and deeper your horse swims, snorting in
contentment as his body becomes buoyant. His legs
instinctively churn the water as if galloping. You
hold the mane tight as his power propels you up and
down like a seahorse.
Swimming with your horse in the ocean doesn't
have to be a fantasy. With the show season finished
and the pesky flies diminishing with the cooler
nights, autumn is the perfect time to plan a day
trip to the ocean.
Indian River Inlet provides the ideal
location. It is part of the Delaware Seashore State
Park located on Route 1, just south of Rehoboth
Beach. Known for its great surf fishing, Indian
River has abundant parking areas, large enough for
Riding is allowed anywhere the four-wheel
drive vehicles access the beach. You cross the
dunes via designated paths.
The park is open all year, but due to the
busy beach season, it is better to ride during the
fall and early spring, when there is more room to
run. Parking is often free after season, and there
is only a nominal out-of-state fee when an
attendant is there.
It is important to bring whatever supplies
you would pack for a horse show, including fresh
water. Travel with a few friends to share the
experience as well as the expense and drive
your horse is groomed and tacked up (even better,
ride bareback), don't forget the sunblock. The
sun's rays reflect off the water and white beach
and although the air may be cool, sunburn can still
occur. If your horse has a white nose, apply
sunblock to it, too.
If this is your horse's first visit, he may
be a little anxious about-the strange surroundings,
even if he is a seasoned show horse. Depending on
your experience and the disposition of your horse,
you may want to hand-walk him on the beach before
Once astride, take your time introducing your
horse to the ocean. If you face the water, he may
think you want him to cross it and he'll balk. When
you ride parallel to the ocean, the waves create an
optical illusion as they break on the shoreline and
pull the sand back in their retreat. Your horse may
prance sideways trying to avoid the waves'
It is better to acclimate him first by riding
on the beach away from the water. Remember to avoid
the sand dunes, especially since your horse may try
to return to the trailer. There are heavy fines for
riding on the dunes and damaging the natural
grasses and wildlife.
Start in the deep sand about halfway between
the dunes and the water. Keep a lookout for trash
and natural debris that may cause injury to your
horse. When you have an open section of sand, free
of other beach lovers and their vehicles, urge your
horse into a trot and then canter.
Don't worry if his power becomes alarming as
he makes huge strides through the deep sand. What's
he going to do, run away to New York? Let him have
his head, rise up in a forward seat position and
I found that horses have difficulty trying to
buck while running in deep sand. I also found that
a lazy lesson horse suddenly has competitive
qualities I never knew he possessed, as a group
will race neck to neck. Like deep snow, deep sand
makes maintaining a two-beat trot difficult; it is
much easier to conquer with a four-beat walk or
In the Water
Once your horse has adapted to the beach runs
and is actually enjoying this different type of
trail ride, introduce him to the water. Leg yield
him closer and closer to the shoreline, and let him
feel the hard-packed sand at a walk and gallop.
As the waves approach, be firm with your leg
commands if he tries to move away from the water.
Let him smell the surf, but don't give in to his
reluctance. Watch out for too much pawing; it often
means the horse will roll!
Some horses welcome the cool water and will
swim in over their heads, especially if they have
had experience swimming in ponds at home. Other
horses, like some people, may not care for the
water and only go in ankle deep.
Words of Warning
A few words of caution: first and foremost,
watch your horse's respiration rate when galloping.
Although it may not be a 90 degree day with 99%
humidity, the workout can tax even the horse that
is in the best condition. When the horse's
breathing becomes labored during a run, sit back
and ask for him to slow down. Remain at a walk
until his respiration and heart rates are more
normal before asking for a gallop again.
Second, unless you like to eat sand, ride
side-by-side. The stronger horses will pull ahead,
but it is better to not be directly behind
Also watch for fishing lines, with or without
the fishermen present. The lines are hard to see
and it is easy to become entangled with them.
Be observant of the other inhabitants. Dogs
may feel compelled to bark at or even chase the
horses. People with bare feet may want to come up
to pet your horse and then get stepped on by a
Remember to cool your horse before loading
him back in the trailer. Hand walk him in the
parking lot and loosen the saddle a little at a
time. Remove the tack and rinse off the salt and
sand from his face with a wet towel. There is no
running water available on the beach, so a hosing
will have to wait for when you arrive home.
Due to the physical stress, this ride isn't
recommended for older horses or those who show
fatigue at home with heavy work.
Also, timid riders should avoid this trip.
The beach is not those who want a quiet excursion,
rather, it is for those who want an