While Americans have always had a close relationship with our gentle giants, the United States hasn’t always been internationally known for its equestrian culture. After all, the rest of the world had a head start. Once the nation had time to settle down and breed, however, breeders began producing some of the best thoroughbred champions in the world. Whether travelers want to feel the adrenaline of betting on a live race, learn about the history of horse racing, or mount up and go for a ride themselves, they’ll want to check out these 12 equestrian places in the U. S.
12. Rancho Santa Fe, California
In an area just outside of San Diego, America’s Air Conditioned City, Rancho Santa Fe provides an incredible nine or more months of comfortable riding. Daytime temperatures rarely drop below 60 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter and stay in the high 80s or low 90s in the summer, when evenings are still cool. Rancho Santa Fe is the perfect place for a sandy beach ride among other enthusiastic horsemen and women, just a few miles from the bustle of San Diego.
11. Woodstock, Vermont
Not to be confused with the site of one of the nation’s grooviest music festivals in New York, Woodstock, Vermont is a center for equestrian activity. For a beautiful ride among charming settings, horsemen and women can’t go wrong in “The Prettiest Town in America”. Plus, a flurry of horsing events for jumping, driving, and endurance riding provide a platform for showcasing excellence, including Ride for the Cure, the Fall Dressage Show, and a winter sleigh rally.
10. Nashville, Tennessee
While Nashville is more known for its music culture – it is, after all, nicknamed “Music City, USA”—there’s plenty of horse culture here as well. In fact, its equestrian culture includes being the place where United States first asserted itself as a contender for championship horse racing. Here, for the first time, an American born-and-bred horse (an Iroquois) won the English Derby. The breeder was Belle Meade, whose plantation and stables are open for tours today. The city also hosts the annual Iroquois Steeplechase race and attracts more than 25,000 attendees each year.
9. North Salem, New York
North Salem has a long timeline of equestrian history, full of farming and the preservation of a”country” way of life. The perfect distance from New York City, North Salem is close enough to be a quick weekend escape from the city, and far enough to provide a peaceful and charming ride. The area has an incredible 100 miles of protected trails, which is good because nine months of comfortable riding gives horsemen and women plenty of time to explore them with their favorite gentle giant. North Salem also offers world-class equestrian facilities, a high density of horse farms, and equestrian hunts.
8. Middleburg, Virginia
The small town of Middleburg has only 700 residents, but some of them have some pretty big names. For example, Elizabeth Taylor, Jackie Onassis, and the DuPonts have all enjoyed horsing in Middleburg over the years. Anyone who has ridden along the English countryside will recognize that country’s twin in the lush fields and stonewalls that wind around Middleburg. Plus, the town hosts the oldest horse show in America – the Upperville Colt and Horse Show. The show was first held in 1853, and was one of the first horse shows in the United States. If attending a horse show isn’t your style, however, then enjoy the mild temperatures in Middleburg, which provide an incredible nine months of comfortable riding.
7 . Ocala, Florida
There are only five cities in the globe – and only two within the U.S.—permitted to use the term “horse capitol of the world”, to describe themselves, and Ocala is one of them. What makes Ocala so special? To start with, the area has over 1,200 horse farms and counting. It’s also a great place to enjoy comfortable riding, especially in winter months, when the average daytime temperature is 70 degrees Fahrenheit. While nearby Wellington has incredible equestrian events, Ocala has a thriving riding culture that can be experienced in a more casual way.
6. Aspen, Colorado
If you’re looking for some rocky, mountainous riding, there’s no place quite like Aspen. As a second home for many international jetsetters, the town is a great place to enjoy spectacular scenery from horseback year round. Temperatures in the winter reach down below freezing, but summer days are often a perfect 77 degrees Fahrenheit. All-in-all, riders have eight comfortable months to enjoy riding, while skiing, snowmobiling, and hiking can entertain them when it’s just a bit too cold to take a horse out. Located between the Colorado cities of Denver and Grand Junction, Aspen itself only has around 6,600 residents, but equestrian enthusiasts who want to buy a horse farm here better start saving. The average ranch price is around $18.9 million!
5. Southern Pines, North Carolina
For riders looking for a great experience year-round, Southern Pines might be just the place. With a minimum of nine months of comfortable riding (and often 12 months), there’s great riding to be had no matter what time of year. Plus, the terrain is about as ideal as it could be for sandy footing and a smooth ride. The area has been given the name Horse Country for many reasons, a few of them being The Carolina Horse Park, with is steeplechase harness track, and the Sandhills Preserve, which boasts 900 acres and numerous trails.
4. Woodside, California
How long does it take to develop a thriving equestrian culture? Well, the affluent San Francisco community of Woodside, California has been working on it since the 1800’s. Horseback riding can be quite an expensive recreational activity, and Woodside happens to be one of the wealthiest small towns in the nation. The community has worked hard to preserve equine-friendly policies, and horse farms and equestrian facilities are connected to each other by an elaborate riding trail system that weaves throughout the area. Plus, the bay area’s mild climate allows for comfortable riding during all 12 months of the year.
3. Wellington, Florida
Coming in at number three on the list is Wellington, Florida. This city is world famous for its equestrian and polo events, such as the U.S. Open, the Gold Cup, and the Whitney Cup. It also hosts both the National Horse Show and the Winter Equestrian Festival which draws more than 250,000 equestrian enthusiasts to the city each year. Visitors who are horsemen and women themselves love the climate which provides more than seven months of comfortable riding, especially in the winter – no surprise since Wellington is the southernmost city on our list.
2. Lexington, Kentucky
While several cities in the nation claim to be “The Horse Capitol of the World”, Lexington comes closest to earning that title. Just 80 miles from Louisville and the lure of a championship win, Lexington is home to some of the best breeders in the world. Many swear the heart of the Bluegrass Region is the perfect environment for raising and training the world’s best horses. Lexington is also the best place to learn about horsing from a “behind-the-scenes” perspective with the Kentucky Horse Park museum and tours of actual running horse breeding farms – many of which have produced champion thoroughbreds.
1. Louisville, Kentucky
The number one place for equestrian culture in the United States is Louisville, Kentucky. It’s home to the world-famous Kentucky Derby which the Queen of England has attended. The Derby takes place at the Churchill Downs track and is the first event in the Triple Crown (the other two are the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes). The track’s famous town spire grandstand has also hosted the Breeder’s Cup eight times. After watching a race and enjoying one of the track’s signature mint juleps (served since 1875), horse enthusiasts can learn more equestrian history by visiting the Kentucky Derby Museum. For visitors who can’t make it to Louisville during derby season, Churchill Downs also features simulcast racing, where you can watch and bet on live races around the globe.