Splash in the Sun­shine State


En­joy rid­ing your own horse in Florida’s sand and surf from the 25-acre Cheers Horse Ranch, just a short drive from Jack­sonville.

WWhen it comes to an ex­pan­sive coast­line, Florida is sec­ond only to Alaska, but for a state with 1,350 miles of shore­line, there’s an ex­tremely lim­ited num­ber of places where you can trailer your horse to ride on the beach, due to en­vi­ron­men­tal re­stric­tions and en­croach­ing devel­op­ment.

Ranch Gem

Amelia Is­land State Park and Peters Point Beach­front Park are two such op­tions, but sta­bling op­tions within an easy trailer drive of these beaches are lim­ited.

Long­time horse­woman Deb­bie Manser, who owns Cheers Horse Ranch LLC in Yulee, Florida, fills this void. Her ranch sits off of In­ter­state 95, just 20 min­utes away from Amelia Is­land State Park and 30 min­utes from Peters Point Beach­front Park, about an hour north­east of Jack­sonville.

Manser’s 25-acre fa­cil­ity of­fers 12 stalls for horse own­ers com­ing to ride the beaches, as well as those in need of an overnight stop while trav­el­ing in and out of Florida.

“Horses are se­cure at our fa­cil­ity, with 24 hour on-site care,” says Manser. “We’ll keep the light on for you if you’re com­ing in late!”

Make your reser­va­tions at least one week ahead; for large groups, more time may be nec­es­sary. Cur­rent Cog­gins pa­pers show­ing that your horse is neg­a­tive for equine in­fec­tious ane­mia (EIA) are re­quired.

If you’d like to stay on site, the ranch of­fers elec­tri­cal hookups to ac­com­mo­date up to four or five liv­ing-quar­ters’ trail­ers and a re­stroom with shower fa­cil­ity. Or, you may board your horse at the ranch and stay in a nearby ho­tel or bed & break­fast.

“You can eas­ily make this a rid­ing des­ti­na­tion for two or three days,” says Manser, who has res­cued a num­ber of ne­glected and abused horses over the years. (She still has Taco, the first horse she res­cued 26 years ago.)

If you’d rather leave your horse at home, Manser of­fers guided rides on her own well­trained mounts.

“We al­low peo­ple to trot and can­ter and have fun; this is not your typ­i­cal nose-to­tail ride on hack horses,” says Manser, who uses syn­thetic Win­tec tack so the salt­wa­ter doesn’t harm equip­ment. “We take only one to six rid­ers at a time.”

Get­ting There

Cheers Horse Ranch is an easy drive from I-95. From the in­ter­state, take Exit 373 to­ward Amelia Is­land. At the fourth stop­light, turn left on Ch­ester Ave. (There’s a Home De­pot on the cor­ner.) Go about three­quar­ters of a mile, turn right on Green Pine Rd., then turn left onto Black­rock Rd.

Go about 1 to 1½ miles to 96841 Black­rock Rd.; the ranch is on the left. Pi­rates Trad­ing Post Con­ve­nience Store is on the left just be­fore the ranch drive­way. The Cheers Horse Ranch sign is at the end of drive­way.

En­joy rid­ing your own horse in Florida’s sand and surf from the 25-acre Cheers Horse Ranch, just a short drive from Jack­sonville. BY CYN­THIA MCFAR­LAND ~ PHO­TOS COUR­TESY OF CHEERS HORSE RANCH LLC

Be Pre­pared

Rid­ing along the beach may sound like a dream come true, but there can be chal­lenges. For a horse that’s never been near the ocean, the crash­ing of waves and con­stant move­ment of the wa­ter can be down­right scary.

It’s best to plan your first visit at re­ced­ing or low tide, as the wa­ter will be calmer then. Plan ahead, and check the tide times and charts for the day and time you in­tend to ride. (Just en­ter “tide charts” into a search en­gine, and en­ter the name of the beach.)

You must know your horse well, be able to con­trol him at all times, and mount and dis­mount eas­ily. At first, ride with a horse­and-rider team that’s fa­mil­iar with the beach. If you’re new to beach rid­ing, Manser

will en­cour­age you to fol­low her horses for a while, then go on your own once your horse is com­fort­able and at ease.

Let your horse fol­low an ex­pe­ri­enced horse, and don’t try to force him close to the wa­ter un­less he wants to ap­proach. If he seems will­ing, let him do this grad­u­ally, and stay alert at all times.

