If you are lucky enough to live within riding distance of one of the UK’s fabulous beaches, you are quite possibly already a keen beach rider, and riding on the beach can be one of the best experiences that you can enjoy with your horse. Even if you don’t live close enough to ride to the beach, many areas of the UK have a safe and suitable beach for riding within an hour or two’s drive away, which may be feasible to ride on if you own your own a lorry or trailer or can club together with some friends to hire one for the day. If riding on the beach has always appealed to you and you’re finally in the position to be able to take your own horse to the sea but are not sure where to begin, read on to find out more.
Understandably, the height of summer can often seem like the most appealing time to take your horse to the beach, however, the chances are that a significant number of non-riding families will have decided to spend the day there as well! While there are not as many formal restrictions placed on riding on beaches as there are about taking dogs to the beach, nevertheless, many beaches will have rules about whether or not horses are allowed onto the sand, and when. Also, even if no restrictions are in place, it is not a good idea to take your horse to a busy beach at the height of the season when there will be lots of tourists around enjoying the weather- both for your benefit and theirs. Riding on the beach outside of peak season, such as early spring, autumn and the not so cold months of the winter may be a better idea, as is planning to go in the early morning or evening when less people will be around. Don’t forget to check the tide tables too, as you won’t be able to ride on the beach if the sea is crashing against the sea wall!
Before you plan your day on the sand, first you must find a suitable beach to ride on. Not only does this mean one that will allow horses and is not going to be too busy, but you will also need to make sure that the beach you are planning on visiting is safe and suitable for your horse. Talk to other riders for advice on suitable beaches for riding on, and also, take a trip out there without your horse first.You will need to check that the surface of the beach is suitable, not too rocky or covered in sharp debris, and is composed of firm sand when the tide is out across most of the area that you will be riding on. You should be on the lookout for any permanent obstructions, and check that the beach is not badly littered with abandoned debris. Also, you will need to ensure that the beach has access to get your horse on and off the sand easily available, as well as having a suitable spot to park your trailer or lorry, if appropriate.
When you have planned your trip and arrived at the beach, it is important to walk down to the sand before you ride your horse down and check again to assess the safety of going ahead with your ride. If there are too many people about, lots of debris, the tide is in or coming in or there are other risks involved, you must be prepared to ride elsewhere and try again another day. Try to have a plan ‘b’ in place for an alternative ride if the beach turns out to be unviable on the day, so that you don’t have a completely wasted journey.
Whether or not you can or should ride in the sea itself is up to you to decide, bearing in mind a variety of factors. If the weather is cold and the sea is cold, you should not take your horse into the water. Find out about the water quality, and any potential underwater hazards before you consider riding in the sea. Paddling in the sea and splashing about can be fun, but not all horses will take to it, so don’t push them. Keep an eye out for hazards and potentially strong currents or tides if you are planning to take your horse in any further than ankle deep.Also, bear in mind that the salt water is going to affect your tack, so you might not want to take leather tack, particularly a saddle, into the water. You will also have to thoroughly treat and clean your tack to protect it from the effects of the salt once you get home.
Most riders and horse owners will be familiar with at least one horse or pony that automatically goes bombing off or breaks into a gallop once they hit a certain area or various areas of open ground on their regular rides. This is normally caused by their long term or previous rider always galloping them and encouraging them to open up in the same place or area, and schooling their horse (whether deliberately or not) to take off when they get to a certain point. It is important not to do this on the beach with your horse- do not teach your horse that as soon as you hit the sand, all systems are go. Having fun and playing about with your horse on the beach is fine, but remember your schooling and don’t let your horse start to get into bad habits.
Be careful not to let your horse get too tired on the beach, as walking on a surface like sand requires more effort and places more strain on the muscles than riding on a firm surface. Ensure that you don’t overstretch your horse, leading to any strains or sprains.Check the legs and the hoofs carefully when you come off the beach, for any impacted debris, scrapes, cuts, swellings or hot spots. You will also need to rinse the sand and salt water from your horse’s legs and any other areas that have got wet, as well as drying them off. You may need to bathe your horse properly with warm water and shampoo after you return home.Make sure that you cool your horse down thoroughly after your ride, and before loading them back into your lorry or trailer. Always take fresh water with you, and offer this before you travel back.Finally, don’t forget to check your tack and equipment when you get home, and clean and protect any leather tack to prevent damage from the salt water.Have fun!