It’s beach season for Connecticut horse and dog lovers! From October 1st to March 31st, horses and dogs are allowed on many local beaches to splash in the surf and kick up some sand. Fairfield’s Jennings Beach offers a superb swath of sandbars that during a super low tide give equestrians some awesome gallops. Recently, as I traveled to ride at Jennings, I thought back on my first two beach riding adventures, both on America’s West Coast.
It all began at Pebble Beach when I was 12-years-old. My mother and I took one of those ‘nose-to-tail’ trail rides from the PB Equestrian Center nestled on the Monterey, California coast. We had to cross the 17-Mile Drive, with its stunning views of ragged coastline, wind-blown cypress trees and meandering sandy paths, to access the beach. Our horses, wearing large Western saddles with horns you could cling on to for dear life, were placid and practiced. No riding skills required here. Walking promoted sightseeing and discovery.
The horses’ hooves dusted aside white sand and crushed coastal grasses as we made our way towards the ocean. As we walked along the edge of the manicured golf course, there where green links on my left and the deep blue northern Pacific on my right. To this day, every time I watch the Pebble Beach Classic golf tournament on TV and they switch to the blimp view that pans the course from above, I am instantly brought back to that moment of wonder, when a horse connected me between the land and the sea in a seamless blue-green ribbon.
My next Pacific Coast adventure unfolded during college. One day while at Pepperdine University’s Malibu campus, and missing my horse back home, I noticed a 3×5-inch index card on the student community bulletin board. Scribbled in blue ink was an invitation to go riding on the beach. This 19-year-old was game.
As we walked down a dirt path carved into the bottom of a clay canyon surrounded by shore pines, the aqua waves of Santa Monica Bay came into view and expanded as we reached the coast. We took a right turn, trotted some, and then from behind I heard the horses’ owner say, “Let’s Gallop!” And off we went. Up into my half-seat, my long hair flying behind me almost touching my chestnut-colored chaps which matched my horse’s coat. We galloped North up the beach and into the surf on the hard-packed wet sand. The best footing I’d ever felt. The horse loved it as he grabbed the ground with each lengthening stride. We spent several more hours of exploration among the scrubby brush and sandy cliffs of Malibu that day.
Fast forward several decades. Last month, the beach riding experience came alive for me on the East Coast as I used the park’s picnic table as a mounting block, which is probably against the rules! It was a bright afternoon, unseasonably warm for the end of October. My horse and I headed straight for the surf. We took a right turn and trotted off.
The bright sun coming down at an angle across the water glimmered so brightly I was missing my sunglasses. Each ripple on the water shone like a million strobe lights spread out across the sound.
Then we came upon a flock of seagulls, but it was even bigger than a flock, whatever that might be called, a migration? Like little children spoiling a quiet gathering we raced at them. The gulls shot up towards the sky, and as we rode under them, they enveloped us in a squall, a snowfall of seagulls, swirling around us like a snow globe. While squawking in protest, gulls swooped past looking for a new landing place.
Then we met up with some other horses. They left early and we meandered around the farthest jetty before heading home, to beat the incoming tide. At slack tide we moved into the barely bubbling surf.
Then my riding partner yelled, “You ready? Let’s Boogey!” And off we went at a gallop. Up into my half-seat, smooth strides made rhythmic hoof falls on wet-packed sand.
Yes, I remember, best footing in the world for an awesome gallop! A huge smile spread across my face. The stone-colored sand on my left and the slate blue-grey water of Long Island Sound on my right. Once again, a horse had connected me to the land and the sea in a ribbon of happiness.