It’s a fantasy that must be imbued on the psyche of every Thai: to ride a horse upon the sand, as the waves lap gently at its hooves.
Have we mind-melded with the Thais? Have we performed exploratory brain surgery?
No, we visited the beach at Hua Hin.
On the strand we find dozens of equine and no shortage of excited riders.
It’s quite a business: there appears to be a union or guild of equerries. Each horse handler has an official vest with embroidery and a number. Their steed—from appearances there is only one horse per equerry—has a saddle pad that is similarly numbered.
In the five-kilometer stretch of Hua Hin beach I saw at least two-dozen unique animals during our stay, but I wonder: how many are there really? The highest number I observed on a saddle pad was 53. Are there fifty-three people making their living giving pony rides a Hua Hin?
If you are very young rider, or a rider with trepidation, the grooms will happily lead you up and down the beach. You beam and the horse has someone familiar in its field of vision.
If you are a bolder rider, you are allowed to spur and steer your own mount. The equerries amble, or scurry, or flat out run down the beach after you. In case you lose control or try to take the horse for a swim, they want to be near at hand.
I don’t know how early they start working, but horses and grooms are at the beach every time we arrive, and they disappear during sunset.
At least some of the equerries are skilled horsemen. I watched the man wearing the vest #1 take his long-legged bay for a full gallop down the beach near quitting time and at low tide. He was mighty smooth in the saddle.
There are a few full-sized horses in the herd, but most of them are really ponies. Some are tiny, smaller than the smallest Shetland you’re ridden at your county fair when you were in grade school.
Thankfully, I can report the animals are all in excellent condition. We should not find it surprising, given the quality of the food that Thais give themselves, that their steeds are also well fed.
As long as we accept the ideas of horses as working animals, my observations turned up only three criticisms about the operation:
- Most steeds had a tie-down strap running from their breast collar to their nose band. That keeps the horse from jerking the reins out of the rider’s hand. Certainly a martingale is nice safety measure when you’ve got inexperienced riders living out their fantasies all day, but many were tied too short in my opinion, not giving the horses enough freedom of movement in the neck.
- It’s plenty warm on Hat Hua Hin, and I saw animals in a lather of sweat and others with a pretty fair froth around their mouth. Those horses ought to be given a little more water a little more often.
- The grooms were not as scrupulous at picking up the horse dung as we might expect of the usually fastidious Thais. To be fair, I wonder if that is an issue with certain individuals, as I did witness some of the grooms keeping the sand absolutely spic and span.
Witness to substantially humane treatment,