Of all the things I thought I would do on my Caribbean vacation, riding a horse would’ve been last on the list. We have horses at home; mine is a Tennessee Walker named Marley. She’s sturdy, well-trained, and bomb-proof, but I rarely ride her. I’m with Sherlock Holmes on this one: horses are crafty at both ends and dangerous in the middle.
But my husband and daughter have a dream of riding horses along the beach. I’m up for anything that gets me near the ocean, and our son comes along for the ride. We’re off-book, way off-book; instead of arranging this adventure with an official tour guide, we wandered near the port asking taxi drivers if they knew where we could ride. Twenty minutes later we’re standing outside the walled gates at the edge of the Sandals St. Lucia Resort under ironwood trees waiting for someone named Bano to catch the horses and bring them to us. “Don’t worry,” says the taxi driver as he zooms off, “I’ll be back in three hours.”
After a lovely conversation with a toothless man who tells me he sells the hematite necklaces he makes to the Sandals honeymooners—see how pretty she shines in the sunlight, you like, I make special price for you—Bano shows up. The horses are lean, bony even, and look like they could use a bushel of grain or two. When Bano asks if we’ve ever ridden, my husband says our daughter is a barrel racing champ and rodeo princess. Bano doesn’t believe until my husband pulls out his phone and shows him pictures. “Okay,” Bano says, “she can ride Formula One. He used to be a race horse.”
Formula One is a fine-boned white Arabian stallion. Alarm bells go off in my head.
“And you, Mami,” says Bano, “you ride, too?”
“I need one with training wheels,” I say. “You got one named Butterball or Marshmallow?”
He puts me on Apache, the biggest, but only about fourteen hands tall and 500 lbs lighter than Marley. Damn, I hear the horse think. Why do I always get the chunky ones?
Good, I think. Weighted down my horse is less likely to buck or run. It’s just too much effort.
I look over and see my daughter and husband weaving their horses through figure eight patterns around coconut husks in the sand.
Show-offs, I think.
“No, Sweetie,” Bano calls to my daughter, “with these horses slack reins means go fast. You have to keep them in tight check.”
“What?” she calls, clearly confused. We’ve spent a lot of time and money keeping our horses’ mouths soft and they don’t like short reins.
“Choke up,” I snap. “And if you even think of galloping, I’ll throttle you. Nice and slow, you hear me?”
“Yes, Mom,” she says with an eye roll.
This is why I don’t ride at home. I’m too slow, too careful, too boring. Riding with me means the kiddie pool when they want to surf Waimea.
We start the ride along the beach, then through red dirt fields, then down village streets. Kids coming running out of school to watch us ride past.
“Wave like you’re in a parade,” I tell my daughter. “I know you’ve had lots of practice.”
More eye rolling, but she does smile and wave at the kids.
After a short break, the horses are unsaddled, we mount again, and ride into the sea. I’m chicken and only go out as far as where the water rises over my horse’s back. Frankly, I’m afraid I’ll float off and won’t be able to get back on. Fearless on a horse in ways she’s never in the ocean alone, my daughter rides out until her horse swims. My husband chases her, and they play—each trying to knock the other off.
Soon, too soon, we wipe down the horses and saddle up. On the ride back to the ironwood trees where the taxi dropped us off, the wind blows my hat off my head. I call to my husband—in all things horses it’s his job to take care of me. As he lopes back to retrieve it, a girl about my daughter’s age calls that she will get it for me, but my husband beats her to it. I thank her and smile. Wide-eyed she asks how much it costs to ride a horse.
A thousand things flit through my mind, things that will make her laugh and shake her head. I settle on the simple truth. “$65,” I tell her.
“USD?!” she gasps, like it’s a trip to the moon. “$65 USD,” she calls to her mother.
I think about $65, not enough to fill my gas tank or buy a week’s groceries or even pay for an evening at the movies with popcorn for four.
“Yes,” I nod, jamming my hat back on my head. “To ride a horse in St. Lucia’s ocean. Once in a lifetime.”