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For $40, a ferry ride and a walk down a dirt road, you could be trotting along the ocean on a Standardbred. Imagine that. Waves crashing, salty island air, slowly rocking in a saddle. Sounds like heaven – especially for those of us who grew up riding horses, but somewhere along the way put our jodhpurs in a trunk hoping one day we’d have the time/money to ride again. This is your chance.
^That was our trail ride, reduced to a minute or so.
When we arrived at the barn, it was raining and the mud sucked at our boots.
“You must really want to ride,” one of the camp councilors said to us as she pulled a girth tight around a horse’s belly. That’s when we met Cassidy, our guide. She is one of the many teenage girls who work at the children’s summer horse camp.
We got on our horses and took off down island dirt roads. My horse was a Paint named Joe, whose coat had big blotches of black and white. He wanted to eat every bush. My friend rode Champ, a bay Standardbred who used to be a harness racing horse. Both were good sports and seemed happy to navigate over roots, sticks and puddles. Soon, we were by the open ocean, walking beach roads and searching the waves for harbor seals. We trotted down long, dirt roads before entering skinny forest trails near WWII fire control towers (every Peaks Island tour must include at least one military fort). At each intersection, Cassidy — on top of an 18-hand Percheron — mulled her options.
“Want to try suicide hill? That’s what the campers call it. Really it’s just rocky.”
“This is amazing,” I whispered to my buddy, although it wasn’t a secret. She nodded.
Horse Island Camp has been running for about 16 years now, primarily as a summer camp for children, but owner Jeanann Alves also does the trail rides. The rides are open to anyone of any riding ability – from “I’ve only ever ridden a carousel pony” to seasoned eventer. Horse Island Camp will customize trail rides to each group’s ability, so hesitant beginners can take an easy walk on the island’s dirt trails and more advanced groups can trot about. Island traffic is pretty quiet anyway, but the trails are mostly hiking paths, making it feel like an adventure, but also taking away the worry of a car coming too close.
-You’ll need a reservation. Horse Island Camp is at 838-7652 or email@example.com.
-Rides are $40 an hour or $65 for 90 minutes.
-Also plan to spend $8 on a ferry ticket and $15 on a beer and burger (we had ours at The Peaks Island House) for a total of $63.
-Wear pants (not shorts), layered shirts (islands are windy) and boots with a heel.
-Print off directions before you go.
-You’ll be asked about how experienced you are with horses, be honest and you’ll get the right horse matched to you.
-Photos are hard to take while you’re juggling reins and while your hands bob up and down, so be ready to get frustrated with your autofocus.
-Know that these horses know their ways around the island and the trails. Trust that before being too aggressive with your heels (go) or reins (slow).
-Relax. Horses can feel your stress vibes. Don’t stress out your horse. Relax and have fun.
-Have ibuprofen ready for the next day, when you’ll find your “horse muscles.”