Tour Frederick Douglass Memorial Park on Horseback

    By: Michelle Bearden

    When Tours on Horseback touts its beach horseback ride on South Hutchinson Island in Fort Pierce as a “once in a lifetime” experience, it’s not kidding.

    That’s because the company is one of the few operators in Florida with a license for this activity – and the only such operation in the southern region of the state.

    “With all the beaches and all the horses we have in Florida, you would think you could do this all over,” said Tammy Hayes Beville, one of the trail guides and daughter of owners Alan and Colleen Hayes. “But in reality, you won’t find many places where it’s allowed.” 

    And that’s probably why Tours on Horseback is busy all year long, no matter the season. Visitors come from all over the globe to experience the picturesque, one-hour ride along the Atlantic Ocean’s edge at Frederick Douglass Memorial Park. On one side is the endless ocean with its salty breeze; on the other, a long trail of Australian pines, where sea turtles come to nest. 

    If one of the best ways to judge a business is its long-term duration in the marketplace, then Tours on Horseback is a clear-cut winner.

    horseback riding at frederick douglass memorial park
    horseback riding along the shore at frederick douglass memorial park

    St. Lucie County awarded the sole contract for beach horseback riding to the family-run business 25 years ago – a relationship still thriving after a quarter century.

    Belville said her family had a long, respected history in the area, and her father (“a true cowboy”) had a solid reputation for training and competing on horses.  So choosing their stables to run the beach rides wasn’t that big of a gamble.

    But, she acknowledged, no one could have predicted how wildly popular the rides have become.

    Part of that is that it’s affordable. Tours on Horseback charges just $45 for the ride.

    “We’ve only raised the price $15 in 25 years,” Beville said proudly. “We don’t want to price people out of the experience. This is something they will treasure for a long time.”

    She said half of Tour on Horseback’s business comes from repeat customers. They’ve also served three generations of families over the years. 

    For many, a beach ride on a horse is another check off the bucket list. And others have made it a romantic adventure, using the occasion to pop the question to a prospective spouse. Tours on Horseback also provides opportunities for photo shoots for special occasions. 

    Expert horsemanship is not required, though riders must be at least 10 years old. When possible, Beville said, they also make arrangements for riders with disabilities.

    Groups are always welcomed, but she prefers to keep it limited to about eight to 10 people. A guide in front leads single-file, with one in the back to keep everyone together.

    The usual Western attire – jeans, cowboy boots, a Stetson hat – is rarely seen on Tours on Horseback.

    “It’s up to you, but most of us keep it pretty casual,” Beville said. “You want you to enjoy both – the horse and the beautiful beach. So wear what’s comfortable, but don’t forget the sunscreen and sunglasses.”

    horseback riding in frederick douglass memorial park
    getting ready for a horseback ride

    And remember to bring along your phone or camera to capture this unique experience.

    We took the ride on a weekday, and didn’t see a single sunbather. On weekends, as the beach gets more crowded, expect some shell collectors, sand castle builders and possibly fishermen along your route.

    Horses don’t naturally take to walking along the sandy shore with waves lapping at their feet. Beville and her fellow trainers have to acclimate them first; most are gentle quarter horses, easily controlled with a light touch on the reins. The few others who aren’t so sea-worthy stay back at the ranch, and are used for trail rides at local state parks.

    Word of warning: If you stop your steed in the sand at the point where waves rolls in, try not to look down. That can bring on a case of vertigo.

    It was only the second time Brian Clifton of Iowa had been on a horse. The first experience was in Maine, and a forgettable one.

    “Let’s just say I didn’t get to enjoy the beautiful coast up there. The horse was not cooperative,” he said.

    But this time around aboard Ginger, a 23-year-old quarter horse, he was able to create some happy memories.

    “She has a personality not enough to scare you, but enough to keep you interested,” Clifton said. “I think she sensed I didn’t know much about horses, and decided she would take good care of me.”

    His wife, Carol Schmidt, is a longtime horse lover who wants to get back in the sport again after a hiatus. This experience just solidified her desire.

    “Loved, loved, loved it,” she said. “It really is a win-win if you have a thing for horses and the beach. It’s a perfect combination.”

    When you go…

    Tours on Horseback at Frederick Douglass Memorial Park

    Reservations must be made in advance.

    Book early, because they fill up quickly on weekends, especially in the winter and spring seasons. 

    Call (772) 468-0101 or fill out the form on the website.Groups gather at 3600 S Ocean Drive, in Fort Pierce, Fla., near the Frederick Douglass Memorial Park.

    Photos by Peter W. Cross for VISIT FLORIDA

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