Horseback Riding on the Beach in Fanø
Last weekend I had the most exhilarating experience.
I was on the little island of Fanø visiting my dad. This island is situated off of the west coast of Denmark and it is so pretty and quaint, and very popular with tourists looking to connect with nature and chill out. We had been cycling around exploring and taking in the pretty views and we found out about the Fanø Rundridning (trail ride in Danish) and that they do a beach ride. The beach in Fanø is very wide and flat and the sand is hard most of the way, so hard that the local bus actually drives on the beach. The perfect place to play beach polo, but more on that another day.
I called them up and asked if I could come along on a beach ride and write about it on PoloPeoplePlaces.com for others to enjoy and get inspired. The lady asked if I could ride, emphasizing that once the ponies get on the beach it’s a full on gallop. I replied, yes I can ride, I mean I ride polo ponies, that canter at high speeds down a grass field, how could this be any different? She just said “Ok, then, but they are fast and you have to be able to keep up.”
I showed up filled with excitement. It was a beautiful day, with the sky bluer than blue with the occasional friendly white candy-floss shaped cloud. I had my paddock boots with me but had forgotten my half chaps. Ah well, should be fine I thought, after all it was just a chill ride on the beach, right?
We gathered around the leader Maiken who took us over to the paddock. 6 young tween girls and myself. We each got our little horses and took them over to the “tacking station”. We cleaned and tacked them up and off we went. We started off with a very chill walk around the fields, taking in all the beauty of the very green grass, intensely blue skies and occasional purple flowers scattered around. Nobody talked, we were all just in our own little bubbles enjoying the scenery.
Once we got closer to the beach dunes we did a little trot and it was so much fun. Those little horses and their little legs, it’s bouncy, but fun. Right before reaching the beach, the ground became sandy, but also grassy and there was a clear path, so we did our first gallop. Now this is when I felt the power of the pony. She burst into speed immediately and shot forward like a little rocket.
Smooth riding until s**t got real
I felt that I wasn’t entirely secure on this horse, everything felt so different. Her size, the saddle, the reins, I was completely out of my comfort zone. Then Maiken said: “When we get to the beach these guys are going to gallop at full speed. This was controlled and only 75%, but on the beach it’s no control and full on.”
I must admit I was slightly worried when she said that and I gulped thinking that I might be in over my head.
We got to the beach and stopped, Maiken had to survey the beach to see how many people, cars, bicycles, busses, kites and any other factor which might get in our way. Then it was show time!
She yelled “Gallop” and all 8 ponies shot forward as if a gun had been fired. I got bumped up a bit and lost my grip on the stirrups, my feet were way too forward, my knees couldn’t find their spot on this weird saddle I wasn’t used to and I literally thought, “S**t, s**t, s**t I am going to fall off!” Luckily with the horse being so small my legs could reach pretty far down around her belly, so I hugged that horse as hard as I could and held on for dear life.
I have no clue how long we galloped, but it felt like an eternity and then Maiken held her hand up signaling for us to slow down and stop. I was relieved the horse knew what to do, (after momentarily thinking that there was no way of stopping the horse with me still on top of her).
Then we walked slowly for a dip in the water along the shore with the small waves crashing on the ponies’ legs, catching our breath. Well I had to anyway.. The little 10-year-old girls didn’t even break a sweat!. This was a wonderful moment, so serene and lovely, the water, wind and blue sky came together in perfect harmony and I was just happy to be alive and experiencing this connection with nature.
Then it was time for part 2.
I prepared myself, mentally and physically, thinking about where my foot should be, finding the right spot for my knees, heels down, head forward, posture, half-seat, balance. Now I thought I was ready and had begun to get the hang of this new style. Ha! this time we were not riding in a line, it was free ride. Holy guacamole!
Those ponies shot forward and it was like a race! As before, I got bumped up and lost all of the preparation I had just worked on. I tried to find the spots again, but nearly lost my balance, so I just clenched with legs and arms, leaned forward slightly and held on to the horse’s neck and then I actually felt secure, not in control AT ALL, but securely positioned, like a sack of potatoes, which had been ducked taped to the saddle. I must have looked ridiculous, but it felt great, it was fun, I was flying! This ride was definitely longer and faster than the first one, and absolutely exhilarating.
Then Maiken held her hand up, UH-OH how do I stop? I am leaning forward, if this horse stops suddenly I am doing a total roly-poly over her neck! Ok, sit back down, squeeze the thighs, firm grip on the reins, BREEEEEAAAAAAAK, phew, it worked.
My heart was galloping as fast as the horses just had, it was about to jump right out of my chest. Maiken asked if I was ok and how the riding was, I tried to play cool and said it was a bit different than what I am used to, but really fun. And it was fun, the “I’m scared out of my wits and don’t know what the hell I am doing” kind of fun, but nevertheless fun.
We walked the horses back in the water, and this was my favourite part. Just chilling, splashing waves and calmly walking. I was trying to not think about the fact that we had to get back again and the only way back was galloping at full speed and for an even longer period.
As we walked back up on the hard sand I braced myself, thinking, just do it. I did just do it and it was the best ride, my legs and feet and backside and upper body were definitely not where they were supposed to be. I didn’t feel entirely secure, but I trusted the pony now, I knew she would just run along with the others, stop smoothly with them and everything would be fine, so I really enjoyed that last gallop. It was by far the longest one and by the time we stopped my legs were vibrating after the effort of clenching so hard, but now we just had our chill trail ride back home left.
Life lessons from a horse’s back
It really was a great experience and taught me quite a few things:
- Don’t overestimate what you can do on a horse.
- If you have overestimated, well then just go with the flow and try to hang on.
- Always wear half chaps or long boots! My calves were completely bruised after.
- Getting out of your comfort zone and pushing yourself will make you advance quicker.
- Always bring a GoPro camera and helmet strap. That would have been great footage..oh well, good excuse to try it again.
I think I had expected myself to be better at riding by now, because calendar-wise I have been doing it for over a year. But looking at it realistically, my riding experiences have been across disciplines (showjumping and polo), very inconsistent (sometimes 7 lessons in 2 weeks and sometimes 7 weeks without seeing a horse) and then the fact that it really is a hard sport, there are so many factors to incorporate, so many things to think about and work on and then the added scariness of it all, speed, the height of the horse, other horses around that could run you over.
It is a challenging sport and whenever I get that overwhelming feeling of fear I feel like just giving it all up and staying on the sidelines. But then I push myself to keep going and the fear becomes adrenaline and pure ecstatic joy. I guess that is exactly why polo and equestrian sports in general, are so addictive. So giddy up !