12 Equestrian Places in the US

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.

Photo by: Rancho Santa Fe Association
Photo by: Rancho Santa Fe Association

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.

Nashville Tennessee 1

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.

Photo by: Chris Burke via Flickr
Photo by: Chris Burke via Flickr

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.

Photo by: Schuyler Knapp via Upperville Colt & Horse Show
Photo by: Schuyler Knapp via Upperville Colt & Horse Show

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.

Photo by: William Murphy via Flickr
Photo by: William Murphy via Flickr

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.

Photo by: Andy via Flickr
Photo by: Andy via Flickr

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.

Photo by: Anthony via Flickr
Photo by: Anthony via Flickr

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.

Photo by: Ken Lund via Flickr
Photo by: Ken Lund via Flickr

The Best & Most Fascinating Zoos in the World

Almost every major tourist city in the world is home to a zoo. However, there are only a rare few doing the miraculous work that the following ten zoo’s and wildlife parks are doing to promote animal conservation, wildlife protection, captive breeding of endangered species, and general public education and awareness around the importance of animal preservation.

1. Wellington Zoo, North Island, New Zealand

New Zealand’s very first zoo is one of the biggest, situated on 32-sprawling acres with more than 500 animals and 100 different species—many of which are endangered species native to New Zealand, including Sumatran tigers, the miniature Sun Bear, the smallest of the bear species. The zoo is also involved with a group in parts of Asia called “Free the Bears”, lions, and many more. The zoo is dedicated to quality, sustainable enclosures for its population, which include solar heating and power, and intimate one-on-one encounters with the animals to educate on the importance of natural preservation.

Sumatran tiger

2. Toronto Zoo, Ontario, Canada

The Toronto Zoo houses 5000 animals from 460 species around the world. This zoo boasts some truly unique exhibits—such as camel rides, sting ray touch tanks. Plus, enclosures for numerous endangered baby additions like Gaur (a type of Indian bison), spider monkeys, Grevy’s Zebras, African Elephants, Greater Kudu (a type of antelope), Western lowland gorillas, and pygmy hippo. Not to mention many native animals to Canada, such as Grizzly bear, Moose, Wood Bison, raccoons, lynx, and cougar.

Grizzly bear

3. Australia Zoo, Sunshine Coast, Australia

Of course the wildest and most adventurous zoo on earth would have to have been founded by none other than the late Steve Irwin, Australia’s Crocodile Hunter. The zoo encourages hands-on encounters with various snakes, koalas, kangaroos, wombats, tigers, elephants, as well as viewings of over 1000 different animals. Make a reservation if you really want to make the most of your day!

Koala

4. Yokohama Zoo, Japan

Japan’s Yokohama Zoo, lovingly referred to as “Zoorasia” was established in 1999. A massive 100 acres in size, this lush, sprawling zoo gives extended room to it’s over 1500 animals from 150 species. In fact, the zoo is largely green in design, consisting of 7 separate ecological areas—the Asian Tropical Forest, Central Asian Highland, Oceanian Grassland, Japanese Countryside, African Tropical Rainforest, and the Amazon Jungle—all designed to mimic natural habitats. Because it’s so large, binoculars are given to each guest upon entrance for optimal spotting of the inhabitants.

panda

5. Welsh Mountain Zoo, Colwyn Bay, North Wales

This 37 acre hillside park was established by naturalist Robert Jackson in 1963. Today, the Zoological Society of Wales has taken the helm and operates the zoo more like conservation lands for native wildlife within. Guests are treated to wooded acres, tree lined paths, and rolling hills teeming with grey heron, grass snakes, and badgers. The must-see exhibits are the modern Eurasian Otter showcase—outfitted with a river, and waterfall for happy otters to slide and frolic about—and that of the California Sea Lions and the Humboldt Penguin.

San-Francisco-Zoo penguins

6. Berlin Zoo, Germany

The Berlin Zoo is the oldest and most-visited zoo in all of Germany. In collaboration with its associated aquarium, the area is made up of 84 acres and home to over 17,000 animals. The zoo was established with the help of King Frederick William IV of Prussia, who populated the zoo with 850 animals from his very own private collection. It suffered massive damage during World War II, when most of the zoo and almost a hundred animals were destroyed. However, the zoo was rebuilt and the survivors—a pair of lions, hyenas, a bull Elephant, almost a dozen baboons, and a chimpanzee—moved into more natural enclosures and tours, one of which became the Animals of the Bible tour, showcasing animals from biblical reference.

lion

7. Philadelphia Zoo, Pennsylvania, USA

America’s very first zoo is the Philadelphia Zoo, established in 1874. Today the zoo enjoys a reputation for breeding endangered species in captivity as well as simulated natural habitats for its animal population. Home to over 1300 animals, this urban zoo boasts one of the most state-of-the-art primate exhibits in the world, PECO Primate Reserve, a 2.50acre, indoor and outdoor areas that houses 10 different primate species—including  gibbons, lowland gorillas, Sumatran Orangutans, lemurs, and Silverbacks. Cat lovers will purr at the sight of Big Cat Falls, which houses 12 endangered species of felines such as African Lions, Amur Tigers, jaguars, Snow Leopards, and cougars. If you don’t get your fill during the day, stay for a rare overnight experience camps for kids!

tigers

8. Bronx Zoo, New York City, USA

This rather small zoo in the midst of a metropolis is one of the oldest and best zoos in the USA. So much so that the Wildlife Conservation Society established its veterinarian society here, where primary care is provided for over 15,000 animals located at various zoos across America. The Bronx Zoo is particularly renowned for its animal enrichment programs.  Both educational and hands-on in nature, visitors can witness zoo keepers training and interacting with animals—such as the monkey and tiger population—as well as various feedings, animal behavior, and health care for polar bears and various other resident animals.

giraffes

9. San Diego Zoo, California, USA

Near San Diego’s downtown, you’ll discover the wonders of the world-renowned San Diego Zoo. This huge 100-acre spread is home to almost 4000 animals from 800 species. The grounds are grassy and hilly so many guests opt for the 35-minute guided bus tour, or they choose to hop on and off at certain exhibits. The zoo’s Elephant Odyssey is by far the most impressive and educational, tracing the species form the Pleistocene era (i.e. wholly mammoth) to modern day. However, nearby you can pop in to visit the giant sloths, bears, lions and jaguars in their simulated natural habitats.

San-Diego-Zoo

10. Basel Zoo, Switzerland

The Basel Zoo boasts one of the most successful captive breeding programs of endangered species in the world. The uniquely peculiar creatures here are not often seen in other wildlife parks around the world. In fact, the more than 600 species—including snow leopards, cheetah, Indian Rhino, flamingos, pygmy hippopotamuses, Somali Wild Ass, and okapi—would be proud that their zoo is considered among the top 7 by the Zoological Society of London for its successful breeding efforts.

rhino