Horseback Riding on the Beach
You have seen the photographs of a beautiful horse galloping down the beach, mane and tail flying in the wind, ridden by a beautiful lady whose long hair is doing the same. The waves splash glistening droplets of water around the flashing hooves, the sun is shining, and you can almost hear the seagulls. Horseback riding on the beach can be a wonderful experience, or it can be a miserable one if you and your horse are not prepared.
Not all Horses Can Swim
Tips for Horseback Riding on the Beach
Before you plan your ride be sure that horseback riding is allowed, and when you find a place that has bridle trails stick to the trails. Most coastal areas have strict rules that are designed to prevent beach erosion. Riding on dunes is usually forbidden. Contact park services ahead of time to find out where you can park your trailer and ride. Also ask about the park’s hours. Some parks allow riding in off seasons but not in summer where people are sunbathing and swimming. In addition there may be areas off limits because they are wildlife sanctuaries, such as bird or sea turtle nesting areas.
Remember - safety first! Always wear an approved safety helmet. You may thing sand will be a soft landing if you fall, but it doesn't mean a thing if you land head first and get a head or spinal injury.
I learned on my first beach ride my horse would not drink the water! Horses can be pretty picky about water that has a distinct odor unlike that at home. You would think if they were thirsty enough they would drink whatever is offered them, but that is not the case with many horses.
So, pack in your own water. One way to pack in water is to buy five-gallon plastic gas cans to hold the water. Some people have success “tricking” their horses into drinking water away from home by putting Vicks on their nostrils so they don’t smell the water. But my horses never fell for that trick.
Be sure your horse is in good physical condition before taking it to the beach to ride. Shannon Hoffman is a seasoned trail rider. She cautions riders that horses not used to working hard will tire easily going in deep sand. It can also put a strain on the horse’s tendons. Riding near the surf is somewhat easier on the horse’s legs since wet sand is firmer.
Another thing that may surprise you the first time you take your horse to the shore is the horse’s reaction to waves washing the sand from under their hooves. Many horses will panic at that sensation and refuse to go. Think about it – the horse’s best defense is the ability to run away from danger. If he feels like he has lost the control of his feet then that is scary. I don’t know any way to acclimate your horse to riding in the surf, but to ride in the surf. Nothing else really feels the same. But a seasoned trail horse that has learned to trust you in all situations will probably feel less panicky that a younger, inexperienced horse.
In addition, do not assume your horse can or will swim in the ocean. Not all horses can swim, and it is much different than swimming in still water. Shannon says she rides with tack on until she is sure the horse is okay with the waves sucking the sand and water from under their feet. Then she takes off the tack and goes out deeper, beyond the breakers (knowing her mount can swim if it gets toppled off its feet by a swell) She warns that if the horse does get pushed off its feet by a swell, or if you get washed off your horse to push yourself away from the horse so you don’t get pulled under or toppled by the horse swimming over you. Of course, don’t do this if you can’t swim!
If you come upon surf fishermen be respectful and go behind them so you do not get tangled in their fishing lines. Another thing beach riders are likely to encounter is traffic. Yes, these days many beaches are practically like highways with four-wheel drive vehicles coming and going. Be aware because traffic rules do not seem to apply on the beach and sometimes it is hard to predict what path these trucks and SUVs are going to take.
Shannon suggests if you want to gallop down the beach like in the movies to walk the distance first to be sure you won’t mix up with beach walkers or fishermen, then let your horse run back. She also warns riders to keep an eye out for holes children dig in the sand.
Sunburn, for you and your horse is another concern. There are several products on the market with sunscreen for horses. Some are mixed with fly repellents and others are solely for the purpose of protecting the horse from sunburn. You can use your own sunscreen on the horse, paying particular attention to the muzzle area, which is less protected from exposure since less hair grows in that area.
After the ride is over wash the salt water off your horse and clean it off your tack as soon as possible. Give your horse a good rubdown, fresh water and some hay to munch. He deserves some extra TLC for giving you a day of fun at the beach.