Imagine galloping along a sandy beach, splashing in and out of the water -- an image right out of "The Black Stallion," or perhaps some romantic travel getaway advertisement. But right here in Kenai, there are great beaches for horseback riding, and now is the best time to do it.
Mary Green and Jessica Vann are two avid local horseback riders who can be seen several times a week riding the beach either from the beach access on Cannery Road, or the end of Spruce Street in Kenai. The end of April and May, followed by September are the favorite times to go. In the spring, the beach is a great place to avoid the mud of the trails and yet get a jump on "legging up" a horse which has had little exercise over the winter.
Horse riders tend to avoid long rides on the beach during the summer because of the set net sites, but you'll see them back on the beaches during the end of August and September to avoid the hunting season, bears and bugs. During the summer, however, on the Cannery Road side, it's possible to ride toward the mouth of the Kenai River and avoid the set nets -- but stay off the beach during dip net season.
Horseback riding on the beach has its hazards, however. Green has just bought a mule from Idaho, and intends to introduce the mule slowly to the beach -- coming the first time when the tide is way out so the waves won't scare him -- and then introducing him to the water and waves the second time she brings him.
She said, "There is a lot on a beach to scare horses that have never experienced the beach, including eagles and seagulls that fly off in front of a horse, rocks that look like polar bears to a horse, and, of course, speeding four-wheelers and trucks."
A major hazard of riding on the beach is the unseen "sinkholes." These sinkholes are more prevalent earlier in the spring, and can be totally camouflaged.
"I was walking along with a friend a couple of springs ago," Green said, "and suddenly my horse plunged nearly up to his belly in a sinkhole. Unfortunately this was an 'Arizona Horse' and he never forgot that spot from that time forward. He just had to lunge his way out. Just last week my friend's horse walked up to a tiny creek flowing out of the flats near the Cannery Road access, and suddenly he was up to his chest in sand. My friend hung on, and her horse lunged out."
Even seasoned horses can greet the beach with exuberance in the spring.
Green said, "Wide open spaces can cause a horse to get excited and want to run, but the good thing about the beach is the sand, which can tire a horse out quickly. If the horses get fresh or stupid and go to bucking, we'll stop them by making them move out faster or turning a lot of circles."
The sand also cushions the fall from bucking horses.
Green prefers the Cannery Road beach in the early spring because there are long stretches without rocks. But later, the spring high tides bring in rocks, and she switches to the Kenai beach. Riding the Kenai beach means watching the tide more closely, as it's possible to get caught on the other side of the point by the incoming tide, with no place to get up the bluff without traveling on private property until Nikiski.
"I only ride the Kenai beach on the outgoing tide," she said, adding that sometimes the sand around the rocks at the point can be "sinky." But the timing is worth it, as the beach beyond the point has long stretches of hard sand perfect for galloping horses.
If you don't have your own horses, there is one business offering beach rides, Alaska C &C Horse Adventures, owned and operated by Connie Green. She has six rideable horses, but would like to keep her trips to four clients at a time, five at the most. "I want to keep it one-on-one, and be a good, personal guide.
She offers one-hour and two-hour rides, and takes clients to the mouth of the Kenai River.
"It's an awesome experience for tourists," she said, adding that she take pictures of them with the mountains as a backdrop.
She can be reached at her email address, Cowgirl@alaska.net or her cell phone, 953-5401.
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