Weekends: Five Equestrian Resorts
“Make no little plans,” said the architect and city planner Daniel Burnham more than a century ago, and the owners of Casa de Campo, a sprawling seven-thousand-acre complex on the Dominican Republic’s southeastern shore, seem to have taken that creed to heart. The resort’s manicured grounds—so spread out that guests are issued golf carts at check-in—contain a yacht marina, three waterfront golf courses designed by Pete Dye, 1,800 private villas, many of them built in opulent Mediterranean or Balinese style, and 185 hotel rooms and suites. The long roster of famous names who have passed through ranges from Oscar de la Renta and Beyoncé to Clintons and Bushes. Little wonder, then, that Casa de Campo’s equestrian opportunities are also writ large. Guided rides along grassy trails provide postcard views of the Caribbean, and visitors can sign up for lessons in riding, show jumping, or even rodeo stunts. The showstopper attraction: They can also take part, as spectators or students, in polo. With three playing fields, fifty ponies, and frequent matches and tournaments, the resort has staked a claim as the sport’s Caribbean epicenter.
Norwood, North Carolina
Tucked away in the gently undulating hills of North Carolina’s Stanly County, east of Charlotte, is a horse lover’s gem. The Fork—situated at the junction of the Pee Dee and Rocky Rivers—boasts plenty of serious equestrian cred: a fifteen-stall main barn, a lineup of riding camps and clinics, two all-weather arenas, and facilities worthy of hosting eventing trials. (One this April will attract medal-winning international competitors for a spectator-friendly, three-day triathlon of sorts, combining dressage, cross-country, and show jumping.) The stable staff also gives instruction, for novices and seasoned riders alike, and provides boarding for those who bring their own steeds. Even if you’re content to leave the riding to others, the nine-room Fork Lodge makes for a pleasantly restful getaway. Its welcoming interior, done up in lots of knotty pine, complements a spacious rocking-chair porch that overlooks idyllic fenced pastures. Additional draws for guests of the inn and day-trippers: thirty-five miles of trails for hiking and mountain biking, duck and quail hunts, and a shooting center that includes five-stand and trap along with one seven- and two fourteen-station sporting clays courses.
It’s food that put Dos Brisas on the map. Forty-two of its more than three hundred rolling acres, on a onetime cattle ranch an hour west of Houston, are organically farmed, and fresh-picked heirloom vegetables anchor the kitchen’s lauded “pitchfork to plate” menus. (It’s the only restaurant in all of Texas to capture Forbes Travel Guide’s highest five-star rating.) The Relais & Châteaux resort’s culinary bona fides also include an orchard, a berry patch, a seven-thousand-square-foot greenhouse, and an expansive wine cellar. Cooking classes and wine tastings are mainstays. Still, it’s impossible to overlook the inn’s first-class equestrian center, where more than two dozen horses—you can also board your own here—dutifully make themselves available for riding lessons (from basic to advanced), private jumping instruction on the indoor arena’s new custom-built course, and guided trail rides, not to mention providing, in the management’s carefully chosen words, “essential components to our compost production.” Guests can also shoot at clay targets, fish in the stocked ponds, play tennis, or just bob around the infinity pool.
Bluffton, South Carolina
The developers of Palmetto Bluff—a twenty-thousand-plus-acre planned residential community and inn not far from Hilton Head Island and Savannah, in what was once rice and indigo plantation country—have sweated the details to position the property as a pure distilled vision of the Lowcountry good life. Its ample creature comforts inhabit a timeless setting. The inn’s recently renovated white, metal-roofed cottages, many with screened porches overlooking the May River, have a warm, lived-in ambience, and they blend seamlessly with the gnarled limbs of ancient live oaks—even though the resort is very much a twenty-first-century creation. The Bluff’s 173-acre equestrian hotbed, Longfield Stables, echoes that mix of luxe and laid-back. Its sumptuous facilities are open to residents and guests of all skill levels and include a lit and covered arena, a regulation-size dressage ring, and a cross-country practice course designed by a former Olympic rider. Instructors give lessons in hunter/jumper techniques and the fine points of horsemanship. There are also fifteen miles of trails inviting lazy afternoon rambles along moss-shaded paths through hardwood bottomland and maritime forest.
Horse country doesn’t get much horsier than Middleburg, where steeplechases, fox hunts, and A-list equestrian shows have drawn discriminating riders since roughly the time Teddy Roosevelt occupied the White House, forty-some miles to the east. Salamander Resort, a pet project of Sheila Johnson’s—she’s a cofounder of cable’s BET turned hotelier—is a newcomer to the scene, having opened in the Blue Ridge foothills in 2013 to considerable fanfare. From the beginning, the 168-room property has gone all in, with a fourteen-thousand-square-foot stable, an outdoor riding arena, and a network of secluded trails (over half of the resort’s 340 acres are bound by a conservation easement). Under Salamander’s equestrian director, Sheryl Jordan, instruction options and hands-on workshops abound. Offerings range from beginners’ classes to horsemanship clinics to polo lessons, available May through October. There’s even horseback yoga. Guests’ horses are welcome as well—both overnight and long-term—and the hotel is amply furnished with equestrian-themed paintings and photographs, lest anyone miss the point. Still, there’s no shortage of other pleasant diversions: a twenty-three-thousand-square-foot spa with indoor and outdoor pools; a cooking studio; a billiards room; a fitness center; and designated spaces for boccie, croquet, and putting practice.