THE BUDGET TRAVEL MINUTE
You don't have to be an expert to go on a horseback-riding vacation. Tour operators that specialize in equestrian vacations can set up travelers of all abilities with daily rides and stays at ranches and country inns all over the world, including Argentina, Australia, and other fantastic destinations. It's a wonderful way to really see a place--it's faster (and easier) than walking, but it's still nice and slow.
A company called Hidden Trails (888/9-TRAILS, hiddentrails.com) arranges great horse-riding getaways in places such as California's wine country and the Green Mountains of Vermont, as well as dream locales that include Australia's remote west coast, home to beautiful beaches and stunning scenery; Argentina, with its storied guest ranches known as estancias; and France's Loire Valley. Just imagine trotting past medieval castles to a picnic deep in the French countryside....
Another equestrian tour operator, Cross Country International (800/828-8768, equestrianvacations.com), offers training programs--so that beginners can learn the ropes or advanced riders can work on their technique--in places such as England, Ireland, and New Zealand. Cross Country also has programs just for kids, just for women, and just for people who want to learn French while riding in Provence.
Prices vary, but most trips average out to cost $200 to $300 per day, including lodging, food, horses, and guides. Look for deals during the off season, or when there are openings still available at the last minute.
Yet another way to get on a horse during your next trip is by booking the classic dude ranch stay. Some are real working cattle ranches; some are full-time tourist operations; all offer the chance to pretend you're a cowboy out on the range. The best source of information on U.S. ranches comes from the Wyoming-based Dude Ranchers' Association (307/587-2339, duderanch.org), which guarantees quality by inspecting every one of its member properties.
Do some homework before picking a ranch. Whether you want one that's family-friendly--with campfire songs, arts and crafts, and a pool--or an authentic ranch where you're actually responsible for moving cattle, there's something out there for every aspiring cowboy. But no matter where you go, remember this: Never wear tight jeans! It'll really hurt!