Picture of a girl riding a horse through the surf on a Florida beach

A girl rides a horse through the surf of Palma Sola Bay in Bradenton.

Photograph by Chris Bickford, National Geographic Travel

By Maryellen Kennedy Duckett

Take a walk on the beach to a whole new level by saddling up for a shoreline ride. On horseback, you can see coastal habitats from a whole new perspective. See and feel the water splashing below, breathe in the refreshing salt air, and scan the tide pools and shallow areas for marine life. And, if you're game, go for a swim with your saltwater steed.

Kelly Seahorse Ranch, Amelia Island State Park

Jim and Kelly Robinson's family-owned Kelly Seahorse Ranch is tucked away in a secluded, maritime forest preserve in Amelia Island State Park. A private riding trail leads from the ranch, through the palm trees, and over the dunes to the Atlantic shoreline. "There simply is no other horseback ride like it," says Kelly, who, along with Jim, accompanies guests on every five-mile beach ride. "Everyone rides our family's gentle horses, [which] we train, live with, and know, making it easy to choose a horse well-suited to each guest." The guided, one-hour excursions are walk-only—no galloping through the waves—to respect both the pristine, natural environment and non-riding beachgoers. Even though the horses slosh along the shore at a leisurely pace, this is still a physical, outdoor activity. Riders must be at least 13 years old and be physically able to mount and dismount a horse without assistance. Reservations are required, but prior riding experience is not. "If you're not a horse person, you may dream of riding on the beach but think that experience is out of reach. It's not," says Kelly. "Most of our riders are complete beginners."

Rockin M Ranch, Cape San Blas

"We ride on the ‘forgotten coast' of Cape San Blas, which has sandy white beaches and breathtaking water views that never will be forgotten," says Julie McMillian, owner of Rockin M Ranch. McMillan trailers her horses directly to beachfront Salinas Park, where guests saddle up to ride along the Gulf shore. In warm weather, McMillan typically schedules rides in the evening to help keep horses and riders as cool and comfortable as possible. Beach riding is offered year-round by reservation only, and no experience is required.

BeachHorses, Palma Sola Bay, Bradenton

Thanks to former polo player Timothy Mattox, owner of BeachHorses, Bradenton is the birthplace of HorseSurfing, which, despite the name, does not require horses to hang four hoofs on a surfboard. "Local horse owners have been swimming their horses and riding on the beach at Palma Sola Bay for over 50 years," says Mattox, who has been "surfing" on his polo ponies for more than ten years. "If you weigh less than 150 pounds and want to try HorseSurfing, our guides can teach you how to stand on your horse in the water. It's an authentic ‘old Florida' experience you're not going to find anywhere else." Each HorseSurfing trip begins with a warm-up beach ride along palm-lined Palma Sola Bay. From there, a guide personally leads each horse-and-rider surf team into the middle of the bay, about 200 to 300 yards offshore. The horse swims, the riders get completely soaked, and the most adventurous water cowboys attempt to stand up on the horse's back and "surf." The 1:1 trainer-horse ratio means Mattox is safely able to accommodate HorseSurfers ages three and up. The experience tends to sell out up to three weeks in advance, so make reservations early.

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