Longing for a vacation? Next time you’re planning a trip abroad, schedule one around your four-legged friends. Because let’s be honest, you’ll be drooling over the foreign ponies the whole time, anyway. These five equestrian vacations are stops to check off every horse-lover’s bucket list.
Visit the Irish National Stud
The horse holds a dear place in the heart of Irish culture, so it should be no surprise that the Irish National Stud is, in many ways, a shrine to the Thoroughbred. Located in the heart of the country in County Kildare, the stud is home to both future stars and the so-called Living Legends, a group of resident stallions that includes Beef Or Salmon, Hardy Eustace, Hurricane Fly, Kicking King and Rite Of Passage. In addition to guided tours of the facility and an equine museum that regales visitors with the history of Irish racing heroes who called the stud home (such as Arkle and Sea the Stars), the stud boasts gorgeous Japanese gardens and St. Fiachara’s Garden, a verdant garden of plants native to the Emerald Isle.
View the Lipizanners in Vienna
The ornate Spanish Riding School is a sight every equestrian must see. Established over 450 years ago, the baroque hall adjacent to the royal palace was commissioned by Emperor Charles VI in 1729. There, in the capital of Austria, guests can watch the team of snow-white stallions perform the advanced dressage work for which they’re famous. Bred at the countryside stud farm in Piber and trained at Heldenberg in southern Austria, the stallions—who are born black but turn white as they mature—are trained to do the airs above ground movements, as well as advanced dressage such as passage and piaffe. Onlookers can also book somewhat cheaper tickets to the less formal schooling sessions in the morning, where they can watch the masters work with the greener stallions in the same ornate arena.
Tolt in Iceland
The adorable Icelandic horse is known for more than just its diminutive stature and friendly nature. In addition to the usual gaits, Icelandic horses possess two special gaits: the tölt, a four-beat gait akin to a pace, in which the front and back legs on the same side move concurrently; and the fast but unstable skeið, known as the “flying pace.” The latter is used for harness racing, while the former is extremely comfortable for long days in the saddle. In addition to brief rides, many outfitters offer multi-day treks, so you can see the rugged Icelandic landscape from aboard the most reliable form of transport: a hardy Icelandic horse.
Foxhunt in England
Get an authentic taste of English country life by participating in a foxhunt. But be warned—this high-octane sport is not for the faint of heart. You’ll find yourself flying over hedges and through muddy moors at breakneck speed in pursuit of a pack of howling hounds. Per the Hunting Act of 2004, all sanctioned hunts are mock “drag hunts,” meaning the dogs are merely chasing a chemical scent laid beforehand. Foxhunters are infamous for having a good time, both in and out of the saddle, so be sure to pack a flask in addition to your boots.
Trek the Mongolian Steppe
Most horses that are thought of as wild, such as mustangs, are actually descended form feral horses escaped from European settlers. To see legitimately wild horses, you have to go to central Asia. There you can see the rare—and endangered—Przewalski horse, which roams the Mongolian steppe. These equines play a large role in the culture of the Mongolian people. As an old proverb goes, “A Mongol without a horse is like a bird without wings.” In addition to allowing them to live nomadically, horses provide a food product: kumis, a beverage made of fermented mare’s milk. Although cow’s milk is generally used to produce this mildly alcoholic beverage en masse, it’s traditionally made using mare’s milk, which has more sugar. Go beyond your comfort zone with the only truly wild horses in the world.