An article by Mark Rogers for USA Today.
The simple act of getting up on a horse has some magic to it. British author Pam Brown described the feeling with grace when she wrote, “A horse is the projection of peoples’ dreams about themselves — strong, powerful, beautiful — and it has the capability of giving us escape from our mundane existence.” All true enough: Make that a horseback ride saddle-deep through the blue Caribbean Sea and you have an image straight out of a dream.
As dreamlike as it may seem, Caribbean horseback rides in the sea have become a reality and one of the most popular pursuits for vacationers at a range of Caribbean islands.
Cruzan Cowgirls Horseback Riding Tours on the island of St. Croix started as Cruzan Cowgirls Horse Rescue. The riding tours were developed to help fund the rescue effort, which so far has come to the aid of over 50 neglected and abused horses.
“Our tours go into the water, so it’s a good idea to wear clothes you don’t mind getting wet,” advised Jennifer Olah, founder and owner of Cruzan Cowgirls Horseback Riding Tours. “On St. Croix, our beaches are not heavily used, so there are many times that only our horses and riders are on the beach. Horses love the water, so it’s a fun experience for the horses as well.”
Olah has some tips for riders. “Take along a small backpack with mosquito spray, sunscreen and a bottle of water, pack a camera, and take precautions to protect your electronic devices.”
One point may be obvious, but should still be mentioned, since many riders will be coming from all-inclusive resorts, where the open bars dispense alcohol freely. “Some tourists might be nervous if this is their first ride, and may decide to have a drink or two to relax,” noted Olah. “It’s best to avoid this as it can make it more difficult to keep your balance.”
Also, as embarrassing as it might be, riders should be honest about their weight, since some operators observe weight limits. It’s also important for riders to be upfront about their experience level; this will allow staff to match riders with the horse that suits them best.
Stephen O’Day brings an extra level of authenticity and a fascinating backstory to his horseback riding operation on St. Croix, Equus Rides. O’Day grew up on a dairy farm in Ireland, where horses were part of his daily life. He then immigrated to the U.S. as a Roman Catholic priest working in South Florida. From there he headed west to live the life of a cowboy on a Texas ranch. The final move was to St. Croix, where he’s lived for more than 25 years, building up the successful horseback riding operation.
Equus Rides concentrates on trails that explore St. Croix’s north shore. In addition to a beach component, the rides include a stop at a hilltop sugar mill with beautiful views of the sea. If a rider is game, Stephen is well-known for guiding them through the process of standing on horseback in the sea. Equus Rides has horses for all riding levels and can accommodate novices to the most advanced riders.
Island Routes Caribbean Adventure Tours offers horseback rides and swim adventures on Jamaica and St. Lucia. In Jamaica, riders have the option to combine their horseback ride with ziplining and river kayaking. In St. Lucia, expert riders have the option to canter separately.
Tropical Trail Rides is located in Isabela, the westernmost town on Puerto Rico’s northern coast. While they offer day rides, they’re especially well-known for evening rides along the sandy beaches of Isabela and through several nearby trails.
Provo Ponies Riding Stable can be found on the island of Providenciales, the major island in the Turks & Caicos Islands. There’s a heartwarming component to the Provo Ponies story. On Grand Turk, another island in the Turks and Caicos, there were many abandoned or neglected horses. “Most of them are descendants of the horses brought by the Bermudian saltrakers in the 1700s and some were imported from the States to pull carriages in the last 10 years,” explained Camille Slattery, owner of Provo Ponies Riding Stable. “Over the last 12 years we’ve brought many underweight and overworked horses from Grand Turk to Providenciales and nurtured them back to being healthy, happy working horses.”
A typical Provo Ponies ride meanders down back roads and trails about a mile to the beach. “The horses love to walk at least shoulder-deep in the water so you will get wet up to about mid-thigh at least,” said Slattery. “If you are an experienced rider and booked your ride at low tide when the beach is firm we will take you on a canter down the beach while the less experienced riders stay with another guide walking in the water.”
Provo Ponies will soon be adding a trail that combines horseback riding with history, by taking riders through plantation ruins from the late 1700s.