Although we’ve not yet arrived at Halloween, it’s never too early to start thinking about the ultimate special occasion or holiday gift for the entire family, especially if family members are more into experiences rather than things and have a passion for horseback riding.
This is certainly the mindset of Emmy Award-winning producer and author Darley Newman, who created and hosts the PBS series Equitrekking. While her travel books certainly make great presents for casual or experienced equestrians, when it comes to family travel she’ll insist there is nothing more fun than getting the whole family involved in planning a journey along trails in far-off places that will lead into explorations of new foods, interactions with residents and other interesting discoveries. Here are a few of Newman’s favorite equestrian destinations overseas, accented with sights and attractions unique to that country.
“Ireland is a fantastic place to saddle up as a family, especially at Castle Leslie, a family-owned castle reminiscent of Downton Abbey. Located in Glaslough,” said Newman. “This real-life castle and equestrian lover’s destination is an hour and a half north of Dublin just outside the Northern Ireland border, and features more than 300 cross-country jumps sprinkled throughout the 1,000-acre estate.”
“Beyond the trails, the resort includes a “horse stimulator,” a mechanical horse used for indoor lessons to get familiar with the English style of riding practiced here. Kids over 7 can ride and during special weeks of the year, can participate in a program where they can “own” a pony for a week. Non-equestrians can enjoy a horse-drawn carriage ride, and everybody can participate in other country activities such as falconry, archery, cycling, fishing, walking trails and boating.”
Epic Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies is known for its mountains and ski culture, but did you know Canada’s oldest national park is also home to the Banff Trail Riders, which has been taking travelers out on horseback since 1962?
“Snow-capped mountains, glacial lakes and verdant trees surround you as you meander along trails through the backcountry,” said Newman. “Families may choose to stay in a rustic lodge or tented accommodations, thanks to the fact that Banff Trail Riders has established camps in the park. This means that although you may be in a tent, you’ll also enjoy meals cooked by a cowgirl chef. Nighttime entertainment may include campfire s’mores by a roaring fire. Those who prefer hotel lodging can select one of the company’s shorter trail rides. However, please be advised that the weather can change on a dime, so rain gear and layers are a must.”
“Riding in the land of fire and ice is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that’s a great fit for families,” mused Newman. “Icelandic horses are smaller in stature, but are super strong and able to carry both kids and adults. These fun horses have a unique gait or way of moving, making them a very smooth mode of transportation across Iceland’s rugged lava fields, black-sand beaches and verdant hillsides. Trek to waterfalls, spend time with Icelandic farmers or drive sheep into the highlands.”
Newman recommends Ishestar, leading riders for more than 30 years and running trips throughout Iceland, and as the journey is effectively the destination, riders may also learn about Icelandic sagas, hidden elves and other fascinating history and folklore on their adventures.
Beaches, countryside and rainforests make Costa Rica a top spot for adventure travel as well as a wondrous place to discover on horseback. Serendipity Adventures takes travelers of all riding skill levels out on rollicking sojourns through sugarcane fields and farmland, close to Arenal Volcano and cool off by swimming through a river on horseback.
“You’ll see rural Costa Rica in a whole new way, along with wildlife viewing on horseback,” Newman said. “The great thing about a vacation in Costa Rica is that you can combine horseback riding with many other adventure activities, like hiking, rafting and climbing. There’s nothing more unforgettable than views of the beach from the saddle and, better yet, riding on the beach at sunset.”
This nation’s Okavango Delta, the world’s largest inland delta, provides the backdrop for ultimate safari on horseback, according to Newman. “If your kids are 12 or older, this is one of the best places on the planet to view wildlife and as the fall starts, winter ends in this Southern Hemisphere destination,” she said. “The skies are beautiful this time of year and flowers are in bloom. Gallop with giraffes, zebra and wildebeest. View elephants, as you ride through channels of water. Dinners are served outdoors, sometimes on private islands, in this area that will truly allow you to unplug from the rest of the world. Nights are spent in more luxurious tents.”
As the new year quickly approaches, family travelers are busy making lots of plans for a year of great travel and a healthier 2024. And what better way to combine the two than with a beautiful hike through nature at one of California’s most beloved state parks?
United Airlines is in the midst of a major initiative to modernize its fleet over the next several years. After first announcing the plan in 2021, planes fitted with United’s signature interior are finally beginning to appear across the airline’s narrowbody fleet of Boeing and Airbus planes. United flyers are sure to notice these enhancements from the moment they step on board: Each new or updated plane sports remodeled seats, seatback entertainment screens for everyone, Bluetooth connectivity and more, all adding up to a better experience on every journey.
Last month, Comfort Hotels, part of Choice Hotels brand, unveiled its first Rise & Shine prototype, a game-changer for family travelers seeking safe, comfortable and fun stays on the road. The new Rise & Shine was revealed in the opening of Comfort Inn & Suites in Mountain Grove, Missouri, located near Mark Twain National Forest.
When the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., sent its three pandas to China in November, it left only one other U.S. zoo with these fascinating animals. Families now must travel to Atlanta to see pandas, but even those will soon return to China.
As the only major U.S. airline to own a flight school, United Airlines already hit a major milestone, and now the carrier celebrates another important — and historic — step as the inaugural class of United Aviate Academy pilots graduates, leading the next generation of aviators. The 51 students in the graduating class were majority, at 80 percent, women and people of color — another stride toward United’s goal of training 5,000 new pilots by 2030 with half women or POC.
If you haven’t heard of Light & Nine, you’ve been missing out on great travel gear designed by a mom with kids in mind. The line of duffels with side shoe compartments, roller bags, backpacks and garment bags come in fun colors including Blossom Pink and Bistro Green. Made from easy-to-care-for perforated materials, they also come with Nimix characters and motifs, so your small travelers can customize their travel gear with movable/removable icons ranging from race cars to rocket ships, skateboards to paper dolls, rainbows to unicorns.