The 9 Best Vacations for Southern Horse Lovers

Happily posing with horses
Photo: Charlotte Detienne Photography

The South is brimming with vacations for all types of travelers. Depending on your interests, you can head to see historic buildings in Charleston, experience the French cuisine of New Orleans, or hike the gorgeous mountains in Boone. However, for animal lovers, several Southern destinations are perfect for a different style of traveling: equine vacations. The South is known for everything from modern-day cowboys and wild horses to its upscale polo matches, making Southern states ideal for a horse-centered trip. From stays at BYOH (bring your own horse) ranches to getting up close to some of the world's most talented steeds, here are the nine best vacations for Southern horse lovers.

01 of 09

Outer Banks, North Carolina

Horses trot on the beach
Currituck Outer Banks Tourism

When people think about wild animals, horses probably aren't the first thing that crosses their minds. However, around 100 wild horses that descended from Spanish Mustangs still roam free in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Because the areas they frequent, such as Corolla, Ocracoke Island, and Carova, are remote, the best way to see these herds is to book an off-road 4x4 tour. Just remember: there are guidelines against feeding or getting within 50 feet of the wild steeds. The Wild Horse Preserve at Grace Wynds also has farm tours, domesticated wild horses, and educational programs if you want to delve deeper into learning and get closer to these stately creatures.

02 of 09

Denton, Texas

Woman pets horse
Courtesy Denton CVB by Hannah Gamble

When considering equestrian vacations, perhaps one of the first states that comes to mind is Texas, which is logical considering its cowboy history. Denton is located in Northern Texas, just above the Dallas/Fort Worth area. What is unique about the region is that there are multiple ranches, several of which can provide a personalized experience for your family. For example, sign up for a summer horsing camp at RNR Stables, see wildlife from horseback over the 39 miles of trails at Marshall Creek Ranch, or ride lakeside at Black Mustang Ranch, which lies at the entrance of a state park.

03 of 09

Louisville, Kentucky

Horses racing at 147th Kentucky Derby
Jamie Squire / Getty

Louisville's name is synonymous with bourbon and the Kentucky Derby. Known as "the most exciting two minutes in sports," the derby encompasses an entire month filled with events, which leaves visitors many options beyond just enjoying this short sprint. Typically occurring on the first Saturday in May—with the only two exceptions being during World War II and the pandemic—the Kentucky Derby boasts horse-centric activities coupled with folks sporting the height of fashion by wearing lovely dresses, seersucker suits, and of course, flamboyant hats.

However, if you'd like to avoid crowds and enjoy a more relaxed horse-centric vacation in Louisville, plenty of under-the-radar events are happening throughout the year. Churchill Downs, where the derby is held, hosts many other races from April through July, October, and November. One perk is that you can still have a derby-esque experience and wear your Southern best while sipping a Mint Julep and devouring a piece of famous Derby Pie.

04 of 09

Wellington, Florida

Horse and rider jump a hurdle
Photo by SAS Photography courtesy of Wellington International

Florida has lovely weather year-round, which makes Wellington an ideal spot to visit any time of year. If you'd like to vacation during winter, head to the Winter Equestrian Festival at Wellington International, which hosts events throughout the year. To see horses competing in sport, catch a match at the International Polo Club, where you can make reservations to dine at sunset as you watch live polo. If you'd like to learn more about the sport, the club offers lessons geared towards any skill level. Wellington is also close to the beach, making it perfect for those who want to spend time in the sun.

05 of 09

Madison, Georgia

Happily posing with horses
Charlotte Detienne Photography

Some folks take their pets on vacation, and why should equine lovers be the exception? If you want to take your horse on your annual trip, head to a farm near Atlanta, where you can treat your steed to an experience in a new setting. Southern Cross Guest Ranch has a bed and breakfast, plenty of riding trails, and horses available for those who don't want to bring their own.

06 of 09

Assateague Island, Maryland

Horses wade in the water among boats.
Mark Wilson / Getty

Although many locations offer equestrian centers and horse-centric events, Assateague Island in Maryland and Chincoteague Island in Virginia have unique opportunities: Animal lovers can see wild horses. Officially called ponies due to their short, stocky nature, they are encouraged by Saltwater Cowboys (yes, that's an official name) to swim from Assateague to Chincoteague and back each July in the annual Pony Swim.

It's speculated that the horses most likely arrived on Assateague Island via shipwreck or abandonment by early colonists. The swim has a variety of purposes, including veterinary checks for the horses and an auction to help control the size of the herd. The journey of the horses and the festivities happen over several days, which makes it an exciting event to center a vacation around. Plus, it's something horse lovers should experience at least once in their lifetime.

07 of 09

Ocala, Florida

A family enjoys a horse ride.
Ocala/Marion County Visitors and Convention Bureau

Located in Marion County, Florida, Ocala has been named the Horse Capital of the World, and rightfully so. Several Kentucky Derby winners spent training time or were born and bred in the city, which is only part of Ocala's claim to fame. Due to year-round warm weather, events, such as the Live Oak International competition and the Ocala Breeders' Sale, happen throughout the year, making it easy to plan a vacation during any month. While in town, you can also visit a horse farm, go horseback riding, and immerse yourself in the area's deep equestrian history.

08 of 09

Middleburg, Virginia

Pair of riders on horseback during Spring Steeplechase race, Glenwood Park, Middleburg, Virginia
Joe Sohm/Visions of America / Getty

Named so because it's halfway between Alexandria and Winchester, Virginia, Middleburg is low on residents—there are less than 1,000—but high on equestrian activities. It's home to America's first organized fox hunt, established in 1840. Events, such as The Middleburg Hunt, take you back in time as folks dress in traditional fox hunting gear and ride horseback with their hounds alongside. Middleburg also features several horse races, shows, and jumping competitions throughout the year, but perhaps the highlight is taking a self-driving stable tour, where you can visit farms and stables that aren't open any other time of year.

09 of 09

Lexington, Kentucky

Kids ride horses in single file.
© GLINTstudios, courtesy VisitLEX

Lexington, also nicknamed Horse Country, is barely 80 miles away from Louisville, yet it has a horse culture all its own. Multiple farms are open for touring throughout the year, so you and your family can have an up-close experience with horses. Whether you're in the market for a horse or not, another highlight is the Kentucky Equine Adoption Center, a 72-acre farm that helps all breeds find their forever home and where visitors can learn about horses and feed them. In addition, many of the farms offer private tours so that you can tailor your experience. Lexington is also home to the Kentucky Horse Park, where you can camp, see competitions, and visit the four museums for a complete equine experience.

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