The beach looks different from the back of a horse. You are up above it all as you watch the waves roll in, focused on the moment, and nothing else. As you feel the sway of your horse’s body ambling along the tideline, you and the horse are one. You smell the salty air. Hear the roar of the ocean. Feel the breeze on your face. And during the duration of your ride, there is nothing else.
“It’s about being in the moment. It takes you away from all your troubles,” says Kelly Robinson Kelly, co-owner of Kelly Seahorse Ranch in Amelia Island State Park.
The ranch is one of the few places in the United States where you can ride a horse on the beach. And it is unique due to the private trail that leads from the stables through virgin maritime woodlands to a stretch of natural Atlantic Ocean shoreline.
“It’s a beginner friendly ride,” Kelly’s husband, Jim Kelly, told me one recent day when I joined a group of General Motor executives from the nearby Ritz Carlton, Amelia Island. And since riding a horse on the beach is on many people’s bucket list, “we get customers from around the world,” he said.
The hour long, five-mile tour begins with an introductory lesson on how to mount and safety rules to follow. They are basic and simple: no flip flops, you have to be at least four and a half feet tall, you have to be age 13 or older, helmets are optional, you must weigh under 230 pounds (although no one is ever required to get on a scale), no cameras and no cell phones – under any circumstances. There is a special basket in the office where you leave those.
That way everyone can totally focus on the moment, and not ruin it for anyone else. One of the guides takes pictures and posts them online. So you don’t need to – and are not permitted to – take any of your own.
Operating a camera or using a cell phone while on the back of a horse “is like texting and driving,” Jim says. During their 17 years in business, Kelly says they used to permit it, “but people would throw their cameras and cell phones to each other.” Someone would always drop theirs on the sand, and things would get complicated after that, so it’s much better this way.
I agree. Following a line of horses behind our guide Kelly, and her assistant Kirstin Prince, was a fantastic way to experience the beach.
The Kellys have about 20 horses in their stables, and they know them so well that they are experts at matching rider to horse. They gave me Cisco, one of the slowest, and I was glad. I’ve only ridden occasionally throughout my life, and he was one of the gentlest horses I had ever been on.
Splashing along the surf, the only thing I had to focus on was the joy of the moment.