Winter provides a great time for horsin’ around outside – really, in the saddle.
Horseback riding on the beach or forest trails at this time of year, with some crispy chilly days, might give as much zip to the horse as the person holding the reins.
By 11 a.m. Sunday, five trailers with horses had been driven into Myrtle Beach State Park, which allows horseback riding on the beach daily only from later November through February.
Richard “Buster” Ray, owner of Horseback Riding of Myrtle Beach (997-1876 or wwwmyrtlebeachhorserides.com), brought six horses for three 90-minute guided rides Sunday, each covering about two miles. Titmice and cardinals sang as he saddled up Merlin, an 18-year-old, brown and cream imported Dutch warmblood.
Around his trailer area, the rest of the herd for this day awaited their tack: appaloosas Charlie Brown, 12, and Cocoa, 16; quarterhorses Jake, 8 and Moby, about 14; and Ray’s ride, a Tennessee walker, Mr. Dan, 16.
Ray said with 15 horses at home, none goes for rides more than three days a week, so every equine stays fresh.
Taking them out in this season, May said, “it’s different than the rest of the year.”
He said he sees “two dreams in one” come true with horses on the beach, especially for women, and seeing dolphins in the ocean on almost every ride brings a bonus.
Ray sees horses as “so big to be so gentle,” and “they don’t ask for anything in return.”
Here just for horses
Linda Carvell of Kincardine, Ontario, along Lake Huron, about a four-hour drive northeast of Detroit, said she spends a month every winter camping at Myrtle Beach State Park solely to go horse riding on the beach.
Unable to haul her horses from home for vacations, which would mean boarding them elsewhere, the retired municipal accountant delights in borrowing rides through May’s service, as provided by Merlin to start her Sunday.
The waves and seaside aroma always leave her awestruck, Carvell said, standing in brown and pink cowboy boots as she brushed Merlin’s tail.
The exercise from horse riding also works every part of the body, she said, comparing the balance one has to keep to that of a boat, because swaying and turning, and adjusting to slight angles, comes with the hoofbeats.
She laughed at how a ride on the beach, which might be the first time for some people in the saddle, contrasts so much from her debut mount as a child, to “get on and hold on,” as she helped bridle Jake, easing the bit into his mouth gently.
As each person in the party mounted his or her horse, Ray was last to hop on, and the six-rider caravan was on its way down the beach. He also had advised the group to ride with their feet out, “for good posture and to sit up straight.”
Carvell’s husband, Steve, a retired tool and dye designer for Volvo, goes fishing off the park pier when Linda Carvell goes riding. After he helped with ensuring other riders’ stirrups were the right length and the riders departed, he tidied up outside May’s trailer.
Spending a month at the park, thanks to its’ “Snowbird Coastal 30-Day Camping” special with 50 percent discounts for campers at the S.C. coastal parks, the Carvells will move on to another state park next, he said, grateful for another typical sunny day in winter on the Grand Strand.
“If it’s over 50 degrees, we’re as happy as can be,” Steve Carvell said.
Rendezvous with rescues
Another trailer pulled in, this from LEARN (Livestock and Equine Awareness and Rescue Network) Horse Rescue, a nonprofit based in Ravenel (991-4879 or www.learnhorserescue.com). Their herd for the day, all rescues, comprised an appaloosa and appaloosa mule, as well as a spotted saddlehorse, pony of the Americas and a quarter pony.
Elizabeth Steed from LEARN said she and a group make the two-hour drive from southwest of Charleston twice a month to Myrtle Beach State Park for rides, blending love of horses and the beach.
“It’s a perfect combination,” she said, calling the experience heavenly from the scenery, .
Every time they hit the sand, many beachgoers “run up to us,” Steed said.
Avery Allen, 17, was about to make her first-ever beach ride.
“This is our pilgrimage to a beautiful place,” she said. “It’s going to be the greatest day ever.”
Steed said hopping on a horse at the beach with husband Kelly and bringing friends, they make up a family for the trip.
“We’re not related,” she said, “but we have horses as our common denominator.”
Kelly Steed said they have found many state parks along the East Coast friendly and inexpensive for this “quality time” they share when camping in winter, when they trade television and radio for board games as another pastime.
Hoofbeats on the barony
Hobcaw Barony, just north of Georgetown, has offered “Trail Riding with Your Own Horse” for about five years, said Richard Camlin, senior interpreter at the estate owned and managed by the Belle W. Baruch Foundation, named after its international champion equestrian.
The trail riding is spread in cooler, shoulder seasons, with two dates in spring and autumn each, with registration under way for the next outing, March 9.
Camlin said interest in touring by horseback across the 17,500-acre, historic property with multiple habitats such as forest and marine keeps growing.
Hobcaw also has begun letting groups tour the barony, by invitation, on an “interpretive trail ride,” Camlin said, where a guide will lead a group on horseback, and they board their horses and camp on site.
Working in this kind of tour from the typical round of using a bus and getting out periodically for walks has Camlin expanding his embrace of the land where he lives and the appreciation for how settlers before the 20th century and the automobile age traveled.
“You know you can’t ride a horse six hours a day, two days in a row,” he said, explaining how he and Hobcaw colleagues will build up to this new challenge.
Still, it’s all fun for Camlin, and he sees going slowly on four legs, compared with cruising on four wheels, affording chances to see wildlife otherwise missed from a car or van.
“It’s a neat way to see the property,” he said. “Everyone who has done it loves it.”