In the Chinese calendar, 2014 is the Year of the Horse. Humans throughout history have depended on horses for their strength and speed, but horses also have a lot to teach us. They are fearless yet sensitive, stubborn yet clever, noble yet playful. Learning to ride is an exercise in communication between horse and rider – those who think it’s just about control may soon find themselves literally in the dust – and when you work in harmony, it is truly magical. In celebration of the Year of the Horse, seek out equine experiences at these resorts and discover the spirit of freedom only a horse can give you.
Oaks at Ojai
This destination health spa is nestled within California’s beautiful Ojai Valley and on the doorstep of Los Padres National Forest. Along with its wide array of fitness classes and facilities on site, the Oaks at Ojai offers opportunities to explore the surrounding canyons, trails, and beaches. Horseback rides are one of the best ways to discover the richness of the landscape. And of course, a full-service spa awaits to pamper you upon your return, before you dine on gourmet spa cuisine and bed down for the night in your private hacienda.
This all-inclusive “spa village” resort on 500 verdant acres above Lake Ontario has everything you need to relax, revitalize and reflect on what’s important in life. Among the historic buildings housing accommodations, spas and dining are the on-site stables, where you can participate in the Equine Experience. Through practical experiences caring for the horses and learning to ride, you will experience the joy of spending time with these animals and gain greater self-confidence and communication skills. A comprehensive horsemanship program is also offered, which allows you to progress and learn at your own pace.
The Couples Resort and Algonquin Spa
This luxurious resort at the doorstep of Ontario’s Algonquin Provincial Park is a romantic spa getaway for two. The outdoor setting offers many activities, including horseback riding, hiking and water sports, as well as skating, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in winter. The nearby horse ranch operates year-round, with bookings conveniently made through the resort’s front desk. On site at Couples Resort, you can enjoy treatments in the Alongquin Spa, walk in the gardens, soak in the salt-water pool or relax at the lakeside.
Fairmont Banff Springs, Jasper Park Lodge + Chateau Lake Louise
Each of these iconic resort hotels in the Canadian Rockies offer myriad ways to help guests unwind and enjoy the world-famous scenery that surrounds them. Horseback riding is a great way to explore trails to glaciers, lakes and waterfalls, see wildlife and connect with historic Western Canadian traditions. Local guides and outfitters ensure your comfort and safety, and each hotel offers luxurious spas to ease your muscles after a day of riding.
This Texas resort is all about experiences: adventure, culinary, cultural, health and fitness, and spa. Horseback riding is considered an opportunity not only to improve fitness and strength but also to bond with the horse you’re riding. Experienced cowboys and teachers lead riding lessons and help you connect with these magnificent animals. There is also an Equine Encounters program that uses interaction with horses and guidance from the equine team to help you develop greater self-awareness. No previous horse experience is required. To complete your Texas experience, you can also learn to two-step and take part in the evening campfires – just like a cowboy!
The Hills Health Ranch
Set on over 20,000 acres of rangeland and forest in the Cariboo region of British Columbia, Hills Health Ranch combines horseback riding, spa relaxation and luxurious accommodations for an unforgettable Western getaway. Guests are carefully matched with horses by experienced guides, and there are riding experiences for all levels, from one- or two-hour excursions to all-day cowboy cook-outs and romantic linen and lace luncheons. Workshops on horse care and safety – even horse whispering – are available, and there are riding camps especially for young cowboys and cowgirls, too. There’s plenty to do at this year-round, family-friendly resort: hiking, mountain biking, fitness classes, barbecues, campfires, and relaxing in the lounge with a favorite beverage and a book.
Explore the scenic countryside of Blackberry Farm, a resort that nuzzles Tennessee’s world-famous Great Smoky Mountains, on the back of a well-trained horse. Guided rides are available for guests of any experience level, from beginner to advanced. Every ride includes instruction, a helmet and a Western saddle; English saddles are available upon request. Children under the age of eight can participate in Pony Club or Recreational Riding Instruction. Before or after your ride, you can also treat yourself to the Farmhouse Spa, fitness and yoga classes, and culinary creations featuring farm-fresh products.
This health spa and wellness retreat is embraced by nature in southern Ontario. Nestled beside a curative spring-fed lake, Grail Springs sits on massive deposits of healing quartz crystal and other rock gems in the “Mineral Capital of Canada,” Bancroft, Ontario. Along with other wellness treatments, guests at the spa can experience the magic of this area on one of the resort’s Rocky Mountain horses trained by the resident “horse whisperer,” Richard Capener, who also gives regular talks on Equine Wisdom. It’s a great chance to connect with nature on these gentle, spiritual animals.
Miraval is a resort and spa where guests can complete immerse themselves in reinvigorating their bodies, minds and hearts. Situated on 400 acres in the warm shade of Santa Catalina Mountains in northern Tucson, Arizona, Miraval is a total spa experience dedicated to Life in Balance™. The Equine program is one of the many experiences guests can choose from to enhance their stay, along with art appreciation, meditation, yoga, fitness, and outdoor adventure. Expert facilitators use specially selected horses to guide you on a journey of discovery about yourself and the obstacles keeping you from living the life you want.
Echo Valley Ranch Ranch & Spa
This five-star ranch retreat is perfect for who want a country escape. Echo Valley Ranch pampers guests with spa treatments, gourmet dining with organic produce from the ranch’s own gardens, and the opportunity to enjoy British Columbia’s natural beauty on horseback. You’ll be guided by experienced wranglers on hourlong or daylong rides into the thousands of acres of trails surrounding the resort. The ranch also has ponies and gentle donkeys for children to ride. Fly-fishing, hiking and gold panning are available, and of course, there is a world-class spa: the Baan Thai, offering traditional Thai treatments as well as Western-style services in an unmatched setting.