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“Your horse thinks he’s the boss — show him you’re the boss!” is what the guide advised me as my horse leaned down to eat grass for the fifth time along the trail.
I was in Montego Bay, Jamaica, on the Horseback Ride ’n’ Swim in Sandy Bay tour from Chukka, an adventure operator that offers a variety of adrenaline-filled activities in Jamaica, Belize and the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Despite not feeling like the boss of anything, let alone a hungry horse, I dutifully pulled the reigns a little more, and Alex, my horse companion for the hour, reluctantly stopped snacking, only to start again when he smelled the leaves of a lemon tree we passed by a few minutes later. I couldn’t exactly blame him — the smell had me longing for a good cup of lemon tea, too.
Aside from being assigned a peckish horse, I felt that Chukka’s Horseback Ride ‘n’ Swim tour went as smoothly as one might hope for a horseback ride through the ocean. The excursion began along a simple on-land trail that passed by old sugar plantations and farmlands, and the guides cracked jokes and imparted a few facts on Jamaica’s history. It’s great for beginners who haven’t ridden a horse before, as well as more experienced riders, who will relish the beautiful scenery of Sandy Bay as they meander along the path.
After the initial ride is over, guests wait for their next horse to be readied for a swim through the Caribbean Sea. The waiting period is short, but those so inclined can use the spare few minutes to grab a drink before being strapped into a flotation device. Once clients are ready, they can prepare for the ride of their lives — a half-hour jaunt through the ocean on the back of a horse.
It was definitely a strange sensation to feel my body submerged in the water up to my waist as my legs hung limply at the sides of my horse. I thought about how I was basically at the mercy of a random animal’s swimming abilities. But it was also incredible and even a little freeing to rely solely on my horse.
Riding through the water is a lot more challenging than on land, and the instructions and rules are a little different, but the guides are with guests every step (or paddle) of the way and let riders know when to loosen the reigns or when to slow down.
The ride through the water is a lot faster than the land trail, so more experienced riders will definitely get a kick out of it. But beginners will love it, too, and the guides can tell who needs a little extra assistance. It’s also fun being much farther out in the water than resorts around the island typically allow.
Chukka advises that clients bring a change of clothes, a swimsuit and some insect repellant along with them on the tour — the horses are friendly, but so are the bugs. And guests should definitely ask someone to take their picture; some people might find it hard to believe they really rode a sea horse.