Beauty and the Beach – A Little Adventure
Oh, to be on the beach riding a horse . . . a cool, salt breeze on your face, firm sand beneath your horse’s hooves, blue sky melting into a perfectly azure ocean, it truly is beauty from every angle . . . and then there’s the traffic, the people and the waves – all “bugaboos” that can turn the experience of a lovely ride at the beach into an unexpected adventure.
My friend Beverly recently invited me to ride along with her at the Pismo Dunes Natural Preserve. Her horses, “Freedom” and “Carrera”, both Rocky Mountain horses who are seasoned beach goers and experienced trail horses, are familiar with this particular ride. We started out on the dunes trail and traveled up and down the hills in the deeper sand until we exited with a perfect view of the beach and the ocean. It was lovely and easy, yet even the most seasoned trail horse can be rattled by some of the things that are commonplace on our beautiful beaches.
It was Spring Break somewhere in California, as there was more traffic and people on the beach than usual that day. Right off, we noticed a truck pulling a large, open, rattling trailer which takes people to the Oceano Dunes State Recreational Vehicle Area coming our way at a good clip.
We paused as he slowed his vehicle down and finished passing. Beverly and I looked at each other and remarked how close we had just come to losing control and how happy we were to have remained mounted. We stayed put for a while, caught our breath and let our racing hearts slow.
Three Bugaboos on a Beach Ride
Soon we were off – gaiting down the beach – perhaps slightly more alert than usual. This little escapade got me thinking about three “bugaboos” one might encounter on a beach ride, especially at the Pismo Dunes Natural Preserve, where we, as equestrians, share the “road” with so many other things.
Bugaboo #1 – Traffic
Sharing the beach with vehicles brings a dimension of the unexpected. Horses have the right of way, but the laws of physics are still applicable – a vehicle will hurt you and your horse if either one of you are not paying attention. Riders must be aware of what is coming from behind as well as in front. Don’t expect any driver to drive cautiously – slow could still be speeding and unsafe for a horseback rider.
Most of the vehicles traveling on the sand are large, noisy trucks – many with rattling trailers attached. In addition, stationary vehicles may seem harmless until you pass by one where the air is being let out of the tires – *hiss* – not a horse’s favorite sound. Just be prepared by taking a bit more feel on the reins and sit up in preparation for sudden bolting.
Bugaboo #2 – People
All kinds of people enjoy the beach every day for different activities, be it surfing, fishing, jet-skiing, kite-boarding, building sand castles with buckets, etc. People do strange (as viewed by horses mostly, but sometimes to us too) and unusual things. Horses can’t immediately make sense of a walking board or a flying kite, or even the sound of a jet skier. Horses need assurance in these situations, so sit up and ride confidently and with a purpose.
Fishing poles have invisible lines cast into the sea that could easily entangle anyone or anything passing between the poles and the waves. If you see someone with a pole, go behind and don’t attempt to stay in the surf line.
Lastly, when you bring a horse to the beach, you’ll immediately experience a sense of being a “local celebrity”, as people smile and wave, kids scream and point, dogs bark, and people raise their cameras to catch a snapshot of a “horse and the ocean”. Sometimes you may have to ask people to give you and your horse some space, especially children who like to chase after a horse as it goes by.
Bugaboo #3 – Waves
Waves can be scary things to horses. White, frothy, fast moving, cold water coming up the shore can cause a horse to jump, back-up or rear. Approach the waves head-on and patiently wait for your horse to become comfortable with the movement, color and temperature before asking for the horse to move even further into the surf. Sit up and be ready to reassure your mount that all is well.
While riding along the surf line, some horses who are comfortable with the water may still experience a sense of vertigo as the waves move in and out beneath them. Remember, your horse is heavy, and the sand is wet, so as the water goes in and out, what seems like hard packed sand can become soft and cause a horse to stumble, sway or even trip over himself. Be ready for this.
Big piles of dark seaweed may look like “monster hiders” to your suspecting equine friend. Again, ride confidently and purposely past the seaweed piles to assure your mount that there really is “nothing to see here”.
The beach is a beautiful and fun place to ride, but one must consider the suitability for the horse; it’s not a place for every horse or a beginner rider. In order to fully enjoy a beach ride, consider the time of year and perhaps stay away during high traffic times such as major holidays. Early mornings and late afternoons are usually best. You can still enjoy a great ride during high traffic volume, but be prepared to deal with the traffic.
Every beach visit will have people and waves. Just be prepared, sit-up and ride confidently and keep good contact on those reins. If you’re prepared and you have a good horse plus a steady hand, the beach can provide you with a riding experience that you won’t find anywhere else. There are few places in this country where you can experience this; lucky us, we have easy access right here in SLO County.
In closing…as Beverly and I made our way back toward the trailer, the driver of the rattling contraption appeared again, but this time he made eye contact and drove quite slowly as he passed us by – thank goodness for small favors! We are blessed to have beach access in our own SLO County backyard.
Photos by Sharon Jantzen
Get Going! Explore the wonder and beauty of the SLO County trails from the best place on earth, the back of a horse. To keep this info at your fingertips we have developed a FREE Hot Sheet that will direct you to a few trail ride stories. We’ll continue to add trail ride stories to our website. You can stay up-to-date by becoming a SLO Horse News herd member. Get your Riding the SLO County Trails Hot Sheet here >.