Horse riding on the Kent coast
- Credit: Archant
Kent’s long golden sands provide freedom for horses to stretch out at speed an riders an exhilarating experience
Cantering on horseback beside Margate’s glistening waves has long been a favourite family pastime for Ramsgate resident Liz ‘Spud’ Hatton. Although injury prevents her from saddling up these days, she can still be seen on the shoreline proudly watching eight-year-old daughter Phoebe taking up the reins.
Liz, who prefers to be known by her nickname of 36 years, ‘Spud’, was first introduced to the thrill of riding by her mother during a family holiday to Butlins aged eight.
Now, when the weather permits and the tide is right, she drives the short journey to access the sands at Margate via Westbrook Bay beach so her daughter can experience what she and her mother before her enjoyed so much.
Now, equally content to watch Phoebe in her element, Spud recommends visiting the beach in early spring in the late afternoon/early evening when the light is at its most stunning.
“The sunsets at Margate beach are really quite spectacular,” she says. “It’s up to a 40-minute ride from Westbrook through onto Margate beach, round the harbour and back to Westbrook, where we box the ponies back up in the lorry and take them home.
Phoebe stables her pony Brett, a chestnut 12.2 hands Welsh Section B cross Arab and loaned competition pony, Dave, a Welsh Section B, also 12.2 hands at St-Nicholas-at-Wade. Living so close to the coast and with the ponies kept a 10-minute drive from their favourite beach it’s something the animal lovers (they also own dogs) could easily take for granted.
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Spud says: “I don’t think you appreciate it until you haven’t got it. When I was 16, I moved to Cambridge to work on a show jumping yard and we had to drive two hours to take the horses to Hunstanton beach. It was just bizarre that you could ever live that far away from a beach. I’d never lived more than five minutes away from a beach and now I don’t think I could live away from the coast.”
Although Spud no longer rides due to a bad back, she is devoted to Phoebe’s riding endeavours and watching her daughter enjoy the thrill of riding on the beach provides her with a deep sense of joy.
The pair’s other passion is centred on the show jumping arena, where Phoebe regularly competes and many hours are spent training in preparation for the next event.
Spud says: “Ponies have to be schooled and disciplined for training. Show jumping involves a lot of control, otherwise they would knock down jumps or go past them – they need to have that element of control and respect. So when they are on the beach it allows them the time to just be ponies. They’re not controlled in the same way, we’re steering them and starting and stopping them, otherwise we just let them go and have that long stretch out. They generally pull up when they’re at the end of the beach. In summer we have to watch out for holes in the sand where children have been digging.”
Spud stresses that riders must be mindful of the safety considerations, checking the weather and tide times as the danger of being cut off by the tide as you go around each bay is potentially hazardous.
She says: “You have to look at whether you are allowed to ride on the beach on that date at that time. Hot days bring the public onto the beach so try to avoid times when you know lots of children will be there. When we want to give our ponies ‘a blast’ we don’t want to be running children and dogs over so we avoid peak times.”
In summer, when restrictions are in place limiting the time horses are permitted on the beach, Spud and Phoebe take their ponies for an evening paddle. The health benefits of salt water are an added bonus, as is the fact that ground conditions are nearly always good; never too boggy or hard and never frozen.
Phoebe, who has been riding since the age of two, first rode along Margate beach aged five with her then Shetland Pony, Sonic.
Her mum recalls: “I have photos of her cantering with the biggest smile on her face. Her pony was extra safe but I led her from another pony, so he couldn’t go off. However, it’s not something that you would advise a non-rider to do because of the open spaces. If you fall off it’s not like falling onto concrete, you are falling onto sand – but if you are at high speed it can be dangerous and then you have the risk of the ponies running off into the sea. You should be a competent rider in cantering before you go to the beach.”
The equine pair tend to stick to Margate for their regular fix of sea air, although other beaches in Kent are horse friendly. Spud, whose family has lived and worked in the town for many generations, says: “Because of my roots and where I live, Margate has my heart. There probably are better beaches, but for me Margate is hard to beat.”
Hold your horses
Thanet’s coastline provides a wealth of beach-riding experiences with many riders choosing bays between Margate and Westbrook, and Minnis round to Reculver.
Byelaws which must be adhered to when considering a canter by the sea include:
• No riding on the seashore between 1 May and 30 September, between 9am and 7pm.
• No riding horses (or other animal) in a race or so as to cause danger or annoyance to any persons using the seashore or break-in any horse (this byelaw does not apply to children riding either horses or donkeys being led on foot.)
• Riders are reminded to clear up the beach/prom/slipway after their ride.
• When leaving the beach, use the relevant slipways avoiding the main promenade areas at all times.
• Riders must adhere to the no galloping/racing rule and show due consideration to other beach/promenade users at all times.
Riders are reminded not to ride on the beaches at high tide and to avoid disturbing the large number of wintering birds in the area, especially the shingle beaches between Minnis Bay and Reculver and at the Sandwich and Pegwell Bay National Nature Reserves.
For further information visit www.thanetcoast.org.uk, www.visitthanet.co.uk and to download more in-depth information about horse riding on beaches visit the British Horse Society’s website, www.bhs.org.uk.