An extreme example, but this incident on a horse safari in Botswana's game-filled Okavango Delta illustrates the scope of horse-riding holidays. At the other extreme is pony trekking - a leisurely way of exploring rugged countryside. Run in small groups according to ability, it is an attractive way to test your suitability for the holiday saddle.
It is very important that you learn to ride properly, perhaps on an instructional holiday, before you set out for long rides. With walk, trot and canter conquered, you can choose a package suited to your physical abilities and your personality.
Stamina is often as important as equestrian skill. Such is the case when the horses need to rest in the Corbieres hills of south-west France, and riders dismount and clamber on foot up rock-strewn paths, often hanging on to the tail of the animal in front. Similarly testing are the expeditions to Spain's Sierra Nevada, organised by the English-run company Aventura. Andalusian horses pick their way, piaffe fashion, through the citrus groves, forests of mountain oak and hillsides carpeted with wild flowers. Overnight stops are at posadas - traditional village inns which are basic but comfortable, with good local fare.
Iceland, too, is tuned to the experienced rider who wants to enjoy the scenery. The stocky Icelandic pony is ideal for tackling the country's lunar landscape with its geysers, hot springs and waterfalls.
Hungary, though no place for beginners, also offers a range of equestrian holidays, the vast tracts of unfenced fields providing the often unaccustomed thrill of sustained cantering. For scenery, pick Pecs-Uszogpuszta in the south-west - the hottest region. In Poland, studs like Sierakow - basic but clean, 45 miles north-west of Poznan - allow the competent a chance to ride fine Wielkopolska horses.
In North America, those with some experience can ride Western at working ranches or try a guest ranch where horses are the only livestock. Wyoming, Montana and Colorado offer snow-capped mountain peaks, Texas and Arizona spectacular desert landscapes.
All rides mentioned below are part of packages (prices do not include the cost of getting there); but you can also ride independently in the Tuscan hills of Italy, in Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and Scandinavia. This Christmas, ride in India with a new package 'Wanderings on Horseback in Rajasthan'.
UK AND IRELAND
Trail rides: Unlike in the US, where trail riding is more akin to pony trekking, these involve covering up to 25 miles per day at sustained speeds. Prices typically start at around pounds 250 for an extended weekend break (four days), including B&B; pounds 700 for seven nights at a luxury hotel.
Adult breaks: Holidays based on a tailor-made blend of hacking and instruction usually cost pounds 200- pounds 300 for seven nights. Accommodation varies from full board at a centre, local guesthouse or farmhouse, to self-catering. Driving, Western and side-saddle riding packages are also available from pounds 250 per week.
Family breaks: These allow for a few days' riding as part of a family holiday. Prices start at pounds 150- pounds 200, with extra riding available if requested.
Unaccompanied children: Holidays are available for riders as young as 4 or 5 years old, but mainly from 9 upwards. Children learn how to look after a pony, as well as riding skills. Prices start at around pounds 250 per week.
Mini-breaks: Available from pounds 150 for two nights, half board at a hotel, plus riding, lessons and lectures. The New Forest is a good off-season area.
Riding lessons: These typically cost pounds 12- pounds 20 for a private half-hour lesson, pounds 10- pounds 15 for a 1-hour group lesson. Allow at least 12 lessons to learn to walk, trot and canter.
Useful addresses: British Horse Society (0203 696697) for Where to Ride 1992/93 (Priory Publications, pounds 4.95 plus pounds 1.50 postage and packing); Ponies Association UK (0487 830278) for free guide to approved holiday and trekking centres with star ratings; Association of British Riding Schools (0736 69440) for 1992/93 handbook at pounds 3.50; Irish Tourist Board (071-493 3201) for free Equestrian Ireland guide; Northern Ireland Tourist Board (0232 246609) for pony-trekking and riding information bulletin (No 19).
Average cost pounds 500- pounds l,000, depending on length of stay (ranging from 8 to 12 days).
Cyprus: No actual riding packages, but Elias Horse Riding Centre offers good hacking. Cyprus Hotline (010 357 9 535000).
France: Cavalry Tours by Abercrombie & Kent (071-730 9600); Inn-Active (0439 71111); Foxcroft Travel (050981 3252); Headwater Holidays (0606 48699); La France des Activites (0449 737664).
Greece: Cavalry Tours (see France).
Hungary: Cavalry Tours (see France); Intra-Travel (071-323 3305); Danube Travel (071-493 0263); Hungarian Air Tours (071-437 9405).
Iceland: Arctic Experience (0737 326321); Twicker's World (081-892 8164); Iceland Tourist Information Bureau (071-388 5599).
Italy: Cavalry Tours (see France).
Poland: Polorbis Travel Ltd (071-636 2217).
Spain: Andaluz Adventure (0778 346714); Aventura (0784 459018) for the Sierra Nevada; Cavalry Tours (see France).
Turkey: J & C Voyageurs (0235 848747).
Average cost pounds 1,000- pounds 3,000, from 8 to 22 days.
Argentina: Cavalry Tours (see France). Also, mainly for polo, Worldwide Harlequin Travel (0708 852 780); Reef & Rainforest Tours (071-381 2204); Sporting Tours (071-834 6055) and Merina Begg (071-589 1149) for estancias brochure.
Botswana: Cavalry Tours (see France); Okavango Tours & Safaris (081-341 9442).
Costa Rica and Belize: Reef & Rainforest Tours (see Argentina).
Chile: Cavalry Tours (see France)
India: Cavalry Tours (see France); Indian Encounters (0929 480548).
Kenya: Cavalry Tours (see France); J & C Voyageurs (see Turkey).
North America: American Round-Up (0442 214621); Ranch America (081-868 2910); Worldwide Harlequin Travel (0708 852 780); Accessible Isolation (0730 812535).
Russia: Intourist (071-538 5966).
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