“At one point, those doctors nearly declared me dead.” The man riding next to me was very much alive, and explaining how a bad accident led him to trade in riding Harleys in America for riding horses in Costa Rica. It was just one of many fantastic tales we’d hear throughout the day.
As a certified animal lover, the opportunity to explore a new destination by horseback always piques my interest. But more often than not, I find myself resisting out of concern for the animal’s welfare — not to mention my own good experience. Let’s be real — I’m not interested in a line of twenty mane-to-tale horses trotting along a tired trail. I’ve had one truly great horse riding experience thus far in my travels, in Iceland. My ride in Panama was okay, but the one in Peru (technically a donkey ride) left me feeling guilty.
I wanted to have one fabulous riding adventure before I left Latin America. Knowing Costa Rica’s reputation for eco-tourism, I figured it might be our best bet, and began the search. And that’s when I found Bruce.
One foggy morning, Anders and I rode our bikes from Puerto Viejo to Playa Chiquita to start a different kind of ride with Playa Chiquita Riding Adventures. Owner Bruce Walker had emailed us ahead of time to ask us about our personalities so he could match us with a compatible horse, and our new friends were saddled up and waiting to greet us. But the real character here was Bruce. With a Hawaiian shirt, a handlebar mustache, and an unmatched knack for storytelling, I knew we were in for an interesting morning.
This is not your standard horseback riding tour. Bruce let us know right off the bat not to worry about timing — he doesn’t even wear a watch during rides. He promised we could stop to take photos any time, and offered to take pictures for us with his own camera and email them to us later for free — a surefire way to win any blogger’s heart, though in the end we took so many ourselves I forgot to even ask him for them.
After leaving the stables and heading for a short clip down a palm-lined road, our menagerie turned onto a quiet, untamed beach. We were escorted by Bruce’s three dogs, who he assured us joined him on every ride.
Though it was an overcast day, I barely noticed, enthralled as I was by listening to Bruce’s life story and how he came to start an non-exploitative, happy horse-based riding business. “You may say this is a type of spiritual ride within nature and learning and seeing how the universe and nature all works together and we are just part of it,” Bruce explained.
As we chatted about everything from ethical business to the dangers of over-development, our horses roamed the beach freely, occasionally trotting into the surf with the over-excited pups who were blazing the way.
Halfway through, we stopped to give the horses a break and enjoy some fresh coconut juice. I hopped off and handed the reins to Bruce, who I was shocked to see just as quickly looped them over the saddle and dropped them. The horses trotted off happily to graze. “Aren’t you worried they’ll run away?,” I asked. He smiled. “They have nothing to run from.”
I was distracted from enjoying my fresh coconut by a kind of hissing noise. Looking upward, I saw what appeared to be a very agitated family of monkeys, clearly feeling a little less zen than we were. I cursed having not packed my zoom lens, but quickly moved on and enjoyed the curious creatures dangling in the trees above us.
As we hopped back on our horses and headed back towards the beach, I was thrilled to see the skies had cleared and the sun was baring its full heat right down on us. Blue skies, white sand, trotting along the turquoise waters by horseback — we were living the Caribbean dream.
The beaches were starting to fill out by this time. Curious tourists smiled at us as we paced past, while locals and expats called out greetings to Bruce.
I certainly wouldn’t call what we did this day a “tour.” I think I’d best describe it as organic horse-led riding with new old friend and a pack of pups to guide you. Is that thing yet? Because if not, I’m pretty sure it is now. And I can recommend a beautiful beach in Costa Rica to try it out on.
What’s been your best horseback riding experience?