Well, I am sitting here with a sunburn after a very full day of beach riding on Sea Island. During my ride, Sarah, who was leading our small group of three down a wide sandy beach under a bright blue sky, said that it couldn't get any better than this. I have to agree.
Sea Island is one of the barrier islands off of Georgia's coast in a grouping known as the Golden Isles. The Sea Island Resort has been welcoming guests to the island retreat for generations, and people have been riding on the island for generations. I am staying at the Lodge at Sea Island, which is actually located on St. Simon's Island. The Lodge is surrounded by large oak trees, dripping with Spanish moss, and a world-class golf course. At night, you have the option of having freezing cold milk and cookies that are brought to your room before bedtime. Who would refuse that after a day of riding?
I'm checking out Sea Island's riding program and taking advantage of beach riding, a sometimes rare commodity on the crowded East Coast of the United States.
If you are staying at the Sea Island Resort, you can sign up for English or Western style beach rides, nature rides and lessons. Some people also bring their horses with them to Sea Island for a week, the whole summer or when making Sea Island their new island home.
We were starting our mid-morning ride from a place called Rainbow Island, which is actually on St. Simon's Island across the Black Banks River from Sea Island. We would have to ride a short distance, about two city blocks, across a bridge over the river to get to the trails that would lead us to the beach.
I rode a beautiful five-year-old Belgian Draft horse named Cory. This was my first time riding a Belgian Draft horse. Cory is still young, and I was told that he has the personality of a puppy. I had to watch him closely going through the wooded trails en route to the beach, so that he wouldn't chow down on any sub-tropical plants.
Once on the beach he was fantastic, except for the occasional head bob to try to chew on his reins. Sarah told me a bit about the island's history and the great natural history. We were the only people on the beach, and it was low tide, so we had a lot of room to ride.
As I felt Cory take off into our first canter, I knew that there was a great deal of power beneath me. I was told that there was almost one ton of weight beneath me.
We cantered up and down the shore with a few yelps for the takeoffs and big smiles during the acceleration. I gave Cory a pat as we stopped to look for sand dollars. A few minutes later Laurie yelled that she had found one.
At Sea Island you are tested before you are allowed to canter off onto the beaches and ride as a "recommended" rider. This ensures the safety of guests and the horses.
Sarah grew up riding in the area and now teaches at the Sea Island Stables. Another island resident rode with us, which allowed me to learn more about the island from another insider's perspective.
As we trotted back to the trails' entrance and back to the stables, we saw a school of dolphins curving up and down in the water beside us. I wanted to ride faster to stay beside the dolphins and watch them dance in and out of the small ocean waves.
Sarah mentioned that we could actually swim with the dolphins. Keeping tack clean is hard enough, but try doing it in the humid, salty environment of coastal Georgia. If we were going in the water, we were going to have to take off our saddles and ride bareback.
We were all comfortable riding bareback, so we waded into the ocean. I was very excited to be heading in for a swim and so was Cory. I had to grab mane a few times to keep my balance as we waded further into the ocean. It's good that Georgia is not known for its big surf because the small waves were small obstacles. Our group felt fantastic. Laurie did a quick dive into the water while we held her horse and then we switched off.
Later in the afternoon after washing the sand out of my jodhpurs I toured more of the island, learned about Sea Island's expanding equestrian program, and got a sneak peak at the new stables. They have done a nice job of integrating the stables into the natural surroundings and a great job planning for lots of space for the horses. The new facilities include four 16-stall barns, two of which are for private boarders. The other two are for the lesson horses.
Stay tuned for my upcoming nature ride with naturalist Stacia Hendricks. For now I'm going to listen to the bagpiper play on the lawn of the Lodge and soak in the ocean breeze before dinner.