5 Worst Horseback Riding Vacations

"Writing Horseback" blog
“Shut the f*ck up!” the older brother screamed at his crying brother while the horse danced nervously under the command of his inexperienced riders. I say riders because the parents had decided to put the younger brother – who was clearly terrified of the horse – behind the saddle of their older son who was around 10-12 years old. I don’t blame the older brother for his outburst of frustration; clearly he had his hands full with a spirited horse and the wailing of his brother was not helping the matter. The parents were oblivious to the situation unfolding, as they were mounting and getting acquainted with their own horses. And so it begins. One of the worst horseback riding vacations of my life.

"Curacao" horseback riding
Horseback riding vacation

Island horseback riding holiday

A multi-generation family was about to join me on a horseback riding holiday on the beautiful island of Curacao. It was certainly none of my business, but as a mother, concerned for this child’s safety, I walked my horse over to the wrangler and asked if someone was able to watch the younger child while we went horseback riding. He nodded yes and I said very loudly, “this child is not enjoying this experience and he should NOT have to go on this ride.” His parents glanced at me and agreed to leave their youngest behind at the stables. There was a play area and birds in cages to keep him entertained while we went horseback riding.

I’m not going to go into further details as to why I didn’t enjoy this Curacao horseback riding holiday. I will say that I loved my time in Curacao – the horseback ride – not so much. I will also add that the patriarch of the family said this was one of the best horseback rides of his life. Different strokes for different folks. Ride on.

"Cancun" "Mexico" horseback riding
Horseback riding vacation, Cancun, Mexico

Horseback riding in Cancun, Mexico

“Don’t you want to run, Nancy?” My cowboy, or vaquerro as they are called in Mexico, sincerely wanted me to enjoy my horseback riding vacation in Cancun. Obviously from his experience, it wasn’t a successful horseback ride unless you had galloped with your horse. Unfortunately, my horse had lost a shoe along the trail and he was limping. I had no interest in riding a lame horse and certainly didn’t want to make him lope or canter on the trail. My wrangler’s solution to the problem was to trade horses. He would ride the lame horse and I would gallop his horse.

I loped my horse for a short distance to appease my host. Internally I was fretting over the lame horse. On our way back to the ranch I asked the wrangler to make sure the lame horse received a new replacement shoe. I also reminded myself that not all horses receive the care and attention due to them. Footnote, this Cancun entertainment center offering atv tours and zip lines, in addition to horseback riding, is no longer in business.

horseback riding, "Dominican Republic"
Horseback riding holiday Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

Dominican Republic horseback riding

In the interest of full disclosure, please note that I have not experienced a horseback riding vacation in Punta Cana. The below comments are from fellow equestrians and horse lovers on holiday in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.

“We just returned from a trip to Punta Cana, located in the Dominican Republic, ” recalled Claudia Walsh of New York. “Through our hotel, Paradisus Punta Cana, we went on a horseback riding vacation at El Pat Ranch. This was the saddest lot of horses I have ever seen.”

Vicky says, “I’m the person who supplied the 3 photos of the horses & conditions at the ranch (on the original Punta Cana blog post). I recently returned to Punta Cana to find that the hotel I had previously booked through had severed all ties with the ranch- any ranch actually. I did a bit of investigating and found that the ranch still exists- but under a different name. Punta Cana Tours – Caribbean Dream. I’ve got to say that we checked it out on sheer, morbid curiosity and found the same poor conditions there- and photos from the site shows the men still chasing terrified, ears back, unhappy looking horses with whips and sticks. Ignorant. No, I didn’t ride. We searched for an operation where the horses looked well-treated but it was not to be found. Thought you’d like to know. Happy Riding.”

horseback riding, "Punta Cana"
Horseback riding vacation in Punta Cana

Cozumel, Mexico horseback riding

I was supposed to go horseback riding in Cozumel, Mexico on a shore excursion with Princess Cruises. The horseback ride didn’t happen because the tour company neglected to complete some necessary paperwork with the cruise line. Instead I snapped a picture of one of several horse carriages lining the street by the cruise ship dock.

horse cart "Jesus Martinez"
Don’t support animal abuse in Cozumel, Mexico

Horse drawn carriage in Cozumel, Mexico

I couldn’t help but notice how skinny and tired the horses looked, baking under the hot Mexican sun without any access to water that I could see. There was no way I was going to support the “rickshaw carts” of Mexico with my tourist dollars. Even in Cozumel there is an ongoing controversy with the horse and buggy business – note the cartoon above.
I hope you are not able to match these 5 worst horseback riding vacations. What are your most memorable horseback rides?

Article and top two photos by Equine Writer Nancy D. Brown No rickshaws in Cozumel illustration by Jesus Martinez.

