Horseback Riding in Hawaii: Discover the Thrill of Exploring Paradise on Horseback

If you’re like me you grew up reading the Black Stallion series. If you’re like me you simply drooled over the film when it premiered. As an adult I now realize that this Francis Ford Coppola classic was a stunning work of filmmaking and was even nominated for an Oscar in film editing and won a special achievement award for sound editing. 

And of course, the great Mickey Rooney was nominated for his role as well. 

While my Black Stallion was a chestnut Appaloosa, and my deserted island was a ranch in Oklahoma, I always dreamed of galloping a horse down a wide stretch of open beach, bareback with my arms thrown wide, just as Kelly Reno did in the film. 

Horseback riding in Hawaii
horses in Hawaii

History of Horseback riding in Hawaii

While the US state of Hawaii is a top tourist destination for many obvious reasons, it’s also a fantastic place to experience the thrill of riding. Hawaiian cowboys called paniolos have been riding the ranges of the islands for over 150 years, and Parker Ranch on the Big Island is the oldest working cattle ranch in the United States, and one of the largest. Parker Ranch no longer offers horseback riding in Hawaii but they celebrate many equestrian events throughout the year.

If a visit to Hawaii is on your travel list, and you’d like to include horseback riding in Hawaii on that trip, these are a few of the places to make your dreams a reality, set against the backdrop of one of the most beautiful places in the world. 

Horseback riding on the Big Island

Horseback riding in the Big Island 

I live in Hilo and I think it’s one of the most special places on earth. Volcanos, rainforests, vast lava fields, and more combine to make this youngest member of the island chain a traveler’s dream. While it’s not quite as well known for its beaches as the neighbor islands, there are still plenty of places to go horseback riding on the Big Island. 

Ponoholo Ranch located in the highlands of Kohala is a rider’s dream. This working cattle ranch offers several rides designed to cater to various ability levels and desired experiences. Experienced riders will have the chance to canter through Kohala’s green valleys, and those who have never ridden can choose a ride on calm and gentle horses. All riders will have the ability to view the sweeping coastline of the Pacific Ocean, see both Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea volcanoes, and catch a glimpse of the island of Maui on a clear day. This is horseback riding in Hawaii at its finest.

Horseback riding on the  Kohala region of the Big Island
horseback riding big island

One of the most stunning areas of the Big Island is Waipio Valley. Located at the northern tip of the island, this area is famous for its black sand beach and towering waterfalls. It’s also home to a small herd of feral horses. While you can’t ride any of those horses, you can take a tour with Na’alapa Stables on one of their trusty steeds. If you’re lucky you may even catch a glimpse of the feral herd frolicking on the beach.

Horse back riding in Maui 

As one of the most visited islands in the state, Maui is home to a wealth of things to do, both in and out of the water. Horseback riding in Maui is an incredible way to catch sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean, some of the neighbor islands, and ride through misty forests and vast pineapple fields. 

Mendes Ranch, owned and operated by the Mendes family, has been a working ranch since the 1940’s. They offer morning and afternoon rides along the coastline and finish with a stop on the beach. Experienced riders who are eager for something other than the nose to tail experience can book private rides and those who feel confident are able to gallop at a few points along the ride. They also offer a combination horseback and helicopter tour, which sounds like an adventurer’s dream come true. 

Makena Stables on the island’s southern shore has been in operation since 1983, and the owners are active in Maui’s rodeo community. The horses they use for their rides are fit and healthy, and the trails offer some of the best views of the southern coast of Maui. Take their sunset ride in the winter months where you’ll not only see one of Hawaii’s dazzling sunsets but you may see humpback whales breaching offshore. 

Horseback riding in Oahu 

The island of Oahu is much more than Waikiki Beach and the high rises of Honolulu. Its lush and varied terrain is dreamy and exquisite, and if I weren’t already so attached to the Big Island I might call it my favorite. Let’s just say it’s close. 