De­pend­ing on the time of day, you’ll likely en­counter peo­ple walk­ing along the shore­line, fish­ing, and play­ing in the wa­ter. Be cour­te­ous, but don’t ex­pect them to know how to act around horses. Keep to a walk, and ride in­land of other beach users, not be­tween them and the wa­ter. If any­thing should star­tle your horse, you don’t want him spook­ing to­ward peo­ple.

If you want to ride in the wa­ter, note that your horse will feel more sta­ble in the wa­ter if he’s fac­ing into the waves or has his hindquar­ters to them. If he’s broad­side to the wa­ter, he can get knocked off his feet by a wave.

Take it slow as your horse gets ac­cus­tomed to the wa­ter’s move­ment. The surg­ing tide can some­times make horses and rid­ers feel “sea­sick.” If you start feeling this way, ride out of the wa­ter and onto firm sand for a bit.

Build­ing Trust

Train­ing clin­ics are of­fered at Cheers Horse Ranch that in­clude rid­ing on the beach. That’s what brought Char Red­ing of Dun­nel­lon, Florida, and her Ten­nessee Walk­ing Horse, Boone, to the ranch for the first time.

“I’ve been to the ranch twice, says Red­ing. “The first time, I met up with a friend to at­tend a clinic on Parelli Nat­u­ral Horse­man­ship. We used those meth­ods on the ground first, then, the next day, rode on the beach.

“You want your horse to trust you,” Red­ing continues. “None of the horses vol­un­teered to go into the ocean without us en­cour­ag­ing them — it can be quite in­tim­i­dat­ing.” She rec­om­mends be­ing on the ground the first time your horse is in­tro­duced to the ocean, as that can be safer for both horse and han­dler.

Red­ing and a small group of friends re­turned to the ranch for three nights in the fall.

“The ranch has a very nice barn, which we used as our home base for the horses, and we stayed in a nearby ho­tel,” says Red­ing. “The weather was per­fect — warm enough to play in the wa­ter, but not too hot. We es­pe­cially liked go­ing back to the beach in the evening and see­ing the sun go down.”

Know the Reg­u­la­tions

Both Amelia Is­land Beach­front State Park and Peters Point Beach­front Park have park­ing and beach-rid­ing reg­u­la­tions.

“To ride in Amelia Is­land State Park, you pay on the honor sys­tem to park,” says Manser. “To ride from Peters Point, you’ll need a Nas­sau County park­ing per­mit. (For the Nas­sau County con­tact in­for­ma­tion, see the re­source guide on page 52.) The per­mit can be mailed to you, but keep in mind that you’ll need to ar­range this ahead of time as the of­fice might not be open the day you plan to ride.

Ahead of your visit, also check out the Nas­sau County web­site for rid­ing reg­u­la­tions on Florida beaches.

“It’s a big deal to be able to con­tinue to ride on the beach, so it’s im­por­tant to obey all the or­di­nances,” says Manser, who’s happy to en­lighten guests who stay at her ranch.

For ex­am­ple, reg­u­la­tions re­quire you to pick up any horse ma­nure im­me­di­ately; it’s il­le­gal to leave it on the beach.

“Bring plas­tic bags with you for your horse’s ma­nure, and take them with you when you leave,” says Manser. “You can’t leave them in the beach trash cans.” She finds the eas­i­est method is to hang the bags off your sad­dle horn.

Manser also points out that at Peters Point, rid­ing isn’t per­mit­ted on the beach from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. dur­ing peak sea­son (May 1 to Novem­ber 1).

Rid­ing on the beach is on the bucket list of many a rider. Hap­pily, horse­women like Deb­bie Manser help make that hap­pen. A sun­set ride along foam-flecked surf is truly a mem­ory worth sa­vor­ing. TTR

Cyn­thia McFar­land is a sea­soned trail rider and full-time free­lance writer based in Cen­tral Florida. She reg­u­larly con­trib­utes to na­tional equine mag­a­zines and is the author of eight books.

If you’re new to beach rid­ing, Deb­bie Manser, who owns Cheers Horse Ranch, will en­cour­age you to fol­low her horses for a while, then go on your own once your horse is com­fort­able and at ease.

Cheers Horse Ranch in Yulee, Florida, is just min­utes away from Amelia Is­land’s beau­ti­ful beaches. The ranch of­fers 12 stalls, plus elec­tri­cal hookups for liv­ing-quar­ters trail­ers.

“The weather was per­fect — warm enough to play in the wa­ter, but not too hot,” says re­peat vis­i­tor Char Red­ing of her fall visit. “We es­pe­cially liked go­ing back to the beach in the evening and see­ing the sun go down.”

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