Well, we finally made it to Long Beach, Washington, and a wonderful day was in store for us. Present were Cathy, Gary (our farrier), his friend, Bud, and myself.
The sky was bright blue with white fluffy clouds when we arrived at the Long Beach fairgrounds, where we unloaded our horses and tack. I was to ride Rose, a full-blooded Arabian; Cathy would ride Montica, a Half-Arabian, half New Mexico Indian Horse. Gary would ride his Arabian mare Sherree, and Bud would ride his Appaloosa mare, Babe. We weren’t sure what our horses would do when they encountered the ocean, as we’d heard some horror stories.
We approached the ocean through the dunes and dune grasses that serve as a dike between sea and town. Small conifers, twisted pines, dune grass, and occasional scotch broom dot the landscape, and obscure the view of the sea. But to our horses’ keen senses, a hidden beast roars beyond the rise of sand.
We approached the ocean with Bud solidly in the lead, then Gary, then Cathy and I changing places often. Montica is 18 years young, and was prancing and eager as a racehorse in a starting gate. Cathy had her hands full of a horse that was raring to go!
Finally, we reached the beach, and turned south toward the distant North Head rock outcropping. Suddenly, Bud urged Babe to a full-tilt gallop, with a “hyeah!” and a quick slap with his reins. Then I was off in hot pursuit, with sand flying into my face and the sharp smell of salt air. I didn’t turn around once to see if Cathy and Gary were following. As we galloped, I wondered if Rose ever tired-it seemed we’d gone for several miles. Incredible!
We continued for some time hearing nothing but the drum of horses’ hooves on sand and the blood pounding in our brains-and, I might add, a silly grin pasted on my face.
We came to a small creek that adjoins the ocean with a confluence of shallow, brownish water. I knew it was shallow, but Rose and Babe didn’t. Bud halted Babe, but before I could stop Rose’s headlong hurtling, I felt her turn to the left sharply under me. As if in slow motion, my left foot left the stirrup, and I began to rise in the air. I realized I was going to levitate over the top of Rose’s neck and land in the stream! With all the time in the world, I pulled my right foot out of the stirrup and spun in the air once, landed on a sandbar, and rolled. But I was up and mounted by the time Gary and Cathy showed up, and we headed down the beach again.
We headed toward the dunes and “swamps” again, as Gary referred to them. Our route took us through more grassland, twisted bonsai-type pines, up and down shallow brackish streams, and finally large, water-filled holes. Bud rode his mare into these without trouble. The rest of us followed-Montica expressing considerable zeal. Sunshine rippled on the waters as our horses worked their way through. What marvelous creatures, I thought.
At the northern portion of North Head, we found a sheltered area with rock walls flanking us that ascended steeply on three sides. After exploring the rocks on foot, we remounted, and proceeded to the dank and real swamp on the backside of the mountain. We crossed deep flood ponds, and went through a muddy swamp of broken branches, skunk cabbage, shrubs, and mossy trees. Upon arriving at a trailhead and a paved area, we turned and headed back to the rocks.
The rocky area was very interesting and rugged. Erosion from the black rocks had created dark sand, with bits of mica or quartz sparkling in brighter contrast than the lighter-hued sand north of us. The ocean pounded against the rocks and sent fountains of water glistening in the sunshine. Our horses cantered us over the solid sand and into tide pools.
We followed Gary and Bud into the surf slowly at first, so our horses could get used to the sensation of water pushing against their legs and belly. After a moment, the horses were frolicking. We faced them into the surf and away from it, feeling the surf surge around us. You know how this feels, when the surf recedes from your heels, leaving you with a sense of forward movement. Well, the sensation on horseback is much stronger. Cathy said she felt vertigo, which is unusual for her.
After so much fun, we headed back and galloped till our stomachs and thighs ached. All in all, it was an unforgettable day with our equine and human friends.