and also inspect the floorboards for any damage. Make sure the trailer is well ventilated.
If it’s been a while since you loaded your horse on a trailer, take the time to practice loading and unloading before the trip. Plan on driving no more than 10 hours per day, taking rest breaks every three hours. It’s not recommended to unload horses at rest stops, but constantly balancing themselves while the trailer is moving is tiring for them. Rest breaks give them a chance to relax and gear up for the next leg of the journey, and it’s a good time for you to clean out any manure from the trailer.
An emergency equine kit for your trip should include things like gauze pads, bandaging tape, antiseptic ointment, syringes and any other medical supplies recommended by your veterinarian. Most destinations will require proof of your horse’s condition in the form of a negative Coggins test, along with a current health certificate. All of your horse’s everyday grooming equipment should also go with you. Don’t forget to outfit yourself for safety, too. A riding helmet is required at many destinations, and smooth-soled boots with a heel are usually recommended.
While on the road, offer water at every stop, and keep a bag of hay in the trailer. It’s a good idea to bring your horse’s own hay, as some horses react to unfamiliar hay, but be sure to check with your destination. Some western states require certified weed-free hay. Consult with your veterinarian before feeding your horse grain on travel days—in most cases, it’s not advised.
A getaway with your horse is truly the vacation of a lifetime. Drive carefully and enjoy the view—from rolled-down windows and the back of a noble stallion!
*Check your owner’s manual for towing information.
The trademarks mentioned in this story are held by their respective owners.
Suzanne McMinn lives with her three children on a farm in West Virginia, where she writes the blog Chickens in the Road, about finding “the true meaning of home—and life—beyond the noise of suburban sprawl and suburban convenience.”
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