Horse Riding on Monterey Bay, California

My first horseback ride on the beach was thrilling and magnificent.

by Karen Braschayko

Watching Darley Newman’s many beach rides on Equitrekking has always made me a smidge jealous and invited me to wonder what it would be like to experience one for myself. The Black Stallion and other movies make it look like an almost magical trek – warmth and shine of the sun reflecting off of the water, moderate breezes cooling your horse as he canters over even sand, and knowing you are moving together in a place where the earth transitions from one vastly different condition to another, where the powerful water force beside you can be both brutal and benevolent at once.

beach horse riding on Monterey Bay, California

Whether along ocean, lake or sea, beach rides are a great way to be near the water when it might be too chilly to be in it yourself. Panoramic scenery, sea air, gliding birds, and the novelty of a very different ecosystem make beach rides valuable time in nature. It’s the chance to sense the maritime region’s soul and to enjoy a coastline that might not be pleasant for swimming but is ideal for wildlife appreciation and just relaxing.

beach horse riding on Monterey Bay, California

Lively Cannery Row reminds visitors of the fishing industry that led development in Monterey and of John Steinbeck, the writer who captured that era in book form.

On warm day in November, I got to find this out for myself. I was on a business trip near San Francisco, and I had that Sunday free. I headed to Monterey, and as I was walking around the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium, I arrived at a marvelous seahorse exhibit. As much as I love experiencing a variety of what an area has to offer, as I fought the crowds I thought, “Why am I inside when I could be out riding?” So I pulled out my tablet and in two minutes found an outfitter, which happened to provide beach rides that very afternoon.

beach horse riding on Monterey Bay, California

Beaches are ubiquitous in Monterey, such as this one right next to the restaurants of Cannery Row.

As I drove north along the bay, I was returning to a colorful, hilly pass I’d been fascinated by on my way down to Monterey. There was vegetation with foliage I’d never seen before, and in such abundance. In the transition between the Central California Coast and the arid inland, greens, yellows, reds and purples combined in a painting of rich hues.

beach horse riding on Monterey Bay, California

It was a short slog through a deep dune, and then the rest of the ride was on the hardened sand at the water's edge.

I pulled up to the beach just in time to make the ride. My first thought was, “Wow, those horses have muscular rear ends.” The sand was deep for several yards as we climbed and crested a dune, but soon we could walk on the firm wet sand of the surf. I had put on an extra layer of clothing before heading out, and I certainly needed it. It may have been a t-shirt and sandals day inland, but directly on Monterey Bay the wind had a mild chill.

beach horse riding on Monterey Bay, California

A friendly equestrian told me all about her beautiful Friesian and shared recommendations for more riding spots in the area.

I know of no likeness to feeling the enormity and intensity of an ocean. I live in Michigan, and we have a lot of shoreline. We think of our lakes as a mini ocean experience – commanding waves, endless sand dunes, abundant fishing and immense area for boating. But nothing compares to looking out across the ocean swath and knowing that for thousands of miles, there is nothing else – no harbor for human comfort or savior a phone call away. California’s coast of cliffs, rocky expanses, dramatic rises and curving beaches is a vivid fracture to that power.

beach horse riding on Monterey Bay, California

 Snowy plover, like this one at Monterey Bay Aquarium, enjoy the habitat of Central California’s coastline.

I was glad I’d spent some time learning about the region’s wildlife and ocean culture at the Monterey Bay Aquarium that morning. We rode past a sea lion, and birds with flight styles I’d never seen before swooped, gathered and called. Gulls picked at the sand, and I knew that beneath the waves were millions of creatures protecting their homes, living, breeding and thriving.

beach horse riding on Monterey Bay, California

 You can see miles of shoreline from the Monterey Bay Aquarium's outdoor decks.

The path took us away from the beach for a bit. Ducking behind the dunes, we had a respite from the sounds and winds of the shore. As we headed back through the thick sand to the shoreline, my mount’s steps got peppy and I could sense his excitement. He clearly enjoyed his beach riding job, as did his fellow horses.

beach horse riding on Monterey Bay, California

 Miles of beach were marked with only hoofprints and bird tracks.

Alas, I had forgotten my pocket camera, and I missed out on some terrific shots of the other equestrians. Salinas River State Beach is a popular place for a Sunday afternoon hack, and many trailers landed in the beach’s parking lots. Horses and riders of all kinds enjoyed their jaunts in the sunshine, from children on ponies to show horses and trail horses. It was unique to be on a beach covered in horse tracks rather than human footprints.

beach horse riding on Monterey Bay, California

Horse trailers filled the beach's parking lots during the afternoon peak, and horses of all colors and sizes enjoyed a hack in the sunshine.

Whether to exercise your own trusted horse or on a borrowed mount as a tourist, taking some time for a beach ride can give you a thrill you’ll feel nowhere else. With just an impulse and a web search, I learned that riding is a perfect, refreshing break on a business trip, and all it takes to sneak one in is a couple of hours and a pair of jeans. It also reminded me that as much as I live to taste what an area has to offer through food, museums, culture, markets, art and history, a horse ride out in nature is worth a lot to me. It’s well worth working into the budget, especially if it involves a beach.

How you can go: Find out more about Salinas River State Beach.

Karen Braschayko is a freelance writer and horse lover who lives in Michigan.