Donna Campbell Smith is an author, freelance writer, and photographer. She has an AAS degree in equine tech and is a certified instructor.
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.
Riding Allowed at Island Beach, NJ
© 2008 Donna Campbell Smith
how-to-make from India on January 31, 2012:
Hmm nice advice and tips. I like this hub about riding on the beach. Thanks for sharing.
Emma on November 29, 2011:
Great tips, thank you. Going for my first beach ride this weekend so your advice will be very helpful. Thank you!
Donna Campbell Smith (author) from Central North Carolina on October 01, 2011:
Thank you! I appreciate your comments so much. Today in NC we're having a lovely cool fall day. Perfect for a ride on the beach or in the mountains - or anywhere!
pia on October 01, 2011:
your tips are just superb
Barbara Anne Helberg from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA on August 09, 2011:
Dogs who like ocean beaches can't drink salt water, either, without getting ill. Salt water is not for animals at all. Surprising that a horse person wouldn't know that from the get-go on the beach, but this hub still has some interesting remarks. Enjoy your riding!
elizabeth from Buncombe County, NC on March 22, 2011:
I used to ride but now, well I'm too old. I'm afraid I will fall off. Thank you for your hub.
westernlifestyle from The Beautiful Pacific Northwest! on August 10, 2010:
I live near the Oregon Coast. Our horses don't like the beach. They are afraid of the ocean, and the sand is very hard to travel in. We usually go once a year - but that isn't enough to let them get comfortable with that big, noisy, funny smelling ocean! So, we don't force them to go in the water. The Oregon coast is very cold, anyway - but beautiful! So, we stick to riding in the mountains most of the time - and they're great up there!
Skin Care Beauty on May 17, 2010:
This is a really interesting Hub. I never thought about all the elements that go into a beach ride. Just figured it would be get up and go. I never realized horses would not drink the water.
myawn from Florida on January 15, 2010:
Most animals don't like to drink salt water I don't think horsee riding on the beach is allowed in my area because of the people on the beach and they are strict on cleaniness.
Donna Campbell Smith (author) from Central North Carolina on July 22, 2009:
Hi Delores, no they can't drink salt water! You either have to plan ahead to camp where there is a fresh water source, or carry your water with you. Some folks have a water tank attached to their horse trailer for that purpose. And there are some horses who will not drink even fresh water away from home and their owners take water with them to horse shows, trail rides, etc.
Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on July 22, 2009:
Horses can get sunburned? Never knew that! Anyway, how could you offer a horse a drink of the water at the beach? I would not think they can drink salt water!
Anyway, lovely hub. It must be wonderful to go riding on a beach. And what a wonderful picture it makes - lovely creatures in a beautiful setting.
ridemyhorse from Newcastle on May 11, 2009:
I think in your last paragraph you hit the nail on the head with what to do after you have ridden your horse on the beach - lots and lots of fresh water and make sure you scrub your tack clean. Found out salt damages tack the hard way.
Donna Campbell Smith (author) from Central North Carolina on March 10, 2009:
I can't imagine anyone would do that, but then you never know. . . .
an educated horse person on March 10, 2009:
Never give your horse ocean water to drink! It's salt water - it will make them dehydrated and very ill!
Donna Campbell Smith (author) from Central North Carolina on November 21, 2008:
Thanks for that tip, LeslyeAnn!
LeslyeAnn from Yoncalla , Oregon on November 19, 2008:
Another thing to pay attention to while riding in the surf, is that you or your horse can experience vertigo if you are watching the water move. The horse can actually fall down. Look up to the horizon and get your horses head up too if this should happen to you.
It can be pretty exciting on the beach..the wind, the smells, the crashing of the waves, children and others who run towards you thinking they can pet your horse.. just keep aware. A beach run can be pretty darn fun, but don't take anything for granted.
Thanks for the great Post!
Lupo from Boston Area on November 19, 2008:
Great info about riding on the beach. I'm sure many people have their interest piqued about doing this once they learn about a place they can ride, but then are not to sure how to prepare or what to be concerned about. This article is a good start on figuring out how to get out there.