With a larger population than any of the other islands there are more opportunities for horseback riding on Oahu than on the other islands, and there is even a thriving polo club and competition scene that includes dressage, jumping, and western riding

However, the best stable with the best trails, in my opinion, is Kualoa Ranch. They offer a variety of rides to choose from but what makes them stand out from the rest is the fact that the trails you’ll be riding on take you through portions of the filming location for Lost. You’ll also see some old bunkers from World War II and the sheer beauty that is the Ka’a’awa Valley. Book early as their rides often sell

Hawaii is a beautiful and unique part of the world, and there is little question as to why it’s one of the most visited places in the United States, or the world. If you find yourself in the Aloha State and horseback riding in Hawaii is on your bucket list, consider one of these outfitters.

You’ll be saying mahalo nui loa to your horses and your guides before you know it. 

More tips on Horseback riding in Hawaii

Here are some additional tips for horseback riding in Hawaii:

  1. Choose a reputable and experienced horseback riding provider: Look for established companies with positive reviews and experienced guides who prioritize safety and animal welfare.
  2. Consider your riding experience and skill level: Some horseback riding tours cater to beginners, while others are more suitable for experienced riders. Be honest about your abilities to ensure you have an enjoyable and safe experience.
  3. Dress appropriately: Wear comfortable, closed-toe shoes with a small heel for added stability. Dress in layers and wear sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun. Bring a hat or a helmet if not provided by the tour operator.
  4. Follow the instructions of your guide: Listen carefully to your guide’s instructions regarding horse handling, riding techniques, and safety guidelines. They are there to ensure your well-being and a smooth riding experience.
  5. Respect the horses: Treat the horses with kindness and respect. Be gentle when interacting with them and follow any guidelines provided by your guide. Remember that horses are living beings and require care and consideration.
  6. Enjoy the scenery: Take in the breathtaking landscapes and enjoy the unique perspective that horseback riding offers. Hawaii’s natural beauty, from lush valleys to pristine beaches, is even more awe-inspiring when experienced on horseback.
  7. Capture memories responsibly: If you wish to take photos or videos during your ride, make sure to do so safely and without compromising your attention to the horse and surroundings. Always prioritize your safety and the safety of others.
  8. Be prepared for weather changes: Hawaii’s weather can be unpredictable, so it’s wise to bring a light rain jacket or poncho in case of unexpected showers. Check the weather forecast beforehand to better prepare.
  9. Stay hydrated: Horseback riding can be physically demanding, so bring a water bottle and stay hydrated throughout the ride. It’s important to take care of yourself and your well-being.
  10. Express any concerns or questions: If you have any concerns, questions, or specific requirements, don’t hesitate to communicate them to the tour operator before your ride. They will be able to address your needs and ensure a more enjoyable experience.

By following these tips, you can make the most of your horseback riding adventure in Hawaii and create lasting memories of exploring the beautiful landscapes on horseback.

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Conclusion on Horseback riding in Hawaii

In conclusion, horseback riding in Hawaii offers a thrilling and unique way to explore the paradise-like landscapes of the islands. By choosing a reputable provider, considering your skill level, and following the guidance of experienced guides, you can have a safe and enjoyable experience. Dressing appropriately, respecting the horses, and capturing memories responsibly are important aspects to keep in mind. The opportunity to ride through Hawaii’s stunning scenery, from lush valleys to picturesque beaches, is truly unforgettable. Stay hydrated, be prepared for weather changes, and communicate any concerns or questions to ensure a smooth and enjoyable ride.

Embarking on a horseback riding adventure in Hawaii allows you to connect with nature and create cherished memories that will last a lifetime.


Guest writer bio

Cate Brubaker is a writer who has traveled to more than 40 countries, many of those in a camper when she and her husband drove from the United States to Argentina over a three year period. She loves horseback riding, SCUBA diving, and eating all the food. She and her husband currently live in Hilo, Hawaii.

Check out her blog at The Life Nomadic

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Noel Morata this Hawaii Life

Meet Noel Morata

Noel Morata is the creator of This Hawaii Life along with a small team of contributors. Living on the Big Island and traveling regularly to the neighbor islands, Noel and team actively search and share the latest information and updates to Hawaii travel, food, adventure and various lifestyle activities on the islands for your planning and vacation. Aloha and enjoy This Hawaii Life.