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Take an Unconventional Horseback Vacation

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When riding a horse, you soak up the surroundings at a slower pace. Little things in nature are seen that might otherwise go unnoticed. Not too long ago, horses were a major mode of transportation. In some parts of the world, they are still heavily relied upon for getting from one point to another. If you desire to take an unconventional trip, take a horseback riding vacation. Beginners should get their leg muscles in shape beforehand by riding a couple of hours each week for a couple of months; by doing so, your vacation won't be soured with soreness.

Here are my three top picks:

Molino de la Umbria in Spain
If dressage on Andalusian horses in Spain sounds like a dreamy equestrian escape, Salvador Fabregas's Molino de la Umbria is just outside of Pedraza, a walled Medieval village in the Segovia Region. In 2006, "Outside Magazine" voted the Equestrian Vacation "Trip of the Year." Only a 50-mile/one-hour drive from Madrid, guests train in the morning and afternoons are spent exploring the village where nobles lived during the middle ages. Segovia is home to a 2000-year old Roman aqueduct, a Gothic/Flamboyant cathedral and a castle. Fabregas, a former manager of Spain's equestrian team, is the owner of 25-acre Molino de la Umbria, including an 18th century water mill converted into his home with rustic exposed beans and antiques, a small stable, and a stone cottage turned guesthouse with three rooms. Spanish gourmet meals are served to equine lovers, and there's even a cooking school with a focus on Spanish cuisine and a touch of Italian, too. After each morning's breakfast, mount your horse for a private lesson with Salvador. Afternoons are spent riding as a group among the region's castles. Intermediate and expert riders will benefit from expert training combined with relaxing and scenic rides. Packages include weekend without transportation and weekly packs with transportation from Madrid, as well as custom rides with a minimum of 3 days. (Molino de la Umbria 40173 La Velilla-Pedraza Segovia, Spain molinodelaumbria.com)

The Resort at Paws Up in Montana
Urban dwellers can fulfill their Western Equestrian Immersion at the Resort at Paws Up i(a Andrew Harper Hideaway) in Greenough, Montana, where the latest trend is glamorous camping. In addition to the 24 posh tents and 28 luxurious homes, in July 2010, six luxurious tented suites opened at Creekside Camp on the Elk River. A variety of equestrian excursions are offered at the resort's Saddle Club. For trail riding, a private Wrangler will guide you through the ancient Ponderosas in Big Sky country and the "Big Backyard" Tour takes riders out on the resort's 37,000 acres."The Mining Ridge Ride" explores the remains of a mining community. Private lessons and rides are available for adults and children, too. (The Resort at Paws Up 40060 Paws Up Road Greenough, MT 59823) For more information visit www.pawsup.com or call toll free (800) 473-0601

Estancia El Rocio in Argentina
Polo conjures up images of wealthy and handsome Argentine men astride galloping horses, while gracefully swinging wooden mallets. For the sophisticated traveler with the necessary saddle skills who is seeking out an off the beaten path vacation, you can give this upper class sport a shot. Just 60 miles outside of Buenos Aires, Estancia El Rocio, is a 400-acre working ranch smack in the heart of the Argentinean pampas. Imagine a South American version of a Provencal homestead. Polo clinics for complete novices and experienced players are offered to guests. The best time to visit is in the summer, when it's the height of the polo playing season in Argentina. This way, you can combine the clinics, riding and watching polo matches. Head to the southern hemisphere between December and February, which is high season for polo. Clinics for beginners at Estancia El Rocio include theory and practice with stick and ball sessions. (Estancia El Rocio Rte. 3 San Miguel del Monte, Argentina)