While dude ranches are a great option for horse-loving kids and families, there are plenty of other options for horse-themed vacations. Saddle up with one of the best U.S. destinations for horse-loving kids.
1. Lexington, KY
Kentucky, and specifically, Lexington, is known as the Horse Capital of the World, with 400 working horse farms in and around the city. The most famous attraction is the 1,200-acre Kentucky Horse Park, where families can see and interact with more horse breeds than we can count! A working farm, the Kentucky Horse Park features the popular parade of breeds called “Horses of the World,” the Mare and Foal Show, a stunning film presentation of Rein of Nobility, several museums, the Hall of Champions and more.
Some of the best equine care facilities in the world are also located in Lexington, and many of them offer tours; these include Rood & Riddle (tours by appointment), Haygard, Davidson, McGee and the Gluck Equine Research Center. Another great spot to view horses is The Thoroughbred Center, where on any given day, you can view around 1,000 horses in residence training.
Recommended Hotel: DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Hotel Lexington
2. Louisville, KY
Home to the legendary Kentucky Derby—annually held the first weekend in May at the Churchill Downs race track in Louisville—is the second of Kentucky’s horse meccas. In Louisville, families can engage in a multitude of equine activity at the famous race track, with tours, dozens of ticketed events, and an onsite museum. There are also horse camps, farms, stables and racing in the area, and numerous hotels partner with Churchhill Downs to offer pricing incentives.
Recommended Hotel: Hampton Inn Downtown Louisville
3. Saratoga Springs, NY
Another famous horse racing destination, Saratoga Springs, New York, is home to the Saratoga Race Track. Here, kids can see horses up close, watch horses train, and cool off at the Big Red Spring. The track also hosts Family Mondays, with hands-on fun for kids. After your visit to the track, head to family-friendly Olde Saratoga Farms for riding lessons.
Recommended Hotel: Gideon Putnam Resort
4. Cody, WY
In Cody, Wyoming—otherwise known as The Rodeo Capital of the World—horseback riding abounds with numerous area stables hosting families of all skill levels. Families can enjoy everything from steep incline rides with breathtaking vistas to meandering stream rides. Buffalo Bill Horse Rides, Cedar Mountain Trail Rides and Rand Creek Ranch are all family-friendly options near Cody.
In February 2019, the Wyoming legislature renamed a roughly 30-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 14/16/20 the ‘Wild Horse Highway.’ The highway stretches from the Cody city limits to just east of Emblem and is named after the McCullough Peaks wild horse herd that roams along the road.
Recommended Hotel: The Cody Hotel
5. Ocala, FL
In Ocala, Florida, Postime Farms serve as host to one of the largest horse shows in the country: H.I.T.S or “Horses in the Sun,” a Dressage/Jumper event lasting about two months. The show features classes for over 100 different breeds, including the Tennessee Walker, Paso Fino, Morgan horse, SaddleBred, Draft horse and the American Quarter Horse. Other equine events in the area include cowboy mounted shooting by the Florida Outlaws, as well as endurance rides, barrel races, “extreme” cowboy events, jumper shows, trick shows, parades, draft pulls, and rodeo events.
Recommended Hotel: Hilton Ocala
6. Marco Island, FL
In Marco Island, Florida, M&H Stables offers trail riding on the Picayune Strand State Forest’s Equestrian Trail, as well as other Everglades trails. Riding lessons and group outings are fun for the whole family. M&H Stables was established in 1986, and is one of the oldest stables in southwest Florida.
Recommended Hotel: Marriott’s Crystal Shores
7. Outer Banks, NC
The Outer Banks is known for its mansion-size vacation rentals for families, but did you know it’s also known for its wild horses? The area’s wild horses reside just north of Corolla, and are also located on Ocracoke Island. To see them, consider an excursion with Wild Horse Adventure Tours. And if you’d like to go horseback riding, check out Buxton Stables, Equine Adventures, Hatteras Island Horseback Riding, Lighthouse Horse Rides, and Outer Banks (OBX) Horseback. No experience is needed for most of the rides.
Recommended Hotel: Sanderling Resort
8. Carson Valley, Nevada
Nevada’s motto is “Don’t Fence Me In,” so it makes sense these parts of the Western Frontier have the most wild horses and burros of any state in the U.S.! On the western end of the state, in the Carson Valley (about 50 miles south of Reno), visitors can embark on a tour with JT’s Wildlife Photography and Tours to see wild horses. This is an incredible option for teenagers exploring arts and photography. The scenery is spectacular and the search for stallions memorable.
Recommended Hotel: 1862 David Walley’s Hot Springs Resort and Spa
9. Chincoteague Island and Assateague Island, VA
Chincoteague Island and Assateague Island are a must-visit for any horse-loving kid. There are two different herds of wild horses who reside on the islands near the Virginia/Maryland state border. The sand dune-loving horses munch on marsh grass and drink from the freshwater ponds that surround the area. The herd of horses on Chincoteague Island is actually owned by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company, who purchases a grazing permit each year to maintain a herd of 150 adult ponies on Assateague Island. The volunteer firefighters control numbers of this herd and the last Thursday of each July, the herd is swam from one island to the other by saltwater cowboys for auction, an event that tens of thousands of visitors come to see. There are numerous theories as to how the horses ended up here, though many believe they arrived when a Spanish ship sunk offshore around the 1600’s.
Recommended Hotel: Comfort Suites Chincoteague
10. Kauai, HI
Kahua Ranch in Kauai is one of the oldest working ranches in Hawaii and is known for its incredible rides and panoramic views. Trail rides include traversing coastline, stately cinder cones and lush pastures dotted with grazing sheep and cattle. Families are led by experienced paniolos and well-trained horses for a memorable experience.
Recommended Hotel: Kauai Beach Resort
11. Gettysburg, PA
You haven’t lived until you’ve visited the Land of Little Horses in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania! The park was originally opened in 1970 by two Merchant Marines, who traveled the world and met Argentinians who introduced them to miniature horses. For nearly five decades since, this special park has been entertaining audiences with horse performances, educational activities and—new for 2019—a game-style format challenging families to see if they are smarter than a horse! And, for the only guaranteed unicorn sighting in the state, the 100-acre farm delivers the rare one-horned-horse-glimpse during its spectacular show.
Recommended Hotel: The Gettysburg Hotel
Icelandic horses are iconic; they are isolated, noble and unique from all others in the world. And with almost 80,000 horses in Iceland, there are ample opportunities to ride and view these majestic creatures. Islenski Hesturinn, The Icelandic Horse – Riding Tours, Viking Horses, Icelandic Riding, Ishestar Horse Riding Tours, and the Reykjavik Riding Center are all located in Reykjavik and offer horse encounters for kids and families, with many others dotting this otherworldly country.
Recommended Hotel: Alda Hotel
Julie Bielenberg is a Denver-based journalist and Colorado’s leading agritourism writer. She contributes her expertise to various outlets including AAA, USA Today 10 Best, 5280, Westword, Mountain Town Magazine, Hunting Life, and Mile High Mamas. Julie also works with the National Dude Ranchers Association. When she’s not traveling or on horseback, Julie is at home with her husband and three young children, who are passionate about everything Colorado has to offer, from skiing to hot springs! Follow Julie’s adventures, @slowandgotraveler.