The concept of the equestrian riding tour has had a glorious revival in Europe since the end of World War II. Unlike the United States, countries such as France, Spain, Italy, and Greece have kept open many rights-of-way for riders which offer opportunities to ride for weeks away from traffic in beautiful areas of great historic interest. In this part of the world it was only a few decades before the war that people traveled on horseback from inn to inn and town to town. In France many inns and restaurants are still called relais (relays) where travelers could find food, lodging, a place to keep their horses and often fresh mounts. Since one of the main attractions of a European visit is to see and feel the rich history, it is entirely appropriate to travel and discover these wonderful treasures on horseback as people did when these castles, walled towns and cathedrals were being created.

Northern Europe has a vibrant horse culture and some excellent places to ride with friendly, English speaking people, beautiful scenery and fine horses.  Irish horses are famous the world over and Ireland has ideal trails for riding, comfortable inns and wonderful mounts. If you are interested in jumping, there are extensive and varied obstacle courses where you can hone your skills. In Iceland the amazingly powerful, gated Icelandic horses, which have been perfected for over a millennium, will carry you smoothly over a fantastic landscape of hot springs, fjords, volcanoes and rushing rivers. You can also ride in Cornwall through the unspoiled English rural countryside.

Another advantage of visiting Europe on horseback is that horses greatly facilitate local contact. People who ride up on a horse are considered special and somehow more trustworthy than those who arrive in droves by bus. Riders destroy the image many foreigners hold of ugly Americans driving up in big cars and talking very loudly in basic English to make themselves understood. Horses help break the international ice and there is always a common bond between horse lovers around the world. On horseback one has the time to travel in depth without rushing from place to place by car and airplane. The cultural value of a trip is not determined by the number of attractions listed in the guide book one manages to see by racing around.

For riders interested in honing their dressage skills a visit to Spain or Portugal is must. Excellent instruction, the long standing ties to the tradition of the discipline and phenomenal schoolmaster horses make our dressage programs an opportunity that should not be missed.

Horseback rides in Greece, France, Spain, Italy and Portugal are usually organized so that on moving days riders can go from inn to inn or castle to castle each day and have their baggage transferred and waiting at the next night’s stop. It enables guests to move out at all paces during the day unencumbered by baggage. A delicious picnic lunch is usually served at midday along the route and both riders and horses can take a rest before heading out for the afternoon. Usually stops are made along the way to visit old castles, walled towns and other points of interest. Groups are kept small and seldom have more than a dozen riders.

What made the trip for us was the family, who were FABULOUS. They made the ride very special and personal, and got us away from the crowds whenever they could by leading us on shepherds' trails. We saw one or two other groups riding with outfitters along the way, who were clearly being 'packaged', and thanked our lucky stars that we had found Equitours.

Deborah Gage

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