It’s easy for avid equestrians to add some horseback riding into
almost any trip - you can even ride horses in New York’s Central Park.
But why not experience something more than a simple follow-the-leader
trail ride? These trips each offer something more for horse lovers.

Experience unique gaits, watch exciting festivals, marvel at the
power and beauty of the equine acrobat and explore ancient landscapes
best viewed from the back of a horse. Of course, if your companions
aren’t such horse-fanatics, there’s still plenty of reason for them to
visit too.

1 - Riding with the Gauchos in the Pampas of Argentina

Eduardo Amorim on Flickr

Pampas region is an area of fertile plains that covers the majority of
the country. It’s here that cattle produce the country’s famously
tender beef. Gauchos, the South American version of cowboys, herd these
cows and are known for their masterful horsemanship.

If you can’t make it deep into the heartland of the Pampas, you can
still ride with the gauchos. Many estancias, or ranches, are located on
the fringes of the Pampas, less than an hour drive from Buenos Aires.
While some are touristy affairs that host elaborate performances of
trick riding and offer little more than a slow-paced trail ride, there
are plenty that are working cattle farms. These estancias also welcome
visitors for a day of galloping along the expansive grasslands in a
fleece-covered gaucho saddle on a perfectly trained horse.

Companions who don’t ride will still be lured by the extravagant
meals prepared post-ride by the gauchos. A never-ending parade of
tender grilled meats is served back at the ranch along with local beer
and wine.

2 - Watching the World’s Youngest Jockeys Race at Naadam in Mongolia

Jani Kajala on Flickr

have been an integral part of daily life in Mongolia since the time of
Genghis Khan. The Mongolian horses are loved by the people who use them
for work and as a main source of transportation - with few main roads
and few public buses outside of the main city, horseback riding is a
great way to get around. The horses also contribute to the Mongolian
diet. Mare’s milk is used to make butter and cream, and fermented into
a popular traditional drink called airag.

The best time to see the Mongolian horses in action is during the
annual summer festival of Naadam, which features wrestling, archery and
long-distance horse racing. Hundreds of horses compete in the races,
which can be anywhere from 15-30 kilometers in length. While jockeys in
the Western world may be so short and thin they almost look like
children, the jockeys in Mongolia really are kids.

The child jockeys, who ride bareback, can be as young as five years
old. After watching the rest of the festival events, see how your
horsemanship skills stack up against these little riders with a trek
across the grassy steppes of Mongolia or around the sandy expanse of
the Gobi Dessert.

3 - Making Friends with a Five-Gaited Horse in Iceland

Gúnna on Flickr

horses have an almost Teddy-Bear-esque quality about them. Short,
stocky, and sporting a thick fluffy coat for the majority of the year,
they are often referred to as ponies (a term the Icelandic people find
quite offensive).

The horses are extremely friendly, known for being exceptionally
docile and inquisitive and seem to be everywhere in Iceland. You can’t
drive more than 30 minutes outside of the main city of Reykjavik
without seeing a herd of them gathered in a field, their shaggy manes
blowing in the wind. Stop and approach the fence and within minutes
you’ll have made several new friends who are clamoring for attention.
It’s easy to see why the horses are so beloved by Icelanders - so much,
in fact, that there are several stables located in the city of
Reykjavik itself and it’s not unusual to see horses being ridden on the
outskirts of town.

But the breed has one more unique trait. Unlike the majority of
horses (which walk, trot, canter and gallop) the Icelandic horse has a
fifth gait called a tölt. Fast and incredibly smooth, the tölt is
unlike any other pace. Multiple riding stables near Reykjavik offer
excursions of an hour up to a few days. Tölt around the beautiful
countryside on your furry new friend and take in the sights of the
country’s natural wonders like lava fields, thundering waterfalls, and
spurting geysers.

4 - Roping and Riding in America’s Wild West

katiew on Flickr

western states of the U.S. are cowboy country – where the cowboys of
the old west drove cattle over sprawling ranches and the art of rodeo
was perfected. States like Texas, Nevada, Arizona and Wyoming still
play host to several major rodeos each year. Watch as modern-day
cowboys rope calves, barrel race, and hold on to bucking broncos for
dear life.

While it may look like a lot of show, these are all necessary
talents for driving cattle on a working ranch. Even events like barrel
racing - which involves a horse and rider running a set pattern around
barrels as quickly as possible - showcase abilities put to use in the
real world. Horses must be agile, quick, and able to stop and turn on a
dime to round up stray livestock.

