The beach is a lovely place to go and ride and best of all is mud free but it also needs to be ridden on in a controlled manner. I unfortunately know to my cost what damage the beach can do to a horses legs if not planned with care.
I had a PC eventer which I shared with my mother when I was 15 . We galloped along the beach, I knew no better and he broke down in both tendons. Unfortunately he never recovered and had to be PTS after months of trying to rehab the tendons. But this warning should not take away from your enjoyment of riding on the beach. I still ride on the beach now, but I am just a lot more careful.
From a safety point of view, if you have never been before go with a friend. There is nothing worse than falling off and watching your horse disappear. If you think your horse is going to be an arse, then lunge it first.
The other thing which is vital is to check tide times, get advice before going and check things out. You do not want to get caught in sinking mud, trapped by a high tide or turn up to a beach which bans horses.
My local beach is Brean which has 6 miles of beach but it has specific zones where you cannot canter, serious mud if you ride to far out and the 2nd highest tide fall in the world which means when it is a rising tide, it rises very quickly!
On a new horse, I tend to take it tacked up as you never really know how they will behave. I appreciate that distance might be a preclusion though.
Fast Work on the Beach
Several friends have trained point to pointers on the beach and all say the same thing. Firstly they walk the route they want to gallop. Good to warm up and also to check exactly what the sand is like. Sand on the beach is hugely inconsistent and it is this which blows their tendons. One minute you can be galloping along on firm sand and the next on softer sand. There is also debris, slight sandbanks and holes from lugworms. My racing friends will walk and trot the route they want to do and then once they have deemed it acceptable they will do the fitness work in canter that they want to do. They never go faster than ¾ pace and they always make sure the horse is working into the bridle. Fast work is really hard work for them on sand (I run on the beach and it kills my legs because it feels so dead).
The best time to go to the beach is about an hour after high tide as the sand should be at its best. I would never go faster than walk in really soft sand because it’s really hard work for them and they need to learn to adjust to this surface.
Riding in the Sea
Horses get worried by riding in the sea especially the waves. The amount of times I have managed to coax the horse into water for a wave to come along and we have shot sideways very quickly! I tend to take things really slowly and let them adjust. Once they have grown in confidence, you can ask for a bit more like trotting or going a bit deeper.
I have never swum my horse in the sea, I think its madness as not a controlled environment and where we live it is so tidal with very strong currents. If I was in the Bahamas in a flat, calm, warm sea environment I might feel differently!
Trotting in deeper water up to their knees is amazing fitness work for them with little pressure on the
joints. The sea water is also brilliant for their legs.
I have never cantered in the sea because we have a lot of lug worm holes which fisherman have dug and small sand banks. I do not fancy being pitched into the Bristol Channel if the horse stumbles. Cantering in the break waters is pretty good as you can see the sand better and it reduces the concussion on their legs.
I always wear synthetic girths for riding in the sea. It just saves my leather girths from having a beasting.
I enjoy riding on the beach and have a fun blast in the open space but it is not without its dangers, being aware and planning will make a huge difference to having fun or coming home cross that you did not plan enough.