“Hay-Days” On The Beach

The couple has hosted birthday parties, family reunions, and even romantic engagement trips, where men have dismounted their mare and on bended knee proposed. Visitors of various ages and riding expertise have come from throughout the United States and abroad to ride horses on the beach.

“We meet a lot of European travelers. It’s very popular with people from Germany,” adds Colleen.

What It Takes

A number of details go into making sure a local government and a private tour operator have a successful partnership. In addition to providing riders with the right equipment, the company must also make sure it has the proper amount of liability insurance.

The most important aspect about providing horseback riding, whether it’s on the beach or at a nature preserve, is making sure riders have the right amenities, such as adequate parking for horse trailers and vehicles, potable water, hitching posts, and restrooms.

County Tourism Coordinator Charlotte Lombard, who oversees the program on the county’s end, adds that the location needs to be large and isolated enough where beachgoers and horseback riders can co-exist.

“It is also a bonus if the beach has more than one access path so you can designate one of them for horses. This way, beachgoers don’t have to share a path with the horses because not everybody is a horse person,” explains Lombard.

One major concern county officials have in allowing horses on the beach is making sure the native habitat and wildlife are protected. St. Lucie County is one of the most popular nesting grounds for threatened and endangered sea turtles along Florida’s east coast.

To ensure the program is structured to prevent any disturbance, county officials work closely with the state and federal environmental agencies when establishing policies and procedures.

Additionally, informative signage that includes the program’s rules and regulations are posted at all access points and in the staging area.

Drawing Visitors

Horseback riding on the beach isn’t limited to reserving a $40 ride with the Hayeses. Anyone owning a horse can purchase a permit through the county tourism office and gallop their steed down the coastline.

The county currently has 35 individual active permits, with a majority of these from people outside of the county. Lombard is working to launch an advertising/marketing campaign geared toward equestrian communities to increase the number of permit holders throughout the state.

“We hope to partner with hotels and boarding houses to create a package for visitors with their horses,” adds Lombard.

The cost of an annual permit for riding on the beach is $50 for county residents and $200 for non-county residents, which allows for four riders per month (one Saturday, one Sunday, and two weekdays). Permit holders are required to call 48 hours in advance to reserve a riding time so the county can better manage how many horses are on the beach at one time.

An added benefit of having permitted horseback riders on the beach, explains Lombard, is they can “serve as watch dogs.”

“Riding a horse on the beach is a very unique and special experience for horse owners. It is also usually a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ and memorable experience for many visitors to the area,” says Lombard.

“Any major environmental infractions or breaking of the rules and regulations could potentially threaten or worse, eliminate the program. Therefore, reporting any abuse or misconduct by permit holders or non-permit holders is encouraged.”

Scared Of The Waves

Yet, just because one can lead a horse to the ocean, it doesn’t mean the horse will walk into the water.

“One of the biggest things we find is that most horses don’t like the water, or they are scared of the waves,” says Colleen. “We spend quite a bit of time getting our horses used to the ocean.”

St. Lucie County is conveniently located on Florida’s east coast between West Palm Beach and Orlando. Equestrian enthusiasts find a variety of horseback riding experiences there, from rustic routes similar to the “Old Florida Cracker Trail” to trails along sandy, coastal ridges with saltwater breezes.

In the past year, the county’s Environmental Resources Department has taken steps to improve the trails and add equestrian amenities to several of its nature preserves. In addition to expanding parking areas to accommodate trailers and making trails wider, the staff has added water and wash stations and paddocks to make several preserves more equine-friendly.

Erick Gill is the public information officer for St. Lucie County, Fla. While he wholeheartedly enjoys riding horseback on the beach, he prefers to be at the beach with his dive gear and a lobster tickle stick.

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