The thought of horseback riding along the sea is captivating, but it is only possible at a handful of beaches in South Africa. Justus Visagie used a Subaru Forester to find one of these places, where some of the horses are of the amphibious kind.
The sea horses of Pearly Beach
We leave Somerset West before dawn to report at exactly nine o’clock for our ride at Pearly Beach in the Western Cape. Our teenage companions on the Forester’s back seat hardly slept a wink due to excitement and are now playing DJ through the Bluetooth audio system.
“Up all night on another red-eye, I wish we never learned to fly,” Billie Eilish whispers as the sun extends its crown behind the horizon near Caledon.
After a two-hour drive, Google Maps on the Forester’s infotainment display (via Android Auto), delivers us to a neat small-holding near Pearly Beach. Stretching our legs, the world feels young and fresh after the night’s rain.
Horse riding is for stuntmen, right?
I don’t know much about horses, but the tail on one of them seems a bit straggly. Sarah Coronaios, owner and manager of Pearly Beach Horse Trails, explains that all the horses suffered abuse or neglect at some stage of their lives. “They’re basically SPCA horses that we’ve adopted.”
For animals with a difficult past, the horses seem relaxed, healthy and well-groomed. But I can just imagine the stories they can tell about humans…
Sarah, her husband Kos and their teenage son Chris moved from Louis Trichardt, where she also led horse rides and tours, about two years ago. “There the horses enjoyed being in the water, and when we moved to the coast, I thought we could do it here too.”
Horses are fine-looking animals, but I don’t trust them. The front end bites and the back end kicks. Once, in Lesotho, a dog chased the Basotho pony I was on at full speed along an abyss. I prefer cars, like the Subaru WRX, that go exactly where I point them. If I have to ride something, why can’t it be a Ducati, Kawasaki or something from that realm?
“I weigh 107kg and your prescribed maximum is 95kg,” I try to talk myself out of the ride. “That’s just a guideline,” Sarah replies, leading me to a handsome brown stallion named Troy. She gently coaxes me into the ride, like a horse whisperer cajoling a stubborn nag.
My companion Jeanette needs no pep talk, and the teenagers, Joeli and Kano, have already mounted their steeds. I accept my fate, fastening my riding hat securely and comforting myself with the thought that the beach sand is a soft surface for falls.
Tracks on the beach
Pearly Beach Horse Trails is a mere kilometre or two from the beach. Jinx, Kimo, Mardi, Frisco, Rocky, Troy and their riders – of whom I am one – walk leisurely from the equestrian camp, across the R43 to Gansbaai, and then into a path leading to the ocean. Occasionally I have to duck under a branch because of my height. The sun is bright but gentle, and the sky is a perfect blue. Then a magnificent, seemingly endless beach reveals itself.
Kos and the Forester await us at the point where cars may go no further. We head east, coming across 4×4 tracks disfiguring the beach, as some fishermen don’t heed the vehicle ban. Our horse tracks, on the other hand, seem to belong there.
The beach is long and quite deserted, so the horses are free to run. A fairly skilled rider, Joeli and her horse Mardi trot then canter along the water’s edge while the rest of us saunter without haste. Kano is less experienced, and Sarah holds onto a leash clipped to her horse Frisco’s bridle so that they ride in tandem, breaking into a trot and then a canter.
The horses looked a little lackadaisical back at the camp, but here on the beach they seem all fired up – noble steeds charging to victory. After a while we take a little break with chocolates bars and soft drinks brought by Sarah and Kos.
Into the sea
The place where Sarah usually launches her amphibian horses is somewhat protected from the force of the ocean, with submerged rocks almost forming a small bay. But even here, on our outing the water is restless – enough to make me wonder if it’s safe.
Usually two to three horses go in, with guests riding bareback, and when the sea is truly rough Sarah won’t let the horses enter the water. Today she decides to take the teenagers in one by one as the sea is rather turbulent.
Jeanette and I watch from a safe distance as Sarah leads the mare Kimo with Joeli on her back into the sea. The power of the ocean makes Sarah work hard, but Kimo isn’t bothered – her divinely symmetrical all-wheel-drive system is hugely efficient. Kano’s turn is next.
Sarah is quite exhausted when she leads Kano and Kimo out of the water onto the beach, but endorphins are clearly charging through her veins. It’s hard to imagine anyone with more job satisfaction. The teens are somewhere on a scale between delirious and euphoric, overwhelmed by what they’ve just experienced.
As they all catch their breath, we chat about the horses. Two of them are mad for the sea, says Sarah – she calls them the Beach Boys. ‘My’ horse Troy is one of them, and the other beach bum, Rocky, apparently enjoys lying down in the shallow water and then rolling in the sand. Fortunate we don’t have to take them home in the car!
We ride back to the farm in the warm sun, feeling a little drowsy but at peace with the world. We have Oros with lots of ice on the stoep, before reuniting with our faithful Forester.
On the way home I first hijack the Subaru’s DJ booth and then make a mental note to go ride the Forester on the Atlantis dunes, north of Cape Town. Here sand driving is allowed and I will be in complete control of the animal.
Want to go?
To get there, follow Sarah’s directions or use Google Maps by clicking here.
Where to stay
If you’d like to overnight in the Pearly Beach area, you can stay in one of the two self-catering cottages on Kos and Sarah’s farm. Rates from R1 350 per cottage.
If you have a substantial travel budget, consider the exquisite Grootbos Private Nature Reserve at about R16 000 for two, all meals included.
Visit budget-getaways.co.za for more (affordable) options near Pearly Beach.