Riding your horse to school, trail riding through town, and calling famous racehorses “neighbor” — it’s all possible in these horse-friendly small towns! As rapidly as the world is changing, it can be a real challenge to find a place that isn’t jam-packed with cars and cookie-cutter houses. Fortunately, there remain a few places where traffic always stops for horses and riders, and where weekends are meant for horse shows and rodeos. Keep scrolling for the 20 most horse-friendly small towns in America.
Aiken, South Carolina
The small town of Aiken, South Carolina has been a mecca for horse lovers since the late 1800s, when farming families migrated here to take advantage of the near-perfect climate. Today, Aiken is known nationally as one of the top destinations for horse people. Aiken is home to boarding stables and professional trainers offering everything from hunt seat to polo. There are also a number of farms dedicated to the sport of Thoroughbred racing, and even a Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and Museum. Those who enjoy riding regularly can taken advantage of the myriad unpaved roads which meander through town, or head to Hitchcock Woods, a massive, 2,100-acre forest boasting 70 miles of trails.
Asheville, North Carolina
Horse lovers from near and far frequently make their way to Asheville, North Carolina to enjoy the prestigious and historic Biltmore Equestrian Center. This impressive center — a former favorite of the Vanderbilts — boasts five different circular trails ranging from 10 to 30 miles in length. While some include jumps, others are flat, but all are well marked and lead riders through a stunning landscape of greenery. Those unable to bring their own horses can simply arrange a guided ride on Biltmore-owned horses. Asheville residents have access to many local riding centers, including the well known Asheville School, a boarding and day school featuring a top-rated equestrian program.
Bandera, Texas has been declared “The Cowboy Capital of the World,” and for good reason. Though it has fewer than 900 people, Bandera is stacked with working ranches run by real-life cowboys. There’s even a healthy equine tourism industry in horse-friendly Bandera, which partly explains just why the town feels a bit like something right out of the Old West. Horses and riders making their way right through the downtown is a common sight, as are hitching posts outside of just about every business.
Blythewood, South Carolina
Thanks to a desirable climate, varied geography, and great affordability, the Carolinas are full of horse-friendly small towns that are just perfect for equestrians. One such town is Blythewood, South Carolina. Blythewood’s equestrian traditions date back decades, and as such, sports like dressage, fox hunting, and even rodeo are all part of the local culture. The University of South Carolina Equestrian Center, one of the most impressive of its kind, is located in Blythewood, as are roughly 50 other equestrian facilities.
Camden, South Carolina
Any place that declares itself the “Steeplechase Capital of the World” is bound to belong on a list of the most horse-friendly small towns. Indeed, Camden, South Carolina is home to the Carolina Cup Steeplechase Races. Held annually in the spring, these races are some of the most prestigious in the world, attracting horse lovers from all over. Even the National Steeplechase Museum is located in Camden. But steeplechase isn’t all this charming southern locale has to offer equine aficionados. The South Carolina Equine Park is a 40-acre equestrian center boasting a number of specially designed arenas and courses, including the second oldest polo field in the United States.
Cave Creek, Arizona
When residents of Cave Creek, Arizona need to go downtown, they can simply hop on their horse and follow the town’s multi-use trail system right to wherever they want to go. This horse-friendly small town — which is conveniently located between the bigger cities of Phoenix and Scottsdale — is full of working ranches and horse farms. Another of Cave Creek’s extensive trail systems leads right into the Sonoran Desert and into the foothills of Tonto National Forest. In fact, Cave Creek is so horse friendly, and the trails so well done and easy to navigate, a number of equestrian tours are based there.
Love Valley, North Carolina
The tiny town of Love Valley, North Carolina was established in 1954 as the result of one horse-loving cowboy who dreamed of a place that revolved around horses. Today, Love Valley’s website declares it an “authentic western town situated in the foothills of the Brushy Mountains.” It may be a bit Mayberry meets Bonanza, but there’s no question about whether this place likes horses. No cars are allowed in downtown Love Valley, only horses. To make riding from place to place easier, there is a massive collection of trails and hitching posts outside just about every point of interest. There is a community arena which hosts everything from equestrian competitions to Fourth of July celebrations. Love Valley also hosts myriad camp sights to encourage others to come enjoy. Horse lovers can bring their own steeds or rent one in town.
Virginia has a lot to offer. For horse lovers, it’s the horse-friendly small town of Middleburg. Indeed, Middleburg has become synonymous with sophisticated equestrian culture, a reputation earned in part by being the chosen equestrian home of Elizabeth Taylor, Jackie Onassis, and the DuPont family. Today, Middleburg boasts luxurious horse farms, miles of carefully groomed trails, and acres of pasture land that look nearly identical to the lush English countryside. Interestingly, Middleburg is home to the oldest horse show in America: the Upperville Colt and Horse Show, a prestigious event which has been held annually since 1853.
Norco, California has declared itself “Horsetown USA.” The horse-friendly small town works hard for that title, which is a reflection of Norco’s desire to maintain a slower, more purposeful way of life surrounded by horses. At the heart of Norco’s horsey culture is its extensive trail system. Eighty-one miles of trails connect just about everyone with everything. Indeed, there’s a horse trail on at least one side of just about every road in town. And when one gets where they’re going — whether that’s to church or the bar — chances are there is a hitching post out front. Norco residents also have easy access to the 100-mile Santa Ana River Trail, which runs from the San Bernardino Mountains to the Huntington Beach, or the 1500-acre Hidden Valley Wildlife Area.
