Oh, we do love to be beside the seaside. And if there’s a horse involved, even better — there is nothing more invigorating than whipping up the sands as you gallop across stunning British shores.
Long sandy stretches are great for building up fitness levels and slow work in shallow water can encourage a horse to flex his joints and build muscle tone and strength. But while the sand and water that’s laid out invitingly before you looks heaven-sent, the beach environment is unpredictable and conditions can change in the blink of an eye, so caution and respect is required.
If you are lucky enough to have a beach near you and you know that riding is permitted, the first thing to ascertain is whether there is a restriction on the days and times you can be there. Many beaches operate a relaxed policy during the off-season, but, in spring and summer, limit access for horses to the first hours of the morning and late in the evening.
It is also important to check the tide times before you go. Tides can come in very quickly and catch you unawares, cutting off your route from the beach. Timetables are available online, from the council and often local shops.
Having planned your visit and arrived at the beach, you may find that your normally relaxed, mellow-tempered steed suddenly develops racehorse tendencies when his feet hit the sand. This is perfectly normal, so be prepared. It is often windy and the atmosphere is stimulating and very different.
Plan your route carefully. Sand will vary in texture and depth — it may be harder closer to the water and softer further away, but that is not always the case. Sandbanks can go from hard to soft in less than a stride, especially on estuaries, and deep, soft or very hard sand can cause injury to horses, especially when going at speed.
If you want to canter or gallop, it is really important to walk or trot the beach beforehand to check the surface and then follow your hoof prints back in the opposite direction. Be aware of holes in the sand and streams running across to the sea. Streams may be deep or cause soft patches that you will need to jump over.
If you do your research, map your route and stick to your plan, then beach riding is a great way to let off steam, build your horse’s fitness and ride somewhere different.
For some of the best beach rides in Britain, head to:
Some of these require special permits, so check before travelling. And don’t forget to head to Northumberland for a seal-spotting beach ride.