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Barn to Beach Ride

Published: 9/9/2008
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By Maddy Butcher Gray

You might think us coastal Mainers have all kinds of access to horse-friendly waters.
But it just ain’t so.

Of Maine’s 3,500 miles of shoreline, most is mudflats, rocky ledge, and marsh. All are decidedly unfriendly to horses. That leaves a smattering of beaches. And nearly all are closed to horses except in the winter (Something silly about the manure and 1,000-pound animals skirting picnic baskets and blankets, I guess).
So, when my friend, Kim, and I saw a charity Barn to Beach ride in July, we said, “ Yeehah! Let’s go swimmin’!”
First, we each raised the mandatory $500 through friends and family contributions – that was the painful part. Funds went to Riding to the Top, a therapeutic riding center in New Gloucester and Windham.
Then, on a cloudless, 80-degree day, we loaded up our girls and headed down the interstate to Cape Elizabeth.
At Spurwink Farm, we met some 20 other riders, unloaded the horses, grabbed the much-needed coffee and made the corresponding run to the ladies room before tacking up.
We could see the water from the farm, but that beach was not horse-friendly. So we walked, trotted and loped our way to Ram Island Farm, a private beach whose owners generously allow once-a-year access to Riding to the Top for its fundraiser.
Of course, the beach was the highlight, but the ride to and from wasn’t anything to sneeze at. We meandered the few miles through fields and meadows, passing a few exquisite summer cottages. The wide dirt roads allowed us to ride in pairs most of the time. We chatted with our new acquaintances and kind of giggled at our good fortune.
The ocean breeze kept bugs away. The horses all respected each other. As we rode past the public beach, families stopped and pointed as we trotted by.
Yes, ma’am, we were feeling pretty special!
After nearly an hour, we arrived. It was fun to watch the horses pick up their heads, smell the salt air, and check out those white-topped serpents rolling onto the sand, one after the other (those would be waves).
Many horses had never seen the ocean. And many riders had never taken horses into the water.
On top of the newness, I thought we’d have to deal with this significant surf. That’d be a challenge, even with this group of intermediate to advanced riders. But, thankfully, we were lead down the beach and around the bend to a much calmer, broader beach with much less of scary surf. Phew!
I have wonderful memories of swimming atop my pony as a kid in Harpswell. But that was a Long Time Ago.
I took Shea to the beach once last winter and she did well – especially considering her complete fear of water when I first acquired her, when she wouldn’t cross a puddle.
At Ram Island Farm, when I first suggested we go in, she did the Texas Two Step. If only I could get her to step so fancily on command!
After some gentle encouragement, she willingly advanced past the baby breakers. Once past them, she seemed to really enjoy striding through the water.
Other riders were either pacing the beach and dealing with their less eager horses or swimming over their heads, with their saddles, boots, and all!
Kim and I didn’t want to trash our saddles, so we rode back to shore, took off saddles and boots, and hopped back on. What fun!
I got good and wet, but alas, didn’t take Shea over her head. I think the prospect of riding back soaking wet might have had something to do with my decision.
After gathering for a group photo against this gorgeous summer backdrop, we tacked up and headed back to the farm. Our leader took us on another, equally pleasant route and we alternated gaits all the way home.
At Spurwink, there were bowls of carrots, apples, and granola waiting for the horses and a gourmet picnic for us. Yum!
After some refueling and regaling, we loaded Shea and Indy back into Kim’s stock trailer and hit the road. Full of positive energy, lemme tell ya!

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3/11/2009 Fellow Rider
Can't wait for the next one...if only we could beach it more often!

"Nothing on four legs is quicker than a horse heading back to the barn" - Pamela C. Biddle/Joel E. Fishman