|Happy on a horse|
It’s no secret that I love riding holidays and in writing this blog I’ve been lucky enough to experience some of the best in the world. Here is recap of my top four destinations and horse related escapes which you will find difficult to beat!
1.Top riding holidays – Rancho Las Cascadas
Great open range riding in a stunning sun drenched landscape. Beautiful, intelligent horses who will look after you however well you ride. Combine this with fantastic Mexican hospitality and food to die for in a five star boutique ranch and you have found Rancho Las Cascadas
One and a half hours North of the mad metropolis of Mexico City, up in the mountains -this is an exceptional place. I guarantee you will wake up every morning in your cosy Casita with a smile on your face at the thought of the day ahead.
Rancho Las Cascadas, set 7,500 feet up, next to the waterfalls after which it is named, is a combination of first class Swiss management combined with the warmth and friendliness of the Mexican personality.
The jewel in the crown for me were the amazing horses and the breadth and variety of terrain available for us to ride across.
If you’ve ever ridden in England you’ll know the tedium and risk factors of riding on busy roads and having numerous fences and gates to contend with. Even in the states you are often not allowed to get above a trot when you’re out trekking. There are no such barriers here. The horses are fast and sure footed and you can canter for long periods on every ride. Across corn fields, mountain tracks and wooded trails.
|Rock climbing equines|
Rancho Las Cascadas – fabulous landscape
Here there are no fences, no gates, just huge open spaces and a big blue sky. The horses are something special. Criollos, a tough, sensible and athletic breed of Spanish origin can climb out of a rock canyon like a mountain goat and match the Arab for endurance and stamina. They can still put on an impressive turn of speed when required.
They are the prettiest colours. Bay, Dun (Buckskin if you’re American) Chestnut, Palomino, Grey, black, and my favourite – Appaloosa. There are over 30 horses to choose from on the ranch and they all have beautiful names. Alessio, Apache, Allegro, Gitano, Cherokee, Paloma, Picasso, Versace, Vivaldi, Diamante, Mariachi, and Gigolo. I rode a different horse every day but my favourite was Capriccio, a brown Appaloosa three year old who was furry like a teddy bear, and had the sweetest nature.
Most of the guests are repeat visitors and the ranch is a favourite with airline crew on their layovers in Mexico City. The climate here is ideal for riding, cool in the mornings and evenings but breaking into clear bright sunshine by mid morning. The light is so clear and the colours so vivid, that coming from the dreary winter greyness of the UK, everything looked to me slightly technicolour – sort of instagram style.
I will never forget the ride out of the canyon – the horses can’t possibly climb that I thought – or the surprise picnic that greeted us by the river one day. Where else can you pull up on your horse and be offered a shot of good tequila before you even dismount! If you’ve been looking for a dream riding holiday, you can stop looking – it’s right here at Rancho Las Cascadas
|Desert ride to Panther Peak|
No 2 White Stallion ranch Arizona
The White Stallion Ranch in Tucson, Arizona has its very own Wild West story. Originally built in the 1900s, it started out as a cattle ranch, but has been a guest ranch for some seventy five years.
Owned by the True family for the last fifty of those years, it is a slice of genuine old Americana, but with modern facilities. The charming adobe guest rooms have fabulous cacti and desert flowers surrounding them. Each has its own authentic Western themed decor.
The weather is great year round. It is an excellent winter sun choice for those of us from less sunny climes. There is a wide range of horses to choose from on the ranch to suit every different ability, from the complete novice to the accomplished equestrian.
There are slow rides and fun fast rides, which have lots of cantering through the cacti. The horses are pretty much bombproof and sensible enough to deal with a wide variety of passengers. The ranch prides itself on not having a weight limit for guests and there are some real gentle giants here.
I went out a couple of times with Big Bill, who is crossed with a draft horse, leading the ride. White Stallion wranglers are really friendly and helpful and make guests feel immediately at ease, which is extremely important. They need to be people people, as well as horse people.
|A happy wrangler|
Top riding holidays – head to Arizona!
