Have you always dreamed of riding a horse in the sand, crashing waves thundering in your ears, and the smell of salt water and freedom in the air? Here’s an at-a-glance guide to 10 warm beach-riding destinations, including an annual charity ride in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and a tropical Costa Rica ride. All offer beach-savvy horses as mounts; some allow you to bring your own horse. But first, here are a few tips to follow to stay safe while riding on the beach.
Beach-Riding Safety Tips
Here are three beach-riding safety tips courtesy of Lari Shea of Ricochet Ridge Ranch in Fort Bragg, California.
* Start slow. Beach sand can be very deep and easily strain or sprain a horse’s tendons, so don’t go too fast or too far on your own horse unless he’s not only fit, but also used to going in deep sand.
* Be wave savvy. Even if your horse calmly crosses creeks and puddles, he might be afraid of the ocean waves, especially if the waves are crashing, or there are riptides or an undertow. Horses seem to sense that danger. It’s best to head straight into the water and straight out. If you take your horse into the water broadside, relatively small waves can easily knock him off his feet.
* Watch water depth. Don’t go out where the water is hock deep — when the waves come, the water will be up to his belly. Of course, you should get him used to being around waves over the course of several rides before you actually take him in the water.
Warm Beach Rides
American Heart Association Beach Ride, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. At the annual American Heart Association Beach Ride, participants camp in an oceanfront campground with their horses for four nights and five days while exploring more than 20 miles of pristine Atlantic Coast seashore. Twelve years ago, the Dunaway family participated in the ride. In 2012, Jenny Dunaway Moore’s son was born with a coronary heart defect. Decades of research funded by the AHA made it possible for Noah to have corrective surgery. In 2013, Noah made his first trip to the AHA Beach Ride to celebrate his first birthday and the anniversary of his surgery. This fall, “Team Noah” will join 2,000 other horse enthusiasts for the 35th Annual AHA Beach Ride to be held November 9-13, 2016. Contact: American Heart Association Beach Ride, (843) 282-2911; http://ahabeachride.org.
Discovery Horseback Tours, Costa Rica. Discovery Horseback Tours is owned and operated by British husband-and-wife team Chris and Andrea Wady. Passionate about showing that working horses can be treated with dignity and respect, they set about rescuing and rehabilitating horses, training them with kindness, trust, and patience. Discovery Horseback Tours offers its Tropical Trails tour as a three-day retreat or week-long riding vacation. You’ll ride one of Discovery’s surefooted, bitless, and barefoot horses from towering rainforests and secret waterfalls to deserted beaches, where you’ll gallop along the shore and ride bareback into the Pacific Ocean. Ride dates are available all year. Contact: Discovery Horseback Tours; http://horseridecostarica.com/horsemanship_vacations.php.
Equine Adventures, Hatteras, North Carolina. Equine Adventures offers a two-hour beach ride that explores trails through the only maritime forest on the Outer Banks, including the Buxton Woods, the North Carolina Coastal Reserve, and the National Park Service. The trail exits the woods and through the sand dunes onto the beach, where you’ll ride on miles of pristine beaches. Rides are held during the coolest part of the day to accommodate horses and guests. If you’d like to bring your own horse, Driftwood Ranch nearby offers short-term boarding. Contact: Equine Adventures, (252) 995-44897; www.equineadventures.com. Driftwood Ranch, email@example.com; http://driftwoodranchhorseboardingblogspot.blogspot.com.
Happy Trails Walking Horses, Fernandina Beach, Florida. Ride miles of sun-soaked, white-sand beaches of the 13-mile-long historic Amelia Island, Florida, aboard a smooth-gaited, purebred Tennessee Walking Horse. Not only does Happy Trails Walking Horses breed for the original running walk, conformation, and a calm disposition, but more than half of its horses are direct descendants of the same line as Roy Rogers’ famous Trigger. One-hour beach rides hug the coast of Amelia Island. Each ride begins with a brief but insightful lesson to ensure safety, and more advanced riders who can handle their horses can go at faster gaits. Contact: Happy Trails Walking Horses, (904) 557-3126; www.happytrailswalkers.com.
