Site ups horsepower, adds booking option

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HUNTINGDON VALLEY, Pa. -- Ridingholidays.com, a division of equestrian travel publisher the Compleat Traveller, converted its informational Web site about riding vacations to one that is selling them.

The equestrian travel service suggests Iceland among its destinations for beginners and those interested in horseback travel adventure.

Company owner Arthur Sacks, co-author of the book "Worldwide Riding Vacations," said he chose to include Iceland among his Web site's riding destinations "because I wanted to reach out well beyond the 'horse loop,' or the business of advertising for clients only in equestrian magazines."

To those not in that loop, who have not had riding les- sons and who don't pursue the sport as a hobby, a riding vacation usually means several days of riding a horse on relatively easy trails at a dude ranch, Sacks said. There might be an occasional trot, but always on flat ground, he added.

"At dude ranches, you can have no riding skill, be placed on a horse, have a nice time and spend a week riding at a walking pace."

The difficulty, Sacks said, is in getting people who are not in the horse loop to venture beyond that on a riding vacation.

"If I want to reach out to the adventure set," he said, "the problem becomes the learning curve.

"Most of my faster riding tours do require skill and experience and wouldn't be appropriate even for a good athlete [who didn't have the necessary background]."

The unique qualities of the Icelandic horse, he said, make it perfectly suited for those who don't have the requisite saddle know-how to trot along on tours elsewhere in the world.

"Because [Icelandic horses] have two special gaits (the smooth "tolt" and faster "skied"), they are particularly easy to ride at a faster pace, without the danger associated with larger, nongaited horses," Sacks said.

"Plus, their smaller size makes them an attractive alternative to offer to adventurers who want more than a walking tour on horseback," he said.

"The Icelandic horse is pony-sized," Sacks said, "but [even a larger-sized rider] would have no trouble with them -- or rather [the horses] would have no trouble with [the rider]."

Especially well suited to novice riders and families, Ridingholidays.com offers four- and six-night riding tours in Iceland priced from $1,600 to $1,831 per person.

The tours feature roundtrip air fare from New York's Kennedy Airport, mountain cabin and guesthouse accommodations, transfers and meals.

Seven- and eight-night riding tours across Iceland's rugged interior offer less in the way of creature comforts and sometimes privacy, but offer longer days in the saddle and horseback tours taken at a faster pace, according to Sacks.

Prices for these tours range from $2,180 to $2,470 per person and include roundtrip air fare.

A 25% discount for children under age 12 on air and land applies to all riding tours in Iceland.

Standard commission is 10%.

"Iceland is a physically hard ride," Sacks said, adding that participants will get a good work-out.

However, he added, "within a day or two, most people will master [intermediate] level [gaits].

"On top of that, they won't do the bouncing that they would [experience] on nongaited horses, where physical discomfort would [discourage] the most eager [participant]," Sacks said. "Even though the horse is moving at a rapid clip, riders get the excitement of fast movement without the jostle. [Participants only need to learn] how to hold the [smoothly gaited] tolt step over the other gaits."

Sacks' 384-page book, "Worldwide Riding Vacations," lists mounted activities on every continent except Antarctica and is sent to travelers at no cost when they make a reservation.

The book, Sacks said, is useful for agents who want to learn about the riding vacation industry and how to approach selling it.

Horseback riding tours can be a difficult genre for most agents to access and fully understand, he said, as study tours are usually not feasible for operators to offer.

"It's not that [the operators are] cheap," Sacks said.

"You just have to [understand] their [budget constraints]. Sometimes when

I was writing books, I had to stay in the owners' homes."

For additional information or reservations, agents may contact Ridingholidays.com at (215) 659-3281 or fax (215) 659-9347.

The e-mail address is [email protected]; the Web site is www.ridingholidays.com.

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