What better place to enjoy horseback riding than in Puerto Vallarta, one of the most scenic and weather-friendly locales around? Picture yourself atop a quarter horse, a thoroughbred or a mestizo (mixed breed), exploring a jungle trail replete with orchids, catching the refreshing overspray of a nearby waterfall or riding alongside a picturesque river or high in the verdant foothills of the Sierra Madre Mountains, where the panoramic views of the bay are breathtaking. (In Jalisco, an ordinance prohibits riding on the beach; however, north in the state of Nayarit in Bucerias, for example, it is possible.)

With charreria the national sport of Mexico, and Puerto Vallarta several times the host to the national charro (cowboy) championships, riding opportunities offering various kinds of experiences are multiple. A variety of horseback riding opportunities is listed with most large hotels and travel agencies in Vallarta. Reputable venues are well established, offering bi-lingual, experienced guides; well-cared-for, cooperative horses suited to riding; safe, scenic trails; and liability insurance (just in case). Some offer transportation and include beverages/meals, with prices that reflect these amenities.

One of the longest-established venues is Rancho Ojo de Agua (224-0607) in the Aralias neighborhood just a few kilometers from central Vallarta, which offers three- and five-hour rides as well as overnight camping adventures, complete with meals, equipment, lodging and horses. All experience levels are welcome, and riders as young as six can participate. (Younger children may ride along with a parent/adult.) Groups are limited to 10 people or fewer to allow more attention from the experienced guides and greater opportunity to canter or gallop, if desired. All of the ranch’s two dozen horses are bred, raised and meticulously cared for on site, with the best selected for riding. English saddles are used for lessons and Western for riding. The trails, perched at the edge of the foothills in the rustic village of Playa Grande, offer a close-up look at the area’s diverse flora and exotic birds, among other natural phenomenon.

In the South Side, two easily accessible booths staffed throughout the day allow visitors meandering around town to arrange for a riding experience in nearby Paso Ancho, an authentic Mexican colonia bordering the sleepy Cuale River. This convenient venue, known as Rider Ranch (228-0889), is a cooperative of 11 individuals, whose horses are assigned alternately, giving each an equal chance for business and also providing the horses with some recuperative downtime.

Rancho Charro (224-0114), owned by an American horsewoman, is another high-profile venue, offering options from a three-hour tropical forest ride to an eight-hour riding adventure through the jungle and Mexican countryside, including brunch and dinner. A special package is available for cruise ship passengers, which includes round-trip transportation.

An important criterion in selecting one of Vallarta’s many horseback-riding venues is one’s level of experience — and personal preference for a slow, nose-to-tail ride on flat terrain, amid many other riders, whose presence seems to lend support, or a solo or small group ride that allows more personal control of the horse and greater opportunity to test one’s true riding skills.

Mexican saddles may take some getting used to, as the “tree,” or seat portion, is made from wood cushioned with felt, as opposed to the metal version covered with padding and finished in leather more familiar to riders outside Mexico. Horse-lovers in search of Mexican-made riding equipment to ship back home can purchase fancy spurs, bits, authentic charro hats and blankets economically in nearby Pitillal at a local tack shop (La Regional Talabarteria, 224-2542).