Horse Back Riding of Myrtle Beach, LLC, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Horseback Riding of Myrtle Beach offers a relaxing and memorable beach ride. While the group stays together, you’ll be able to ride at your own pace. Tour guides are extremely friendly and will add a little southern hospitality to your journey. If you have prior riding experience, you may trot rather than walk. The horses are calm and obedient, and can be led into the shoreline to splash around if you would like. Rides are offered year-round, but the locations change slightly depending on the season. From March 1 through October 31, you’ll ride the equestrian country trails in Conway (about 30 minutes from the beach). From November 1 through February 28, you’ll ride along the coastlines of Garden City Beach and Myrtle Beach. Contact: Horse Back Riding of Myrtle Beach, LLC, (843) 997-1876; http://myrtlebeachhorserides.com.
Pacific Dunes Ranch & RV Resort, Oceano, California. Located on the scenic Pacific Coast near Pismo Beach, this trail riding destination offers guided rides on the famous Oceano Dunes and along the beach. Rides are 1½ hours long. All rides along the beach are escorted. You can camp with your own horse. Overnight boarding is available, along with campsites with full hookups, an arena, and a round pen. Amenities include a large barbeque area, picnic tables, and a clubhouse. Contact: Pacific Dunes Ranch & RV Resort; (805) 489-8100; http://pacificdunesranch.com.
Ricochet Ridge Ranch, Fort Bragg, California. At Ricochet Ridge Ranch, located on the Redwood Coast in California’s Mendocino County, champion endurance rider and horsemanship instructor Lari Shea takes you riding along 10 Mile Beach on her well-trained English and Western mounts. You might find yourself aboard a dressage-trained Russian Orlov cross, a smooth-gaited Akhal Teke cross, a responsive Arabian Horse, or a dream Quarter Horse. Experienced riders enjoy beach canters on private rides. Shea will also take you riding through coastal redwood forests. Go for a day ride by appointment, or sign up for a week-long riding-vacation, and stay at an area bed & breakfast. Contact: Ricochet Ridge Ranch, (888) 873-5777; www.horse-vacation.com.
Sea Island, Sea Island, Georgia. Sea Island offers guests an extensive array of activities to partake in during their stay at the southern oasis. Coastal horseback riding with an expert guide is a not-to-be-missed Sea Island experience. Riders can trot along Sea Island’s five miles of pristine private beach, exploring the ocean/beach habitat of the Georgia coast. Experience a profound sense of freedom and adventure. Sea Island offers tailored experience for any riding level. Rides along the south end of Sea Island beach are available for experienced riders. Contact: Sea Island, (855) 572-4975; www.seaisland.com/outdoor-nature/horseback-riding.
South Padre Island Adventure Park, South Padre Island, Texas. South Padre Island Adventure Park offers a variety of rides exploring beaches, dunes, the gulf, and the bay, astride one of their trail horses. You can go on a 1½-hour morning ride, taking in the peacefulness of the beach before the crowds arrive. Sunset rides allow you to experience the best of the island, as you ride for two hours from the gulf through the pristine sand dunes, to the bay to watch the sunset. Moonlit rides are held the four days leading up to the full moon and the night of the full moon. You’ll ride along a moonlit beach and sand dunes while watching the moon glisten off ocean waves. Contact: South Padre Island Adventure Park, (956) 415-0851; http://southpadreislandadventures.com/horseback-riding.
Two-bit Stable, Port St. Joe, Florida. Two-Bit Stable offers horseback riding on the Cape San Blas beach. All the horses at Two-Bit Stable are patiently trained exclusively for doing beach rides, and are selected for their temperament, dependability, and enjoyment of doing their job. Because county regulations prohibit anything faster than a walk, you’ll enjoy a leisurely ride along the Gulf shore. The laid-back pace will help you notice seashells, sea birds, a colorful sunset, or even dolphins playing in the surf. From September through February, ride times are flexible and can go out for an hour or 1½ hours. Contact: Two-bit Stable, (850) 227-4744; www.twobitstable.com.
Cate Lamm, The Trail Rider’s editorial assistant, is a longtime horse person who owns a rescue horse, Banjo. Read her rescue-horse blog on TrailRiderMag.com.
Kara L. Stewart is a lifelong student of the horse and an award-winning author who enjoys writing for a variety of equine publications. She and her retired Arabian gelding, Final Edition PR (Eddie), live on California's Central Coast. She’s the author of the book,
Advanced Western Riding.