If you’re a horse owner in New England, you’ve probably dreamed of galloping on an open beach. After a really tough start to winter with a frozen riding arena that turns to mud on days just above 40 degrees, I decided my horse, George, needed a great place to just let loose and run. I thought about bringing him on the trails behind my house, but worried about ice patches or the ground being too hard. I kept thinking about different types of places – large fields, renting an indoor… but none of these options were really that exciting. But then I remembered we do live on the east coast… so the beach could be my perfect option!
I began my Google search for beaches in New England that allowed horses. I already knew about Crane Beach in Ipswich MA, but they charge a permit fee of $150 per trailer. Because we just bought a house and have a ton of bills to pay for, we couldn’t afford it. I kept looking and came across an another blog for East Beach in Charlestown, RI, that said they allow horseback riding. But, when I called the park ranger’s office, they told me they no longer are open to horses on their beaches.
So as my search continued, I stumbled upon Hammonasset Beach in Madison, Connecticut. I again spoke with the ranger’s office who said yes, horses are allowed from September 30th to April 1st, and no you won’t have to pay a fee! So I sent my cousin Liv a text to see if she wanted to join with her horse Mudd, and it was a go.
Before leaving for our trip, I checked the tides online to be sure we would ride closer to low tide, and more than an hour before or after high tide. For us, this was around 10am to noon, which worked out perfect!
So, on a freezing cold morning in Mid-January, we load up our horses and make the 1.5 hour drive from our farms in Southern Massachusetts to Hammonasset Beach in Connecticut. We pull into the park and expect to pay for parking, but no one was in the booths. We were able to park our trailer right next to the beach – we would only have to take a path through one sand dune to get to the water.
We unload the horses in the whipping wind and cold. Throwing the tack on as quickly as possible (our saddle pads were blowing off the horse’s backs!), we were able to get riding in less than 10 minutes after we parked. We made our way towards the beach, crossing between the dunes. We rounded a corner and the path opened up to a massive and practically empty beach!
This was George and Mudd’s first time seeing the ocean, and they were quite skeptical at first. George usually loves water, and Mudd is a seasoned veteran, so we figured after the first few minutes they would be fine. And they were, which was great! By the end, they were both cantering through the waves with no issues.
We began our ride down the two mile stretch of coastline that is called Hammonasset Beach. The footing was solid and fairly flat, with little rocks and just a few shells. The waves were crashing, the wind was whipping and the sea was foaming. This white foam was so fun to gallop through because it would fly everywhere when we would run through it. When you go, you have to be careful of holes dug by other people – so you should only gallop on the water line to ensure your horse won’t step in anything harmful!
With very few people and handfuls of dogs, we felt super comfortable riding around and letting the horses stretch their legs a bit. We cantered down to the jetty and then turned around to let the horses gallop back for about a mile. The most amazing aspect of letting the horses go full speed is how uninterrupted it is on the beach. You don’t have to worry about trees, fences or roads that will make your gallop stretch stop that much quicker. And going full speed on a horse is one of the most incredible feelings ever – the power beneath you and the wind mixed with salt water hitting your face while the waves crash around your horse’s legs. There is truly nothing like it.
After about 45 minutes, we decided we had enough of the beach but still wanted to cool the horses off a bit. We took a different path between the dunes to a large park area. With paved paths, we passed people jogging, walking their dogs and riding bikes. We rode the horses around the park for 15 or so minutes before returning to the trailer.
After untacking, we loaded the horses back in the trailer and drove away, chatting about how amazing riding on the beach really was. For a park that brings in about 1 million visitors annually, the off season is the perfect time to go because you get a lot of space to yourself.
So if you’re ever debating riding on the beach, please just go for it. If your horse takes off, you won’t have to worry about having to stop – there isn’t anything to run into! And the feeling of going full speed without having to think about running someone over is a feeling that is rarely felt otherwise. Just be sure to pick up after yourself and your horse, so us equestrians can continue riding on this beach for years to come.
And if you aren’t a horseback rider, you should still visit Hammonasset beach and take your dog for a walk, go for a bike or just explore everything the park has to offer. We know we will be back, that’s for sure!