7 thoughts on “5 Worst Horseback Riding Vacations”

  1. That’s a sad article. The outfitters I know — even the ones with really big strings — really care about their horses and their work. They talk about the experience they’re selling — the experience for people to ride a good, solid horse; to ride in a unique environment (for us it’s vineyards in a wine region); to ride a horse for the first time; to create a memory with loved ones.

    We’ve always felt honored to be included in people’s plans for a special time — vacation, bridal shower, etc.

    I recognize that sentiment is not shared with all outfitters. What was your motivation for the article?

  2. @Teresa,

    Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment expressing your feelings about this blog post. It is sad to know that some people do not have the best interest for their animals, not just horses.

    In celebrating my 5 year anniversary of Writing Horseback, I have put together a series of top 5 memories:
    5 Memorable Horseback Rides
    5 Memorable Meals Riding Horseback
    5 Memorable Pictures Riding Horseback
    5 Worst Horseback Riding Vacations
    5 Best Places to See Wild Horses (August 6, 2014)

    As a freelance travel writer and lodging editor, it is my job to present the good, the bad and the ugly. I try to present balanced reviews, based on my experiences. While 90% of my experiences and reviews are positive, sometimes negative experiences happen – that’s life.

    I hope that answers your question as to what motivated me to write this article and that you continue to enjoy many of the uplifting articles I have published for horse lovers on https://www.writinghorseback.com

  3. I’ve been on quite a few horseback riding vacations (more when the kids were younger, not so much anymore now that they’re grown up), and I can say from experience that the only times I’ve been less than thrilled were when we were outside of the US, primarily in Mexico and the Dominican Republic….

    Tthe problem boils down to money…..those places are nearly completely dependent on tourism as their primary (or only) economy, and only a small percentage of tourists go on the horseback riding ‘tours’, so the outfitters just don’t have the money to take care of the horses properly.

    There is also a pervasive mindset about animals in other countries that is vastly different than ours here in the US, where owning pets is much more common…not that working horses are considered ‘pets’, but we learn as children to love animals by owning pets. It’s rare for kids in latin american or third-world countries to own pets. Here in the US, we also have greater media influence regarding the treatment of animals, and the influence of organizations such as the Humane Society and PETA, which other countries simply don’t have. It just doesn’t seem to occur to outfitters outside the US that their horses should be treated better.

    I don’t have any solutions – I wish I did – but I do think it’s important to spotlight poor treatment of animals wherever you find it, so I commend your courage in publishing this post. Brava!

  4. @Trisha
    I completely agree with your comments and am pleased to accept your support in shining a light on unacceptable situations involving any animals – especially horses!

  5. Hi Nancy, I must say that a “5 worst” article is likely to strike a measure of fear in any equestrian tour operator. When we deal with the public, that is now highly empowered with social media, the service provider is placed at extreme risk of public abuse. We cannot fully appreciate the intimate details of other countries operational constraints, or even of local outfitters and their unique limits and situations.

    I regularly must risk offending visiting guests by denying faster gates (over weight riders, lack of skill sets, limiting trail conditions, etc etc). The general public cannot effectively tell an outfitter how best to manage risk, yet the same public can publish social media reviews in retaliation to a perceived sleight.

    The issue also goes to points of general horse maintenance and horse care. If you watched “Man from Snowy River” and owned a Briar horse, you can claim to be an equestrian expert and critique a professional horse string owner in a public venue. I choose to run many of my horses barefoot, and the topic of barefoot trail horses is as volatile as political dialogue prior to the presidential election. We love our horses and give them the best we can, but I am certain that there are some who might look at my professional offering as insufficient.

    In a previous article, you have complained about the lack of beach riding opportunities for equestrians. I would submit to you that you are likely to see fewer equestrian offerings in any venue, as horse riding vacations become increasingly difficult to operate due to more litigious societies, due to more bleeding heart social activists, and due to an increasingly heavy hand from government agencies and oversight agencies, and rising operational costs.

    Walk lightly, and with great care and sensitivity, when choosing to write a “worst of” blog post.

    My best to you
    Doug Cole
    Marble Mountain Ranch

  6. Hi Doug,
    Thank you for taking the time to read my blog and leaving a thoughtful comment regarding “5 Worst Horseback Riding Vacations.” As a freelance writer and former horse owner, I could make more money providing horseback riding lessons than I earn travel writing, if not for the liability insurance required for me to carry. I understand your comments on rising operational costs and living in a litigious society, especially when it comes to owning and operating a guest ranch. As for running your horses barefoot, I have ridden at several ranches where that is the preferred method of operation. In the instance that I referenced above, it was not about barefoot vs shod horses – this was a lame horse issue. Continue reading through my blog and you’ll note that 99% of my articles are positive experiences in support of horseback riding vacations. I stand behind my comments in this post and will continue to call them as I see them. I welcome the opportunity to visit Marble Mountain Ranch and ride with you someday. Nancy

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