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Apr 14 2011

Harnessing nature

by Kristin Hackler

It didn’t seem real until we crested the top of a dune on the narrow horse trail just off of Oyster Catcher Road on Seabrook Island. The wind was whipping through the tops of the sea oats, brushing the white tops of the waves back like wisps of fine hair. My horse didn’t even hesitate on the awkward slope, taking the deep, slipping sand as a matter of course. The rest of our crew was just as in awe of our surroundings, and as the glint of hard pack sand came into view, a rush of excitement and a touch of fear coursed through me. I was about to ride a horse on the beach, and not just ride, canter – a quick, three beat gait which ranges in speed from 10 to 17 miles per hour. In the back of my head, a nagging little voice kept reminding me that the last time I rode that fast for longer than a minute or two was back in 1996, and even then I wasn’t the most spectacular equestrian. But I was in good company. Three of our team were experienced riders, and another – my mom – spent her childhood around horses and for her it was like getting back on a beautiful, breathing, dappled bike with an appetite for carrots. I looked over at them and couldn’t help but smile at the wide grins on each of their faces. The beach was calling, and I wasn’t about to miss out on this opportunity just because I had butterflies in my stomach.

Our guide and Seabrook Equestrian Center Manager, Benjamin Doyle, must have a strong sense of intuition, because he picked each of our mounts perfectly. My riding partner, Danny, is an auburn quarter horse with a healthy share of spirit, and he was perfectly comfortable on the beach. His transition from walk to canter was incredibly smooth – one minute we were walking lazily along the high tide line and the next we were rocketing down the shoreline, the thin film of receding waves like polished steel beneath us.

It was the first day of 80+ degree weather on the islands, and beach walkers were already out in force. Some brave children were boldly flinging themselves into the waves, squealing as the chilly water splashed against them. On approaching a group of beach visitors we slowed to a comfortable walk and grinned and waved as vacationers looked up at our horses in happy surprise. For a moment, we were the center of attention on the shores of Seabrook, but the second we broke from the crowd, Ben simply looked at us and asked “Do you want to go again?” and once more we were flying along the edge of the world, sand and dunes a tan-green blur as we dug in our heels and “whooped” for joy.

It was the perfect length of time on the beach. Twice we raced to both ends of the island with short pauses in between, and as we approached the trail head for the third time, we finally let our tired mounts turn toward home and walk to a small field where a trailer arrived to return the horses to the Seabrook Equestrian Center.

Not quite ready to end the magic of the day, our rag tag team of riders decided to head over to Red’s Ice House at Bohicket Marina to enjoy the breeze and a quick lunch, as well as talk about our incredible experience. On walking in to the breezy, wide open restaurant, our group laughed in surprise to see that the “word of the day” on the chalkboard at Red’s hostess station was “exhilarating.”

There’s no better way to describe the experience of a beach ride on Seabrook Island,” laughed group member Julie Lipovsky, a regular rider and volunteer at Lowcountry Equine Assisted Therapy, or LEAP.

“I’ve never been on a trail ride with so much freedom, and I’ve been on a bunch of trail rides,” said Holly Bandtlow, another veteran rider who tagged along with us for the day. “Looking forward to this ride made my whole week better.”

Susan Franz, another member of the group whose experience with horses goes back to childhood, agreed enthusiastically with Holly. “From the moment you saw the water sparking like a million diamonds, the energy was evident. The combination of the ocean and the horses – it was a natural tranquilizer.” She went on to compliment our guide, Benjamin, for his intuition in picking our mounts. “Many thanks to Ben, who first sized us up to make sure our ride was comfortable, and for checking in with us often to make sure we were doing well.”

It was a perfect day and a perfect visit to Seabrook, and even if it’s been a while since you’ve climbed onto a four-legged form of transportation, do consider taking this rare opportunity to ride along one of the finest beaches in America. For more information on the Seabrook Equestrian Center, visit www.DiscoverSeabrook.com or call 786-7541. The Seabrook Equestrian Center is located at 3772 Seabrook Island Road on Seabrook Island.

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