Swimming with Horses in Jamaica
By Candyce H. Stapen
Swimming with Ziggy, a retired polo pony, in Jamaica proved to be the highlight of our horseback trip with Chukka Caribbean Adventures, Sandy Bay, Jamaica.
Before we hit the water, though, Ziggy and his pal Scrappy, handled by my daughter Alissa, took us inland on a two hour scenic “walk” in the hills, something I enjoyed, but my daughter, accustomed to the challenging trot and canter trails at dude ranches, dubbed “boring.” But even she smiled at the brief 8 to ten minute swim at the ride’s end.
When we saw the busload of riders arrive at Sandy Bay, we were skeptical, having experienced too many horseback outings with long strings of riders monitored by too few guides. But Chukka Caribbean surprised us.
The guides matched riders with horses. Never-evers and kids (ages six and older) mounted mellow, smaller horses and the more experienced riders saddled-up on retired polo “ponies,” steeds with some pep and lots of personality.
That’s how we got Ziggy and Scrappy. Scrappy ambled along content to follow Ziggy, who remained calm as long as Palmsitter, our guide Howard’s horse, stayed yards away. This, however, proved problematic. Chukka Caribbean assigns one guide to ride alongside every 5 to 6 participants. The company’s diligence impressed us. Despite being among 40+ riders in a snaking row, we felt watched.
Howard rode up and down his stretch of participants, pointing out the bamboo and the almond trees and telling us about the stone ruins of the sugar mill plantation as he encouraged us up hills and across a stream. But every time Palmsitter came within a head’s length, Ziggy turned sharply to bite him. Howard, deftly maneuvered his horse just a nose out of Ziggy’s reach.
Despite Howard’s repetition of “No problem,” Ziggy’s lip curling, teeth bearing, head jerking antics unnerved me. Howard watched me more closely and that, of course, put Palmsitter within biting range. After about an hour, Ziggy calmed down, only occasionally aiming for Palmsitter.
The slow and hot ride inland bothered Alissa. Bring water and a bottle holder so you can carry the water with you. For me, the scenic ride provided a nice way to view the “other” Jamaica, the one away from the coastal tourist resorts.
After the hills, the horses led us along the beach back to the starting point where we dismounted. As the guides removed the saddles, we donned life vests and took off our shoes to mount whatever horses were ready. The guides led us into the water in groups of about 8. Since I wanted to finish the adventure with Ziggy, Howard matched us up.
Ziggy and Alissa’s horse followed their pals into the azure Caribbean. In the shallower water at the beginning, the horses seemed to trot and then, with the sea up to their necks, the horses swam. Holding on tight to the reins so as not to slip off the slick wet sides of the horse, I marveled at Ziggy’s synchronized series of smooth, quick kicks. He and I glided through the sea, a magical, fast ride accompanied by lots of snorting and deep breathes on Ziggy’s part and lots of giggles on mine. Alissa too thought the swim was “awesome.”
In Montego Bay, Alissa and I stayed at the Half Moon Rose Hall, an upscale resort on 400 acres offering golf, an impressive spa, a children’s program and an ample stretch of sandy beach.