North Salem, New York
Located a little more than an hour’s drive from New York City, North Salem is a suburban oasis for horse lovers — just ask North Salem residents like David Letterman and Michael Bloomberg. Farming and equestrian sports have both been a part of New Salem’s culture for decades. Both remain part of the local culture. For example, the town is home to one of the oldest hunt clubs in the United States, the Golden’s Bridge Hounds, who have chased foxes around these parts for nearly a century. One hundred miles of trails meander their way in and around North Salem, and are frequently used by those who board and train at the many equestrian centers located within city limits. Fun fact: North Salem law states that a horse and rider always have the right of way on roads.
Add horse lovers to the list of mammals that head south for the winter. And to where do they go? Ocala, Florida! Ocala is actually perfect for horse lovers year round, though it certainly comes to life during the winter month., World-class equestrians station themselves in the warmth to compete at the many professional shows held here throughout the season. In addition to hosting various internationally recognized events, the 500-acre Florida Horse Park is the official training ground for the U.S. Equestrian Team. Even horse racing fans have a reason to flock to Ocala. There are more than 1,200 horse breeding and training facilities in the area, 600 of which are Thoroughbred farms. No wonder Ocala has declared itself the “Horse Capital of the World.”
Like its neighbor, Versailles (which also makes our list), the Lexington suburb of Paris, Kentucky is well known for its equine community. This small town consists mainly of rolling hills of bluegrass, each topped with barns and pastures housing some of the world’s most famous horses. Claiborne Farm, where Secretariat is buried, is here. Other big Thoroughbred farms in Paris include Gainesway Farm, Stone Farm, and Runnymede. Speaking of Secretariat, Paris’s picturesque downtown plays host to the annual Secretariat Festival, a weekend-long event that celebrates the life and legacy of arguably the most famous racehorse of all time.
The small town of Pendleton, Oregon boasts a long history of horse culture. Big ranches run by authentic cowboys still operate here. Hamley & Co., the legendary saddle maker best known for its Association bucking saddle, is headquartered here. However, Pendleton is likely most famous for its rodeo, said to be “one of the wildest rodeos in the world.” The Pendleton Round-Up has been held every September since 1910.
Pinehurst, North Carolina
This region of North Carolina may be best known for golf, but horses are just as important in the town of Pinehurst. Thanks to the area’s near-perfect climate, the riding, training, and breeding of horses has long been part of the local culture. The disciplines of dressage and hunters/jumpers are especially popular, and a number of trainers offer lessons. But perhaps most impressive of Pinehurst’s many equestrian venues is the Pinehurst Harness Track. This 111-acre facility has been the country’s premier winter training track for Standardbred harness racers since 1915. During the other seasons, the facility is used to host polo matches, horse shows, and even dog shows.
Raeford, North Carolina
Raeford, North Carolina is home to the Carolina Horse Park Foundation. Consisting of 250 acres, this impressive and nationally recognized equestrian center offers all types of arenas, trails, and courses suitable for championship-level competition in just about any equestrian discipline you can think of. The pristine and carefully groomed center is the perfect reflection of Raeford’s dedication to preserving equestrian sport as one of the area’s most important recreational activities.
Tryon, North Carolina
The town of Tryon — along with its neighbors Saluda, Columbus, and Mill Spring — is part of Tryon Horse Country, a region in North Carolina well known for its horsey culture. A whopping 29 horse organizations exist in the area to offer local horse lovers boarding, training, and riding opportunities in just about any equestrian discipline one can think of. Dressage, hunters/jumpers, eventing, fox hunting, driving, and polo are especially popular. There are 250 miles of trails throughout Tryon Horse Country, while three world-class show venues — Tryon International Equestrian Center, Harmon Field, and FENCE — attract riders and spectators from around the world.
A suburb of Lexington, Kentucky (aka “The Horse Capital of the World”), the small town of Versailles is within easy distance of The Kentucky Horse Park and Keeneland Racecourse — two of the most iconic equestrian facilities in the world. As it is, Versailles (pronounced phonetically as ver-sails) is known for one thing: horses. Specifically, Thoroughbred racehorses. Versailles is home to some of the most famous Thoroughbred breeding and training farms in the world, including WinStar Farm, Lane’s End Farm, Three Chimneys Farm, and Calumet Farm, to name but a few.
Many professional riders spend their winters in warm Wellington, Florida. This horse-friendly town, which boasts a population of about 65,000 people — hosts some of the most prestigious horse shows in America, These include the weeks-long Winter Equestrian Festival, a series of show jumping competitions that attract the big pros from all over the world — many of whom own secondary properties here. Polo is also popular in Wellington, and the town plays host to the U.S. Open, the Whitney Cup, and the Gold Cup.
The San Francisco Bay Area is home to millions, and as a result, isn’t exactly known as a horse-friendly region. But the small town of Woodside is an exception. Indeed, Woodside has been carefully establishing itself as an equestrian enclave for the wealthy horse lovers of San Francisco since the 1800s. An elaborate system of trails runs throughout the town, conveniently connecting many of the larger farms and riding centers. A 272-acre Horse Park offers an excellent location for shows both schooling and rated, while WHOA! — that is, the Woodside-area Horse Owner’s Association — is responsible for putting together a packed calendar of fun equestrian-themed events. These include trail rides and the town’s annual Horse Fair.
When one thinks of the landscape of Vermont, it’s usually an image of rolling green hills dotted with postcard-perfect red barns. At least, that’s what horse lovers imagine when they think of the horse-friendly small town of Woodstock. This picturesque locale has the myriad horse farms and list of equestrian-centered events required to make our list. But what sets Woodstock apart from the rest is the Green Mountain Horse Association. This is a nationally known and respected organization that supports a massive network of trails used by riders (and hikers and snowshoers) from both near and far.