Dozens of British B&Bs have been proudly serving horses for decades — but don’t worry, this has nothing to do with the food scandal sweeping Europe. At these farmhouse inns, horse-loving Brits vacation with their steeds, pampering them with gourmet feed and luxury stables while exploring the British countryside together.
“The British really do love horses,” says Fiona McCulloch of Mar Lodge, a grand horse-friendly estate in Scotland. “The bond is deeply ingrained in the British psyche, going back through the generations to when we were completely reliant on our horses.”
Holidaying with a horse typically involves long rides along quiet country roads, wooded tracks and Britain’s estimated 20,000 miles of car-free bridleways.
“Visitors love being able to open the curtains in the morning and see their horse grazing contentedly in our paddock,” says Lucy Verity of Church Farm, a charming stone cottage nestled in the Forest of Dean near Wales. “Most are juggling work and family life and have little time out to just ‘play ponies.’ They want to come on holiday and build their relationship with their horse.”
From Church Farm, riders can delve deep into the forest or ascend the atmospheric Iron Age hill fort of Welshbury (where horses helped haul away trees during a recent restoration effort) for panoramic views of the Severn river valley. “A ride to our local pubs is also very popular,” Verity admits.
Many visitors to the 50+ B&Bs in the Horses Welcome program run by the British Horse Society are locals, but riders do occasionally trot up from farther afield. At Country Treks in Stottesdon, a village in the Midlands of central England, riders from all over Europe and the US can also rent horses by the day or week to get a feel for country life.
Beginners might prefer a more organized trip that includes riding lessons or a refresher course — they ride on the left in the UK, remember! Tour organizations such as Equestrian Escapes can help visitors find horse-centric activities from beginner lessons to beach rides.
For more experienced equestrians, the Mar Lodge lies at the heart of the wild and remote Cairngorms National Park, with its dramatic mountains, fields of heather and plunging waterfalls. “Taking your own horse on holiday removes the slight apprehension that anyone booking a riding holiday has about an unknown horse,” says Mar Lodge’s McCulloch. “There’s no worrying whether you’ll like it or it will like you. You’re taking your best friend on holiday so you know you’ll be looked after.”
Mar Lodge is a just an easy canter from the village of Braemar, famous for the 17th-century Braemar Castle and the Braemar Gathering, a raucous Highland Games festival the British Royal Family attends each year.
Boutique horse hotels
At these horse-friendly B&Bs, having four legs guarantees five-star treatment. Horses at Church Farm have individual 10-by-15-foot stone stables with en-suite straw bedding, water buckets, mangers and heated tack rooms. Other farms feature automatic drinking fountains, acres of meadows and even round-the-clock veterinary care.
While all of the B&Bs are just as welcoming to their human guests, two-legged accommodation can be a little more basic. Bunkhouses and tents are common in the summer, as are spacious (if occasionally drafty) converted historic barns.
The one thing that visitors are guaranteed is hearty homemade food. Farmers here would shudder at serving factory-made frozen meals, some of which could have been tainted by horsemeat from European slaughterhouses.
As for the horses themselves? No one knows exactly what they think of their vacations in the British countryside, but the signs are promising. “Most of our visitors give their horses a day’s holiday with no riding,” says Lucy Verity. “They seem to love it here. They’re relaxed, eat well, are bright eyed and generally very perky."
A Mounting Obsession?
Is Britain the most horse-mad nation in the world? After all, this is the land of polo-playing princes, derby races, fox hunting and royals who win equestrian Olympic medals. A few more facts that might convince you:
· Inhabitants of what is now Britain have been creating horse-themed art for a very long time. The massive 375-feet long Uffington White Horse chalk figure has only survived by being scoured clean by locals every seven years since it was first carved into the hillside — around 3000 years ago.
· Anglo-Saxons probably worshiped horse gods and incorporated horses into their early Christian myths.
· The 10th century King Edmund is reported to have been saved from falling off a cliff by his horse, and Shakespeare had Richard III cry out, “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!”
· During the Hundred Years War of the 14th and 15th centuries, horses were deemed crucial military technology. It was illegal to export them abroad.
· Queen Elizabeth II received her first horse when she was 4. She now owns about 30 racing horses and a rare white Lipizzaner stallion.
by Mark Harris
Photos (top to bottom):
Riders explore the hills around Mar Lodge, a horse-oriented estate in Scotland. (Photo courtesy of Fiona McCulloch/Mar Lodge)
Ready to hit the trail at Church Farm in England (Photo courtesy of Lucy Verity/Church Farm)
The dramatic Scottish countryside of Cairngorms National Park surrounds Mar Lodge, a horse-friendly estate. (Photo courtesy of Fiona McCulloch/Mar Lodge)
Queen Elizabeth II is famously fond of horses. Here, she greets one at The Royal Windsor Horse Show. (Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images)
The Uffington White Horse, seen here from the air, is a 3,000-year-old chalk hill figure in England. (Photo by Dave Price via Wikimedia Commons)