“Hay-Days” On The Beach

St. Lucie County in Florida has a long history with horses. Fort Pierce, the county seat, is still the final stop of the Florida Cracker Trail–a 120-mile route that was traditionally used to move cattle horses across the Sunshine State.

A horseback ride on the beach is an exciting way to explore the waterfront.

Every year in the first full week of February, dozens of riders set out on horseback from Bradenton, riding east 15-20 miles a day, until they reach the seaside town of Fort Pierce to commemorate Cracker Cowboys and preserve Florida’s horse and cattle heritage.

But you don’t have to wait until the end of the Cracker Trail Ride to see horses in Fort Pierce. Every Saturday and Sunday, just a few miles south of the city limits, you can find as many as a dozen horses strolling down a secluded section of the county’s 21 miles of sandy beaches.

For the past 18 years, Alan and Colleen Hayes, owners of Tours on Horseback, have been partnering with the county to offer this unique equestrian experience.

The couple’s maiden ride was in the early 1990s with the five-member board of county commissioners and several key county staff members, “and they all loved it.”

“Rarely will you find an area that allows horses on the beach,” explains Colleen, who grew up riding horses on the three-mile stretch of beach known as Fredrick Douglass Memorial Park.

“We are very fortunate that St. Lucie County has kept this area as a pristine beach and not allowed overdevelopment.”

For decades the county has allowed equestrian enthusiasts to bring their horses to the beach park to ride. Hayes grew up riding her horse along the water’s edge and decided it would make the perfect tourist attraction.

“We have people that will drive four hours to come here and ride for an hour on the beach,” says Colleen.

“We also have people that will call and ask if we have any reservations open for their vacation 10 to 12 months out and say ‘If you’re not available, I’m going to change my vacation.’”

Katelyn Wilson of West Palm Beach spent a Saturday morning riding one of the Hayes’ horses down the beach. The 12-year-old and her mother, along with her mother’s four friends, are all avid riders, but they made the hour-long drive to experience something different.

“It’s a lot different being able to ride on the beach,” says Wilson. “That’s why we came up here.”

The Hayeses own more than a dozen quarter horses and trailer them from their ranch in the western part of the county to the beach. They typically ride with a group of six to 10 riders with two guides. Groups get a quick lesson on steering their steeds, and then they set off for the three-mile ride.

Saddle up for a new parks experience.

One of the biggest benefits to providing these unique tours, says Colleen, is meeting new people and seeing their expressions in experiencing the unique opportunity to ride an 800-pound animal down the beach as the saltwater breezes blow through their hair.

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