Horse riding through the ocean is such a romantic notion, one on a few peoples Bucket Lists. Despite growing up on the coast and loving horses, I’ve never had opportunity to do this. However, in both Montego Bag (Sandy Beach) and Negril you are able to explore Jamaica’s countryside on horseback followed by an ocean trot – beautiful.
I always like to choose experiences that improve my mood and wellbeing. This ticked the boxes for me as it involved reliving fond childhood memories of riding and being with animals. Furthermore, it was an escape into nature where I would have the opportunity to smell, touch and hear animals, plants and birds I had never encountered. Lastly it pushed me out of my comfort zone and do something I never had before. It would create a unique memory that I will never forget.
Choose a tour carefully
Despite being intrigued by this adventure, I wanted to be sure I chose a reputable company to provide the tour otherwise I would bypass it. As you all know, animal activities should never be supported if you feel the animals are being made to do something that doesn’t come naturally to them or are being treated poorly. I was very careful when booking my tour and I urge you to do the same. Chukka Tours was recommended to me by a Jamaican vet and a number of other people and for good reason.
The horses are treated really well with soft snaffle bits in their mouths and fitted reins to deter beginners from pulling down on the horse’s neck. This has proven to vastly reduce injuries to the horses. I was assureed that water and grass are available for horses to consume before and after all tours (which I witnessed) and all horses receive regular vet care as well as daily care from experienced handlers. The swimming itself is therapeutic for the horses and they enjoy swimming in the cool Caribbean sea, especially after hot days. I felt happy with what I heard and saw on the day with regards to horse welfare.
The day itself
We were picked up for our tour by a driver at 10.00. We enjoyed the short informative drive to Sandy Beach as the driver gave us some great cultural facts about the island. During the drive we passed by some beautiful little churches, children walking to school and street traders selling mangoes to passing cars. It was a lovely slice of weekday Jamaican life.
Chukka tours itself was a bit disorganised, though I think this is the Jamaican way. People on our tour had booked a variety of combination tours that ranged from zip lining to dune buggies. Nobody that worked for Chukka seemed clear around who was doing what first which was frustrating. After a twenty minute wait and safety briefing everyone was organised and we were soon choosing helmets for our ride.
We were matched to a horse using height and weight rather than ability which was fine. The horses are very well trained and responded to commands easily. To begin with we walked around a field for a few minutes to get used to our horses. If you’ve never ridded before (my husband hadn’t) then this is a great activity for you as the horses carry inexperienced riders every day; they know the route off by heart so you’re in safe hands/hooves. The guides are clear with their instructions and the horses are patient so you’ll feel like an experienced rider in no time.
A couple of tips
Don’t let your horse get too close to the one in front as they will bite each others butts. This might sound funny but if the one being bitten decides to kick back then you could be injured. My second tip is to wear long trousers. Owing to booking ‘horse back in the sea’ most of us were dressed in swimwear, however before you get to ride horses in the sea you will go on a 2.5 hour trek. Having your bare legs rub against stirrups gets really sore very quickly, so wear thin leggings. Also remember sun lotion, a hat and sensible shoes – flip flops and stirrups do not mix well.
During the initial trek I got to experience the beautiful countryside of Jamaica. Each couple had a guide riding beside them who tells you about the history and culture of this captivating island. You’ll learn about Montego Bay, considered to be Jamaica’s “Second City” and the capital of its tourism industry. We rode through tropical rainforest where we learned about all the different plants and trotted up some beautiful hidden paths. If you are feeling confident you are allowed to go a little faster but only if you want to. The cheeky guides seem to have special ways of talking to the horses too so don’t be surprised if a certain noise will make your horse bounce you around – they find this hilarious. In terms of photos, bring a camera as the guide will take pictures for you rather than you have to let go of the reigns – perfect time to use a go pro!
The Ocean Bit!
The second part of our adventure meant changing to a different horse as they make sure horses are rested and don’t do too much exercise each day. Rather than having a proper saddle and stirrups we had to stay on the sea horse purely through gripping with the knees while on a padded seat. I found this really difficult and had to grip on really tight as the horses built up speed. You will have a waist float on too despite the sea being waist deep so non swimmers need not panic. During the exhilirating ride you will see spectacular views of the cliff sides and Caribbean Sea. My only complaint is that it was over far too quickly. You are only in the sea for around 10 minutes. Top Tip: You cannot hold on and take photos so either use a Go-pro or put your phone on video – many people had waterproof phone holders hung round their neck which you can purchase on Amazon.
After the tour we ate some jerk chicken and sweet breads with a red stripe. Not the best quality chicken and not cheap but it felt really authentic and eating it while looking out to sea was lovely. If you’re not a cat person then beware as they swarm around anyone eating within seconds…
All in all I would recommend the trip. It’s calm and relaxing. I do want to manage your expectation though as although it is marketed as a 4 hour trip horse riding in sea, you are only in the sea for ten minutes but the trek is fab and it’s a unique way to see Jamaica.
· Round-trip transfer from all major hotels in Montego Bay and Negril
· Professional guide
· Animal welfare
· Worth the £40 compared to some of the other tours
· Food and beverages – these are available to purchase and you are almost coerced to buy them by the imposed delays between trek and water experience.
· Photographs – not a heavy sell on these but they are expensive so get your guide to take some with your camera in exchange for a tip
· Gratuities – staff were a little aggressive in asking for tips, approaching each person individually.
· Organisation – lots of waiting around not knowing what was happening
· Lockers – you have to pay to use them and it’s non refundable – about £5
Know before you go
• Cancel 2 days prior for a full refund • Maximum participant weight is 220 lbs • Please wear closed-toe shoes for safety and comfort • Minimum age for participants is 6 years • Not suitable for pregnant women, persons with back or neck problems or the physically challenged • What to wear and bring: cash, credit card, sneakers, long trousers, swimwear and towel.