For a closer look at the skill involved in a rodeo, book a stay at a
“dude ranch.” Many are still working cattle ranches where you can not
only practice your hand at rodeo events, but even sign on for a ride on
a cattle drive. Rides can range from a few days to a week or more.
You’ll log several hours a day in the saddle, see some gorgeous
country, and live like a cowboy – cooking by campfire and falling
asleep under the stars each night.

5 - Watching a Medieval Bareback Race in Italy

boboroshi on Flickr

Tuscan town of Siena has been holding its Palio since medieval times.
Twice a year, ten horses with bareback riders race around the town
square. The adrenaline charged event only lasts for about two minutes,
with festivals and parades held beforehand. The rules of the Palio
differ greatly from traditional horse racing and dirty tactics are
encouraged. To win, the horse must be the first one to cross the finish
line with its decorative headpiece intact. The course features tight
turns and steep inclines, and falls are not uncommon – nor are winning
horses that no longer have their jockeys.

It’s a wild and crazy event that ends in a flash but determines
bragging rights for the year. The winner is awarded the palio, a silk
banner with custom art, and is celebrated as the best for several
months. The second place horse and rider are considered the losers and
the jockey who has gone the longest without a win is given the
ego-crushing nickname of “nonna”, or grandmother.

6 - Honoring Legends (and Legends in the Making) in America’s Kentucky Horse Country

Ayres no graces on Flickr

racing in the U.S. didn’t start in Kentucky, but it is the state that
is most famous for it, thanks it part to its role as host of the “most
exciting two minutes in sports,” the Kentucky Derby in Louisville. Run
for over a hundred years, the race is the first “jewel” in the three
races collectively known as the Triple Crown. The race is held the
first Saturday in May and is preceded by a week of non-stop partying
and mint-julep drinking. Getting tickets for a seat in the grandstand,
where the moneyed, big-hat wearing elite sit, is notoriously difficult.
A better bet is to get tickets for the infield for a closer look at the
action on the track, and the debauchery of the drunken masses.

The state is also home to the Kentucky Horse Park. Like Disneyland
for the horsy set, the park is dedicated to all things equine. A twice
daily “Parade of Breeds” showcases 24 unique breeds that are living on
the farm – from Andaulsians and Appaloosas to Paso Finos and
Percherons, all the way through the alphabet to Welsh Cobbs.
Horse-drawn trolleys transport guests around the park and trail and
pony rides are available. The park also hosts events like polo matches
and equestrian competitions, including the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day
Event. Here you can come face-to-face with retired living legends in
the horse world or pay your respects to famous equine athletes like Man
O’ War.

7 - Watching Lipizzaners “Dance” in Austria

misscrabette on Flickr

the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, Austria, the Lipizzaner horses
learn their famous moves. The horses are trained in classical dressage
that goes far beyond the basics of the intricate movements that were
first designed to increase agility and responsiveness in battle. The
Lipizzaners practically dance as they pirouette and passage, or trot in
place. From there they move on to the “airs above the ground”, a series
of acrobatic leaps that defy gravity.

From its formation in the 16th century, the Spanish Riding School
only allowed guests of the Royal Court to view its training sessions
and performances. Now the doors are open to the public who can purchase
tickets to attend performances by stallions who’ve mastered the
maneuvers, or watch training sessions as younger horses learn the
complicated steps. Either way, watching the Lipizzaners execute these
complex moves is akin to watching a ballet - full of artistry,
athleticism, and raw power.

8 - Indulging Your Lawrence of Arabia Fantasies in Jordan

LovelyV on Flickr

Wadi Rum desert valley is the largest valley in the country. Unique
stone formations and prehistoric rock paintings dot the barren
landscape that is home to both the Bedouin people and an increasing
number of eco-tourism companies offering camping, hiking and rock
climbing excursions. The valley was the setting for the film Lawrence
of Arabia, and is not too far from the important archeological site of

Several outfitters offer multi-day excursions in the area. Follow
Bedouin trails across the Wadi Rum each day and sleep in a traditional
tent at night. Ride strong, beautiful Arabian horses, known for their
responsiveness and their endurance in the desert, through the valley to
the ancient rock-hewn walls of Petra. It’s a chance to feel like a
nomad for a while, surrounded by a landscape older than time, riding
one of the oldest breeds in the world.