angle-left Ultimate Vacation for Equestrians: 14 Things to Do in Ruidoso

Ultimate Vacation for Equestrians: 14 Things to Do in Ruidoso

New Mexico’s Ruidoso Valley is a hidden gem for the whole family.

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By Denis Blake for America’s Horse

Looking for a travel destination where you can get your fill of equine activities, along with eclectic shopping, top-notch dining, elite golf courses and maybe even casino gaming? Las Vegas, you might think. Well, Sin City has much of that, but try riding horseback down the Las Vegas Strip, and either the desert heat or the police will likely stop you.

The real answer is the increasingly popular yet still somewhat hidden Ruidoso Valley in New Mexico.

The Track. Few racetracks are blessed with a backdrop like you’ll see at Ruidoso Downs Race Track and Billy the Kid Casino. The Ruidoso Downs race meet, which includes Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse racing, generally runs from late May through Labor Day, and it offers free parking and admission. Get a spot along the rail and you can actually feel the flying dirt hit you as Quarter Horses soar by at speeds of nearly 55 mph.

Hit the Trails. The Ruidoso area boasts numerous trails for horseback riding. Locals recommend the Cedar Creek area. New trails are built all the time, and it’s a well-marked trail system. Also be sure to hit the Lincoln National Forest.

Western Art. Featuring one of the most eye-catching outdoor equine sculptures you will ever see, the Hubbard Museum of the American West, as you might have guessed, celebrates the past and offers a look back at the artwork, artifacts and history of the West as influenced by Native Americans, Hispanics and pioneers.

The All American. Every Labor Day, Ruidoso Downs hosts the All American Futurity, American Quarter Horse racing’s richest race for 2-year-olds. With a purse of $3 million ($1.5 million goes to the winner), the 440-yard race is not just the richest in American Quarter Horse racing, but also the most lucrative on the planet for any breed of 2-year-old racehorse. The race is worth nearly $7,000 per yard, and last year, it offered some $600,000 more than the Kentucky Derby.

Enjoy the Outdoors. The Ruidoso area is teeming with hiking and biking trails, plus great hunting and fishing. Also, consider zip lining at The Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort and Casino in nearby Mescalero.

Experience History. Be sure to check out the Ruidoso Downs Racehorse Hall of Fame on the second level of the track (also free), where you can learn about the horses, horsemen and horsewomen who shaped the sport and view some incredible historical items from the track and the All American Futurity, which was first run in 1959.

High-Dollar Horses. If a trip to the track piqued your interest about how a Quarter Horse becomes a racing Quarter Horse, then head over to an auction at the Ruidoso Horse Sale Co. pavilion located next to the track. With a New Mexico-bred sale each August and a select yearling sale over Labor Day weekend, you can view the breed’s most sought-after racing bloodlines and some spirited bidding action for the future stars of the sport. Typically more than $10 million worth of horses are sold at the auction, with prices ranging from a few thousand to a few hundred thousand. The auctions are open to the public and free to attend, and they offer some compelling opportunities for people- and horse-watching.

Lounge in Luxury. The Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort and Casino in nearby Mescalero features an acclaimed golf course (the Links at Sierra Blanca and Cree Meadows are also good choices), several restaurants, entertainment options with a comedy club and major concert venue, and a range of accommodation pricing. If you are looking for a drink and a little dancing, head out to Win, Place and Show (or simply WPS) or Quarters Nightclub and Grill. The two establishments are located across the street from each other in midtown Ruidoso, and as the names imply, they are both frequented by horsemen and horsewomen.

Shop ’til You Drop. Shoppers will find upscale boutiques, western wear, art galleries of all kinds, local wine shops and more. Many of the local businesses are actually local businesses, instead of endless souvenir shops like you find in some tourist spots. (But don’t worry, there is a Wal-Mart in Ruidoso Downs for any essentials you might have forgotten to pack.)

Dining. Again, businesses remain locally owned in Ruidoso. For a good steak dinner, head over to the Cattle Baron, or for a more casual dining experience, check out Farley’s. Both are favorites among locals and tourists. As you might expect, Ruidoso has a wide variety of Mexican food restaurants, and you’ll find the famous New Mexico green chiles in all kinds of dishes, even on pizza and pasta at Italian restaurants in town.

Lodging. Options in the Ruidoso area are more diverse than most tourist destinations. You’ll find far more cabins, vacation/condo rentals and RV parks than traditional hotel rooms. (Pro Tip: Use the AQHA Travel Center for savings!)

Festivals and Events. Ruidoso annually hosts Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium each October, featuring music, storytelling, poetry, chuckwagon cook-offs and all things cowboy (get your tickets in advance). There are also annual art and music festivals, motorcycle rallies, a Christmas Jubilee and a Festival of Lights.

Travel Like an Outlaw. The Billy the Kid Scenic Byway, which stretches for 84 miles, includes museums and historical sites related to the infamous Wild West outlaw.

Year-Round Ruidoso. While summer is the most popular season for tourists in Ruidoso, the other three seasons each offer a chance to experience the area’s charm, and often at a cheaper price. Fall is a great time to visit, thanks to gorgeous weather and changing leaves. In the winter, there’s skiing. And although springtime can be windy, it’s also a nice time of year.