Saddle up, cowpokes! Now's your chance to enjoy one of those picture-perfect travel-magazine vacation experiences - horseback riding on the beach. For just a few short months each year, Myrtle Beach opens its sandy shores to horses, allowing visitors to revel in their own Condé Nast moment.
"We have regular summer vacationers who will return in the winter because it's the only time they can ride on the beach," said Buster Ray, owner of Horseback Riding of Myrtle Beach, one of a very few equestrian services offering seaside rides on the Carolina coast.
"One woman came all the way from Nova Scotia with three of her friends just to go horseback riding on the beach. It was on her bucket list."
It's been on mine, too. I finally got to check it off last weekend during a three-day getaway to the coast.
We met up with Buster at Myrtle Beach State Park, a 312-acre oceanfront nature retreat in the heart of the bustling Grand Strand. (I'll be writing about this must-see attraction later in the week.) After being introduced to our horses, we mounted up and set off for the beach.
For two of the riders in our group, it was their first time sitting in a saddle.
"Ninety percent of our guests have no experience," Ray said. "I tell them they don't need it. The horses have the experience."
Sure enough. Dude, the Tennessee Walker I was riding, took the lead as soon as we hit the sand. Energized by the cool temperature and sunny skies, he began to trot happily along the water's edge without so much as a "giddyap" from me. Like Dude, all of the horses in our group were well-trained and eager to please, making the riding a breeze even for the newbies.
At mid-tide, there was plenty of beach for us to spread out. Riding single file is not required, but we were encouraged to stay below the high-tide mark. The guides made sure we didn't stray too far ahead or lag too far behind. Other than that, we had free rein to walk or trot on the sand or in the water.
Several beach walkers, taken by the unusual sight of horses parading along the shore, stopped to take our picture. As you would expect, there aren't many people on the beach this time of year, so we didn't have to do a whole lot of navigating around sun bathers and beach combers.
Horseback Riding of Myrtle Beach offers the seaside rides Monday-Saturday from November 1 to February 28. From March 1 to October 31, they offer riding on beautiful equestrian country trails in rural Conway, S.C. As a parting gift on either trip, guests will be texted photos taken by the guides during the ride.
Here's a bit more information to know. Tours are limited to five riders with two guides per group. You must be at least 10 years old to ride alone; kids 3 to 9 can ride with a parent. The weight limit for riders is 250 pounds.