Hoof-prints in the sand: a coastal ride in Mallorca

Whether you are a reluctant or an expert equestrian, there are plenty of opportunities to travel in the saddle. Laura Holt explores the options.

A riding holiday offers unlimited opportunity for adventure, whether you want to gallop past giraffes in the Okavango Delta or round-up cattle in the Rockies. For those who have ridden before, a holiday on horseback brings new challenges in unfamiliar and often dramatic locations. For intermediates, it offers the chance to get back in the saddle. Even novices, tempted by something new, can find a holiday to suit their ability, with close-to-home breaks in the UK providing a welcoming first step to mastering basic skills.

Before booking, decide what type of riding holiday you want; specialist operators usually divide packages into categories. A traditional holiday might take you to popular European destinations such as Spain, Portugal or Italy, or even to California. These are easy-to-organise trips that don't require much planning, apart from remembering your riding gear.

Alternatively, you could go for a safari on horseback across Africa, especially Kenya, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. Again, there's a wide range to suit all abilities, but if you want to ride amid dangerous wildlife, such as buffalos, you have to be able to get out of harm's way fast.

If you're comfortable with this, says Tony Daly, managing director of Ranch Rider (01509 618 811; ranchrider.com), the rewards are endless: "It's a lot easier to see animals on horseback, because they only smell the horses, not the humans. Especially in South Africa, where the horses run free with the wildlife at night, there's the chance of getting really close." This option can be very luxurious too, with early-morning and late-afternoon rides broken up by lavish lunches, scenic sundowners and nights spent under smart canvas.

There are also ranch holidays in the Americas, with days spent learning to live and ride among local cowboys or gauchos. Popular destinations include Wyoming, Arizona, Montana and Colorado in the US; British Columbia in Canada; and Argentina and Uruguay. You can stay on a guest ranch or a working ranch, which takes tourists to supplement its normal income. The former are good for beginners and families because they often have other activities and facilities if the riding gets too much. A working ranch, however, has its own thrills for intermediates, experts and those who want to muck in. You'll have to fall in line with the day-to-day farm activities, from herding cattle to branding.

Finally, for the most intrepid and experienced riders, there are expeditions. "This type of holiday requires the most planning and preparation," explains Olwen Law, owner of In The Saddle (01299 272 997; inthesaddle.com). "Typically, you'll be in a tent with a sleeping bag – you might get wet, cold and tired, but you have to keep going and be very fit."

For most riding holidays you'll need only to bring your own hard hat. Well-worn jodhpurs are ideal for trips to Europe and Africa, whereas jeans – especially Wranglers, because the seam is stitched on the outside of the leg – are good for ranch holidays. Finally, it's crucial to have the right insurance. Most reputable operators will not let you on a horse abroad without the necessary cover, so check your policy before you go. For example, you might want a policy that covers you irrespective of whether you're wearing a hard hat, and for manual ranch work as well as riding.

Cowboy country

For the real Wild West experience, head to Black Mountain Ranch in Colorado. This century-old working estate (open May to September), offers all-inclusive breaks for individuals or families. Relax in luxurious rustic cabins after riding in the spectacular Routt National Forest. There's also white-water rafting, a rodeo visit and camping beneath the stars. Get involved with branding, roping and mustering cattle, before winding down in the hot tub. Full Circle Travel (0800 048 8772; fullcircletravel.com) has week-long packages with all meals and flights from £2,655pp.

Beginners can taste cowboy life at White Stallion Ranch which has all-day fast canters and scenic walking trails for the less confident. There's also the chance to try your hand at cattlework. A week's all-inclusive stay costs from £890pp with Ranch Rider (01509 618 811; ranchrider.com) including transfers, but not flights.

A two-week journey into the Yukon with Unicorn Trails (01767 600606; unicorntrails .com) is not for the faint hearted, but it takes in lakes, glacial valleys, volcanoes and forests.

Packhorses carry supplies, and you stay in log cabins and tents. As well as dramatic scenery, you could encounter caribou, wolves, eagles and beavers. From £1,979pp, with transfers and all-inclusive accommodation. Flights extra. Departs 14 June, 4 July and 5 September.

Britain for beginners

Before committing to a riding holiday abroad, for complete novices it's a good idea to test your mettle closer to home.

Five Saints Riding School (01558 650580; fivesaints.com) in the foothills of Wales's Cambrian Mountains, offers three-night Learn to Ride escapes with half-board accommodation, daily hour-long lessons, an hour-long hack and instruction in stable management. Prices start at £400pp.

