Costa Rica Escape — on Horseback

Costa Rica pineapple eating horses, horseback riding on Costa Rica's beaches.
Kris feeds a piece of pineapple after the ride

A winter-weary New Jersey resident finds warmth, fun, fine food, and great horseback riding 4 hours away — in Costa Rica

By Daniel Ramsey

I had to get away. I needed to leave the stress of my job, and the bitter cold of New Jersey behind and just go.

When I got off the plane, the hot air hit me like it does when you open the oven to check the Thanksgiving turkey. Wham. The sun made me squint, and the heat made me take shallow breaths. I was in the tropics. I was ready for some relaxation and horseback riding.

I was met at the plane by Raffa, a tall, friendly man who speaks good English and is the kind of man one instantly trusts. Since he was taking me on the most exciting experience of my life that was important.

The rides at Costa Rica Riding cover more than 40 beautiful, secluded beaches. horseback
The rides at Costa Rica Riding cover more than 40 beautiful, secluded beaches.

We drove for about half an hour and arrived at the Sugar Beach Hotel. The hotel is right on the Pacific Ocean and is surrounded by banana trees, and all sorts of birds, and is visited at night by giant sea turtles. And yes, the sand really is like sugar.

Shortly after checking into the hotel, I headed for the beach and dived right into the ocean. The water was warm and crystal clear — and I finally could believe I was in the tropics.

But I was here to ride!

I didn’t have long to wait. The horses arrived with Tina, our warm and extremely funny Swedish guide (who had grown up in Costa Rica) with her wonderful band of helpers. I also met more of my fellow riders, who came from many countries.

I was introduced to my mount, Gemini, who stands only 15.2 hands tall but is as regal and proud as any 17-hand Hanoverian. Gazing into his eyes, I could almost believe that he knew his ancestors had come to Central America with the Spanish 400 years ago.

We set off — walking and trotting at first to get acquainted with our mounts — along one of the many trails in the sparsely populated province of Guanacaste.

The Arenal Volcano horseback
The Arenal Volcano

This area, on the West Coast of Costa Rica, was formed 60 million years ago by volcanic eruptions that left behind the magnificent mountain range through which we rode.

When we reached the beach on horseback, one of 17 we would explore during our stay, we cut loose in a superb gallop along the sand, with surf curling at our feet and erasing our footprints behind us.

Finally, we slowed, and I became aware of my surroundings — monkeys jumping from tree to tree and a flurry of wings as flocks of large birds left their perches, protesting our intrusion. I managed to get my camera out in time to capture the avian exodus. Talk about perfect days!

Swimming on Horseback

While our guides were preparing our picnic lunch, Jorge from Spain, Lisa from Chicago, Lois from Belgium and I dismounted and took off our saddles. We remounted bareback, plunged into the surf, and swam out several hundred yards.

It was a new experience for us but obviously not for our horses, who seemed to enjoy the swim as much as we did. I couldn’t believe that after years of lessons in a ring (“Heels down, Daniel, and shorten your reins.”) I was actually swimming with a magnificent horse in the Pacific Ocean!

Lunch Time

Mulo surveys the landscape. horseback
Mulo surveys the landscape.

We emerged from the surf, had a fresh-water shower, and sat down to a wonderful lunch of teriyaki chicken, tomato and rice salad, bean salad, bread, papaya, grapes, pineapple, bananas, and pineapple dessert. I had one of the ice-cold local beers. It went down fast and easy. Lovely.

After lunch, our guide turned us away from the beach toward the rainforest, where we were met with new sounds, sights, and smells.

Under the tall canopy of the trees, it was cool and dark and teeming with life. Parrots and other birds of all colors and sizes watched us with slight interest.

Monkeys went about their business with barely a glance. Trees and plants that I kept in pots in New Jersey grew to massive size around me. A cousin of my puny office potted palm stretched more than 50 feet high, with a six-foot trunk.

When I turned in after my first day on the Costa Rica trail, I realized how much there is to life that is exciting and delightful – and how much I loved riding horseback.

Costa Rica and Its History

Top Ten Horseback Riding Excursions in Costa Rica

[Editor’s note: The Costa Rica Riding Company is a small locally owned company located in the Province of Guanacaste. It is operated by Christina Rahm, who is Swedish by descent, but has lived in Costa Rica for more than 20 years and is familiar with the plant and animal life that can be seen on the ride. She is fluent in Swedish, Spanish, and English.

The horses at CRRC are criollos, which have been locally bred and originate from the Peruvian Paso Fino, Andalusian, and Barb that the conquistadors brought to Costa Rica. They are known for their comfortable gait, surefootedness, and even temperament. The recommended tack is western style, but English tack is also available.

CRRC rides are generally six days with accommodation at local beachside hotels with air conditioning, hot water, private gardens, and swimming pools, with local B&Bs as another option.]

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