The United States may be ruled by the automobile, but for most of the country’s history, it was a land dominated by horses. These days, equestrian enthusiasts are restricted to a limited set of parks and trails, and often have to choose where to live based on what’s available in the area for their horses.
There are still a few holdout areas that are keeping the pioneer spirit alive, however. These towns and cities tend to be small and low in traffic, since horses and cars don’t mix. They’ll allow you to go about your full day on horseback if you so desire, however; local businesses even provide hitching posts out front, and have special bins for collecting manure.
The small city of Norco bills itself as “Horsetown USA,” and locals see it as the last bastion for horse enthusiasts amidst the urban sprawl of southern California. The city is estimated to be home to somewhere between 25,000 and 50,000 horses, and they are thought to outnumber citizens by at least a couple of thousand. You won’t be in town very long before you see riders sharing the road with vehicles.
Norco is located east of Anaheim, just north of Corona and southeast of Ontario. Horse trails replace sidewalks along the main roads. Norco has several rodeos and horse-related celebrations throughout the year, the largest of which is the Norco Fair held on Labor Day weekend.
The nearby Sun Valley is a favorite place for riding, but if you like, you can ride your horse around town in pretty much all the settled areas between the two.
Hailey, located about 70 miles north of Twin Falls near the center of the state, is popular as a base for skiing in the winter in the nearby mountains. But tourism cools down when the weather gets warm, and there are miles of horse trails to enjoy starting in spring.
Love Valley, NC
With only about 100 permanent residents, Love Valley is somewhere between an actual town and a “living history” museum. It is a proper town, chartered by the state in 1963, but it was built as a recreation of an Old West village and survives mostly off of tourism, particularly visits from equine enthusiasts looking to ride in the Brushy Mountains.
Love Valley is near the northwestern corner of North Carolina, off of Interstate 77. The closest cities are Union Grove and Vashti, and it is about 57 miles west of Winston-Salem and 59 miles north of Charlotte.
Mackinac Island, MI
This small island has maintained a ban on most types of motor vehicles since the late 1800s — only ambulances and snowmobiles are allowed. Horse riding is encouraged, and you’re allowed to bring your own, though riding in the downtown area is highly discouraged during the summer months due to a considerable amount of tourist traffic on bikes and rollerblades.
Horses can be brought over on a ferry from Mackinaw City or St. Ignace, and there are several stables you can board them at, but be aware the island has no feed stores at all.
Known as the “Cowboy Capital of the World,” Bandera is a mix of Old West and ranch-themed tourism with actual functioning ranches staffed by real modern-day cowboys. The important thing is that horses are so welcome in town you’ll find hitching posts outside the Dairy Queen and the local watering holes.
You’ll find Bandera about 54 miles northwest of San Antonio. Sunday might not be the best day to ride up, though, as the local bikers love to descend on the town en masse for a hearty diner breakfast.
The idea of riding a horse about your daily business has been crowded out of most of the United States due to modern developments. These five towns, however, are holding onto a slice of the past for as long as they can.