Life after loss

Working with the Florida beach horses

I roll over and see the light starting to sneak through the blinds. I’m about to turn over when I remember: I have work today.

Whoopee!

I smile as I get up and grab my phone and glasses. The coffee pot is ready, so I push the button and check the weather for today. Sunny and hot in Florida. No thunderstorms until late in the afternoon. Great. The coffee pot dings and I can sip hot, caffeine into my veins.

I gather some lunch snacks and refill two water bottles. I dress in my black tank swimsuit, black biking shorts and a pink tank top. I’ll ask them for a company tank top today.

I pack a change of clothes and two towels. One for ‘work’ and one for after if I decide to swim at the beach, 5 miles further down the causeway.

Pete makes me a delicious protein-rich breakfast and I take Harry out for his morning walk. I kiss all goodbye and put on my pink baseball cap. I’m heading out to work.

Florida Beach Horses was looking for guides after many of their workers went back to college after the summer. They invited me in to train. I did two rides with the supervision of an experienced guide and was asked to come back. I guess I passed the interview process!

I have some background with horses. I rode horses in high school and taught horse-back riding lessons at a summer day camp for two summers. In addition, since we take people into the water and the horses swim with the riders, being a certified lifeguard is probably helpful. And I do have experience working with children.

I park my car on the causeway of highway 64 going toward Anna Maria Island. There’s a stretch of land designated for horses and we are the first ones on the right. I grab my water bottle and head towards the truck. Any horses still in the truck to take out? Who needs a saddle? Are the hay bags filled?

I gather round the table and listen for my assignment. I’ll be guiding the rider on Buster. Great. Buster is my favorite. He is a sweet 22-year-old rescue horse. Stubborn but gentle. He gets tired sometimes and rests his head on my shoulders. I’m fine with that. I get tired sometimes too!

We begin by tacking the horses. I check that his girth is tightened. Once the bridle is secure, along with a lead rope, I bring him over to the steps by the shore to help our rider mount easily. Once on, I check the stirrup length for the rider and move Buster forward to join the other horses. When everyone is ready, we begin our trek along the beach.

This is one of my favorite parts. I talk to complete strangers who are generally on vacation and happy to be riding a horse on the beach. I’ve met people from Idaho, Sweden, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Vermont. The youngest rider I’ve guided was 7 years old and today the lovely lady I’m walking with has just shared that she is celebrating her 50th wedding anniversary. She tells me she rides her horse every day and I can picture her life similar to that of Queen Elizabeth’s.

After a short walk down the beach, we return to the spot by the truck. The riders dismount and we remove the saddle. We will ride bareback into the bay. I help my rider dismount, take off the saddle, then help her back on. Off we go into the bay.

The horses line up and head out about a quarter of a mile. I’m holding onto the tail of Rowdy, the white horse in front of me, as we take our riders out to a sandbar. Once there Chrissy gives an overview of the activities we will be doing.

The first activity is to stand up on the horse’s rump while he is standing in the water. We delicately suggest that if you are over 150 pounds, please skip this activity. Once balanced, we will even walk the horse so it’s like you are surfing. We ask that if you feel you will fall, go into the water so as not to hurt the horse. I look at Ginger and she asks, “how do I do it” as she squirms her legs about.

I get some help from our tallest guide and in no time at all, we have Ginger standing on Buster. We snap photos with her iPhone and everyone cheers her on.

The next activity for the riders is to horse-ski. They dismount and the guides (me) get on the horse. We have them hold onto the tail and we urge the horses to run in the water. They laugh as they get a thrill that feels like tubing off the back of a motorboat.

Next, our horses all go out for a swim with the rider. We guide them out over their heads, then the horses turn and swim back to the sandbar. Buster seems to enjoy his swim and Rowdy hums loudly as he swims. Two of the horses even put their noses down into the saltwater and blow bubbles. Horses remind me of Kindergarteners!

We all rest back on the sandbar and take more photos with phones protected in plastic cases. Our finale is a race back to shore. This time the riders excitedly cheer on the horses and we guides tow along in the sea holding onto the rumps or tails.

We have the riders dismount in the water and pose for another photo before leaving. If they’ve brought apples or carrots we invite them to give the horses a treat. The horses love to eat.

I say my goodbyes to Ginger and her family. I hope she enjoyed herself. She says she did and I know I did too.

I bring Buster back to the truck so he can munch on some hay. I tack him back up. The saddle fits but I know he is bloated now and I will tighten it when the next rider is here. While I get Buster some water, someone has attached pink mini stirrups atop Buster’s saddle. I guess my next rider will be a kid. It’s fun to talk to kids again. I wonder where this one is from?

I’m a bit afraid to post this blog because I hate when people criticize. Someone would say, oh those poor horses. Let them be free and why make them take people for rides and aren’t they hurt? Blah Blah Blah. Horses cost a lot of money to keep and these precious animals are loved.

I did a bit of research. Swimming is actually very good for horses. It strengthens their muscles and ligaments. Several of the horses I work with are rescue horses, which means they were abused or on their way to the dog food farm. Now they are living happy lives with people who love them; eating, swimming, and posing for photos. Some are quite the big hams when it comes to picture taking!

So today I “worked” again and what a joyful day I had. My first rider was a 7th grade girl. Her mom took her out as a bucket list activity and she told me at the end of the ride that “this was the best thing she ever did!” When I was 12 years old, I probably would have felt the same way.

Finally, we had a family come out for a ride. The two youngest were 5 and 7 years old, small little children like I used to teach in Kindergarten. They were super excited and we had the best time with them. Since they didn’t know how to swim, we figured out a way to be sure they got the thrill of horse surfing and horse skiing, even if I held them while we did some of it. The kids were scared to start off, but got brave and had the best time. By the end, they loved the horses and I am sure the horses loved these little passengers.

After they left, I discovered the little boy was here on a Make A Wish trip. This day was part of his wish.

Today, I am feeling so blessed.

6 comments

  1. So glad your life has turned around and that there is life after the death of a beloved husband. I lost my lovely Henry 5 and half months ago (71 I am 58). I still write to him every night. I was at a loss when it first happened. I thought I needed a plan and considered joining all sorts of groups etc. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. We had always done things together. I trowled the internet for inspiration and came across your bloggs. It gave me hope. The numbness is lifting and I am begining to enjoy and arrange coffees and outings with family and friends. I follow my Henry’s advice, always long have something to look forward to.
    I hope your life goes from strenth to strenth and please continue your blogg for us who are new to this’Club’ that no one whats to belong to.
    Michelle Unite Kingdom

    1. Thank you so much for reading and your comment. I follow Henry’s Advice too by having things to look forward to. Some days it’s good to rest but I found keeping busy was helpful that first year.

  2. Thank you so much for this!!! I live in the Sarasota area and, years ago, helped my then high school son surprise his girlfriend with a beach horse experience for her birthday. She loved it …and the photos show big smiles as they did the activities you described. “Magical” is my recollection of what she said!!! So wonderful you’ve discovered this happy way to give others a special experience and I agree that the horses enjoy it, too! Your post does inspire me to continue to try to find my own fulfilling activities out in this big, beautiful world! …Lynn

    1. Thanks so much for reading and your comment. Yes I’ve heard people call the ride magical too. It is just such a different and fun thing to do and the horses are beautiful. I’m glad you’re inspired. Just keep trying new things. Something will click and it’s fun to try new activities along the way!

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