Another good choice for a weekend horsey break is Devon-based Adventure Clydesdale (01364 631683; adventureclydesdale.com), which uses the sturdy but gentle Clydesdale draught horses. Located within Dartmoor National Park, the company offers daily rides from £150 and overnight excursions with accommodation from £250, staying at local farms and B&Bs across the South-west.

Variety in Europe

Great for intermediate riders, the Continent offers countless opportunities to jump in the saddle. Go Learn To (0208 144 5990; golearnto.com) has a Sea and Mountain trip to Mallorca, suitable for riders with two years' experience. The seven-night adventure explores the Balearic island's beaches and mountains, with time to relax at the pool and spa of Son Menut, a traditional hacienda-style property that serves as your base. A week's full-board stay costs from £749pp, excluding flights. The riding school is open from March to mid-November.

For experienced riders who don't want to be held back, one of In The Saddle's (01299 272 997; inthesaddle.com) toughest challenges is the 11-day Andorra Trail Ride through Catalonia, Andorra and France. Departures June to September, from £1,361pp, including full board, but not flights.

For an trip into the unknown, try the wilds of Iceland. Local tour operator Ishestar (00 345 555 7000; ishestar.is) has a nine-day trip to the remote east of the island, visiting windswept canyons, plunging waterfalls and Europe's largest glacier, Vatnajokull. Along the way, riders are likely to encounter Arctic reindeer, foxes and geese, and you'll dock in at different lodgings along the way, including a farm and a cabin at the foot of Mount Eyvindarfjoll. Full-board tour from €1,995; flights extra.

Go for a gaucho

To sample gaucho life, check into Estancia Caballadas in Argentina's Lake District, which has been run by the same family for five generations. Located within Lanín National Park, its trails allow riders to pass through silent forests and flowing rivers to the dramatic Lanín Volcano, before returning to the ranch and an asado (barbecue). There's also boating, fly-fishing and hiking on offer. A week's stay costs from £2,695pp, full board, excluding flights (00 39 0471 840 005; caballadas.com).

Alternatively, Journey Latin America (020 3553 7109; journeylatinamerica.co.uk) has nine-night horse-riding holidays in the Ecuadorian Andes that take in the country's serrated scenery, with nights spent at various haciendas. The trip costs from £5,246pp, including flights, transfers, accommodation with breakfast, most other meals and excursions. Departures are between June and February 2016.

Botswana's vast Okavango Delta is a dream safari destination for many. Equus Journeys has a number of holidays based at camps across in the delta

Safari in the saddle

Ants Nest camp, three hours north of Johannesburg, welcomes families and riders of all abilities. A stay at this colonial-style lodge includes daily horseback rides into the African bush on one of the camp's 90 thoroughbreds, Arab-boerperd crosses and children's ponies. There are also riding lessons for the less confident and other excursions, such as walking safaris and drives. A six-night all-inclusive stay with Fleewinter (020 7112 0019; fleewinter.com) costs from £2,495pp, including flights and car hire.

Botswana's vast Okavango Delta is a dream safari destination for many, thanks to its seasonal flooding, which draws in wildlife to create one of Africa's greatest concentrations of animals. Equus Journeys (01905 388977; equus-journeys.com) has a number of holidays based at camps across in the Delta, including a 10-day trip to Motswiri, on the banks of the Selinda Spillway, which offers an excellent chance of spotting elephants, giraffes, zebras and buffalo. There are departures throughout the year, with all-inclusive luxury tented accommodation and activities from £2,555pp. Flights extra.

Off the beaten track

An exotic but unconventional riding experience awaits in the Atlantic archipelago of the Azores . Azores Choice (01768 775 672; azoreschoice.com) has a holiday to the islands of Faial and Sao Miguel with the chance to ride around the rim of the Sete Cidades volcano during spring, when the hydrangeas will be out. Available April-May, the week-long holiday costs £1,260pp, including flights, transfers, some meals and accommodation at two traditional quintas (farmhouses).

To get away from it all, horse-loving Mongolia is hard to beat. Wild Frontiers (020 7736 3968; wildfrontierstravel.com) has a small group, 14-day Mongolia: Mountains, Lakes and Shamans Horse Trek, departing on 14 June. A combination of short rides and longer canters will take you through the Siberian Taiga forests and across mountain passes. From £2,545pp including accommodation and meals, but not flights.