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.
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.”
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
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.
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.”