This ranch is open year round, unlike many, and the climate is so warm here pretty much all the time, that most meals are taken ranch style out in the open air and you will definitely not go hungry.
|Castle Leslie’s gorgeous estate|
No 3 Castle Leslie Estate Ireland
Riding around the Castle Leslie estate on Fernando the hunter on a beautiful late spring day was amazing. This was a two day trip to a premier equestrian centre in county Monaghan, in the lush Southern Irish countryside.
Eighty minutes drive from Dublin, Castle Leslie boasts a combination of luxury accommodation. You can stay in the Castle, the Lodge or in self catering cottages. It also has a leading equestrian centre on site. The estate has over 300 cross country jumps for all abilities. The riding centre has a first class indoor school, outdoor school, highly experienced instructors and even a virtual horse!
They can cater for everything from the novice to the advanced rider in beautiful surroundings. The horses are well schooled and forward going, a dream to ride. Beautifully turned out, they are well shod by regular farriers, and even have a visit from the chiropractor every week. I loved my huge Irish hunter Fernando who gave me lots of confidence, enough even to try a few modest jumps.
|Sophia and Blue in ‘Glaslough’|
The Castle Estate
The estate around the castle has 1,000 acres of rolling Irish countryside with ancient woodland and a huge glittering lake. ‘Glaslough’ the name of the village is translated as ‘calm or green lake.’ Here is that very lake where you can fish for pike, take out a boat or just wander your horse into it for a paddle and a drink.
There is even the chance to try riding side saddle. Riding side saddle involves winding your legs sideways through a leather pommel and balancing in what looks like an entirely unnatural position. Ladies had to use these in days gone by, as it was considered unladylike to ride astride.
It has retained a speciality equestrian niche even in the modern world. Castle Leslie is certainly the only place I’ve come across where you can try it for yourself. Wearing the outfit helps get you into the swing of things.
|Advanced skirt management required|
Castle Leslie is unique in that there is no other castle estate in Ireland where the founding family still live there. When we were thereCaptain Sir John Norman Ide Leslie, the 4th Baronet (known as Sir Jack Leslie) was still in residence. At the age of 97 he could still be seen around the estate having dinner or chatting to guests. Sadly he has since passed away.
Whether you want to hack out, jump cross country or learn to ride from scratch, the riding packages are really good value. The facilities are the best I’ve ever experienced. It really is quite a special place where you get the warmest of welcomes and the best that Ireland has to offer.
|Paddy and me at Castle Leslie|
4. Tombstone Monument Ranch – head for the the Wild West!
Tombstone Monument Ranch is definitely one of a kind. The accommodation is purpose built. It is a reconstruction of a main street of a Wild West town just two miles out of Tombstone itself.
|This is no one horse town..|
The hotel side of things is pretty up market. The rooms are beautifully furnished and modern with a Wild West twist. Stay in the Post Office the Courthouse, the Mining Office, the jail or even Kitty’s Bordello! There’s a pool and a Jacuzzi too to soak your saddle sores away.
|Magical mountain rides|
In nearby Tombstone, the world famous gunfight at the OK corral is re-enacted three times a day. Needless to say the good guys always win.
Another excursion you can do, organised from the ranch, is to the nearby Dragoon mountains. This was real Apache country. You can still see the ancient petroglyphs when out riding– pictures of animals and people and suns – scratched onto the rocks around the ranch. You half expect to see Cochise coming over the hill on a painted pony..
|Make sure you have a spare handy..|
|More beans dear?|
In the evening you can make your way to the Trappman saloon across the street. Try a shot of hard liquor, a beer, or some of the special blend on tap Margaritas.
The Tombstone Monument Ranch gives you the opportunity to live out your Wild West dreams as far away from the rat race as you could possibly get. This ranch is as unique as a gold nugget. Saddle up your travel plans and get there before the Gold rush starts!
|Cody the Cowboy|