Holiday Photos: Horse Riding on the Beach, Victoria
A great escape from the everyday
One thing that always seems to crop up on my wish list of holiday experiences is riding a horse on the beach. I have been lucky enough to do this a couple of times now. Recently when I travelled down to Warrnambool on the south west coast of Victoria, I was thrilled to find there was a local stable which offered beach trail rides. This time I could share the horse riding experience with my son, who had never ridden before.
Image Credit: all images are Â© Frances: Ordinary Woman Press P/L
The only thing you need ... - ... apart from a sense of balance
The scenery is so gorgeous that you will want to get some photos as you ride. Bring along a small camera, one that can be tucked into a pocket or under a shirt front. You will need a neckstrap to ensure you don't drop the camera while you are riding. If you have your camera on a wrist strap, the camera will bang against the horse's shoulder.
When you ride, your hands are occupied with the reins. You need a camera you can operate with one hand, so you can keep one hand on the reins.
You want a small, light camera that will bang around on a neck strap, especially when you go for a trot or a canter. This Nikon one will take amazing, high resolution pictures of your ride, and you can use it one-handed.
Riding on the track to the dunes
We began our adventure by leaving the stables and riding down a fenced farm road which was really a tractor track between fields. At the end of the track lay the beach dunes.
Riding through marshland
Leaving the farm, and before we reached the rise of the dunes, we rode through an area where the fields to either side of the track were low-lying. Recent heavy rains had turned this area into a marsh for local birdlife.
Even though we were only a couple of minutes from a major highway, it was incredibly peaceful. The only sounds to be heard were those of the birds and the horses as they placidly moved along.
Riding along the back of the dunes
The dunes at the beach stretch high, and go all the way along this particular beachfront and protect the farmland beyond from the worst of the ocean winds. There are tracks through the dunes at low points, but even using these trails, we had to ride along the back of the dunes and uphill before we reached the trail that cut through the dunes and took us onto the beach.
First sight of the ocean from horseback
When we reached the top of the dunes, we had an amazing view. The Great Southern Ocean stretched before us as far as you could see.
Down the dunes to the beach
We rode from the crest of the dunes down the other side, through a narrow trail with sand packed high on either side. This part of the trail was shadowed, twisty and the high sand walls deadened sound, so suddenly emerging onto the beach with the waves crashing vigorously and loudly just a few metres in front of us was startling!
Seeing a whale was memorable, but I think the afternoon we spent riding was more fun.
We ambled along the beach mostly in single file, then broke apart and those who were game tried going for a trot.
After that we had a photo session, with the riding leaders jumping off their horses and taking photos of the participants with their own cameras and mobile phones.
The fun part!
Now we got to the fun part. The leaders broke the group into two, with one leader taking the more experienced riders for a canter along the beach, while the less experienced riders stayed together for a stately (or wobbly!) trot.
About half the group rode off for a canter. Normally I'd have gone with them, but this time I was keeping an eye on my son who was riding solo for the first time.
What is it like to ride on the beach?
There is something about riding along a beach that feels immensely free. Part of it is being on horseback, and feeling the strength of the animal; part of it is the wind in your hair and the sound of the waves and the sea birds. Maybe part of it is the absence of limits as you look out to sea, the sight of unending ocean. Whatever it is, even riding in a group, I find it a bit magical.
Getting ready to ride back to the stables
After riding along the beach and back, and with the last photos taken, we gathered to ride back to Rundell's Farm. As we gathered, the wind whipped the salt spray off the incoming tide and created a lovely ghostly look over the beach, even though it was barely mid-afternoon and briliantly sunny!
Riding back through the dunes
We took a different route back through the dunes. With the wind at our backs, we started out moving well. But part of the climb was very steep, and as you can imagine, the horses were puffing before we got to the top.
Rest stop on the ride back
Just over the top of the sand dunes, we stopped at a lookout to gather the group and rest the horses. The view across the farmlands behind the beach was splendid, with the cloud shadows chasing across the fields below us.
More trails back to the farm
Then we took off for a single file ride through a narrow winding trail with sand walls as high as the horses shoulders, and with scrubby dense bushes which blocked our line of sight.
This trail twisted back on itself a couple of times, but the bushes were so high and dense that you couldn't see the lead horses through the bushes. Just a flicker of movement through the scrub told you that the trail was looping back as it wound down towards the track through the marsh and back to the stables.
Lots of goofy grins, stretching of legs and comments along the lines of "That was great!" followed back at the stables.
Would you like to try riding on the beach?
Firstly, all the horses are really quiet, easy-going and used to all kinds of riders, so you don't have to be frightened of them. So with that scary factor out of the way, what do you think? Is this for you?
Would you like to go for a ride on the beach?
Summary: The essential info
Can you go riding on the beach if you haven't ridden a horse before?
Rundell's Mahogany Trail Rides operates out of a farm less than 10 minutes drive from the city centre of Warrnambool.
With steady, quiet horses of all sizes, Rundell's provide your boots and helmets. Staff ride with each group to make sure everyone has a safe and enjoyable experience.
My son had been on pony rides where he was led around on horseback, but he had never been in control of a horse before. The staff assured me they would put him on a quiet horse, and sure enough, he was given a part Clydesdale to ride. If you think that's a big horse, well, a pure breed Clydesdale is, yes. But one that is a half breed and crossed with something much smaller makes for an extremely placid, bombproof pony.
With a quick how-to on steering, starting and stopping, he was ready to go.
The ride takes you through the back of the Rundell's property to the sand dunes, and you navigate trails through the dunes to reach an stunningly beautiful stretch of ocean beach.
The group breaks up into two when you reach the sand, with novice riders doing a slower-paced trail ride - walking and trotting - along the beach, while more experienced riders have the chance to stretch their horses into a exhilarating canter.