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planning horse vacation

From: Anonymous

Dear Jessica, this subject hasn't come up on horse-sense and I couldn't find it in the archives, so I hope you will answer me! I need your advice about a trip I am planning. It's going to be for my fortieth birthday and also my best friend's fortieth birthday. We've known each other for almost twenty years, and we've always stayed in touch although we moved to different states after college, got jobs, got married, had kids... the usual story. Anyway we've talked for a long time about going on some kind of horse vacation together and finally we decided to do it to mark us both turning forty. My question is what kind of horse vacation do you think would be best? We both still ride regularly, although neither one of us owns a horse right now, and we're probably at about the same level (say Training in dressage -- on our best days). I got some catalogs from places that organize horse vacations and tours, and they all look so wonderful, I'm torn, I don't know what to choose. What do you think would be better? A cattle drive in the American West? Jumping in Ireland? Riding through Spain on Andalusians? Help!! My friend doesn't know about this, although her husband does (he's paying her half), I'm supposed to organize it all myself. All she knows is that she's going on vacation with me for two weeks and we'll do some riding, which is no big surprise because we always go riding when we get together. Anyway I want this to be the best birthday ever. My husband is giving me MY half as a birthday present (our husbands are great guys, aren't they!). But I want to make the right choice. Suggestions, please!!!

Hi, Anonymous (don't worry, I won't post your name)! What a terrific idea, and what a great vacation -- may I come too? I can't think of a way to have more fun.

I don't think I can help you choose, though. Most of the tour outfits have forms to fill out and quizzes that will help you figure out which tours are most suitable and which level of riding you really want to do. Don't do more than you will enjoy -- you want to ride, yes, but you want to enjoy the countryside and each other's company as well, and you won't enjoy any of that if you sign up to trot and canter for four hours a day when you're physically ready for one hour of walk and trot. ;-)

You know yourself and your friend -- sit down and write out the things you both like (and dislike). If either of you is allergic to dust -- or wears hard contact lenses -- a cattle drive might not be ideal. If you don't jump now, don't go over your first jumps on vacation in Ireland. At the LEAST, you will be really sore! If either of you can't drink wine (horrors!), the tours of Spain and Italy and France might be a bit, er, frustrating, as good wine is generally included...

When you think "horse vacation", are the horses the focus, with the countryside a pleasant extra, or is the vacation the focus, and the horses a pleasant extra? Is there a particular type of riding you've always wanted to do? A country you've always wanted to visit? A breed of horse you've always wanted to ride, or even SEE in its native surroundings? What about your friend's preferences?

And speaking of preferences, how about lifestyles? Are you happy in a pup tent, or will one spider in the shower give you nightmares for a month? If YOU love the great outdoors and think that "roughing it" means being turned loose in the woods with a space blanket and a Swiss Army knife and a pack of gum, is this true for your friend? Or does she feel that "roughing it" means staying in an inexpensive motel with no restaurant? Or a mid-range hotel without a jacuzzi and indoor pool?

And what about "roughing it" in horse terms? I know plenty of women who would use the term to describe a rugged wilderness trek, a horse camping trip (drive to the trailhead and go up into the mountains for a week or so with a packhorse) or even mounted orienteering -- but I also know others who would, in complete honesty, use the same term to describe an indoor arena without classical music piped in. ;-) To plan this vacation well, you must agree on definitions -- or, at least, you have to be aware of where yours and hers may differ.

Since her husband is "in" on this plan, enlist him! Call him when you know she'll be out, or ask bhim to call you. Have your list handy. He'll know where she stands on the "roughing it" issue, and he'll know about any allergies or physical difficulties or even just likes and dislikes that may be recent. And if all else fails, let her in on the plan so that you can be absolutely sure that the vacation will be precisely what you BOTH want. You can't go wrong, really -- it's a wonderful gift.

Have a great time, wherever you go and whatever you do!


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