by Claire Irvin, The Telegraph, October 3, 2017
Disclaimer. I love horses. And, after a 20-year hiatus, I love horse riding (actually, I have always loved it. Aged 14, I just decided I preferred youth club and flirting). I also love the sea, love Cornwall and am not unfamiliar with a wetsuit.
But, opening the blinds of our chi-chi rental on Porthminster Beach to a mizzly morning atop a grey, listing Celtic Sea, even I baulked at the idea of getting into it on horseback. However, my eight-year-old Amelie was at fever-pitch excitement, and so off to Peep Out Training Yard we went.
Cornwall Swimming Horses is run by owner Chris and manager Shel. Having grown up in the Caribbean, where swimming with horses was just “what you did”, Chris decided to continue it when he moved to the UK. Now, his business focuses on horse experiences – sea swimming, bespoke holidays, even night riding, which keeps life as varied and fun for the horses as it does for their clients.
On arrival, I thanked whatever sixth sense had made me leave my husband, son and their pristine Vans behind in St Ives. Luxury it isn’t. Charming – maybe. Hessian – yes.
After patting the horses, we entered our changing room – a sheet on the floor behind the wetsuit rack (a planned upgrade last year was canned when clients objected) where, although well hidden from everyone, we self-consciously wriggled into the damp borrowed wetsuits – the sartorial equivalent of a soggy elastic band. Squelching back out to the group, we shared a superior glance at the other riders’ muddy flip flops and our own (closed toe) wet suit shoes (two for £9.99 from St Ives Harbour).
As we surveyed our mounts – three stocky cobs and a rangy, good-looking part-breed – I looked around with rising panic for a mounting block.
“So now, it’s time to connect with your horses.”
Something inside me died. Really?
But this, dear reader, is where the magic happened. When you ride every week at a place that is nothing short of equestrian nirvana, anywhere else can only fall short. Here, also, horses live and work in herds, and are treated with respect and love. Witnessing the unique and deep connection between each horse and Shel and Chris was mind-blowing and we were encouraged to forge one too, via a couple of short exercises and eye contact. (Yes really.) And looking in Bella’s big brown eyes, I honestly felt I knew and trusted her. Just as well, as within 60 seconds I was riding her bareback with nothing but a rope bridle between me and the moors. (Amelie was led – or I may not have felt quite so relaxed.)
We set off on an hour’s hack to the beach, accompanied by several experienced handlers, along dirt tracks, through fields of swaying purple agapanthus, and finally to a misty stretch of Long Rock beach.
As we filed into the water, instructed to remain at knee depth, the sea mist suddenly cleared, and with it my nerves. St Michael’s Mount appeared on the horizon in all its glory.
We began walking through the water, a curious sensation of horsepower against tide. Once my body relaxed, I tried to make my face do the same. It was then that I realised I was already beaming from ear to ear. (To be fair, even if I’d hated it, the sounds of Amelie whooping with delight would have made me grin.)
We trotted, back and forth. And then Chris swam out into the ocean, followed willingly by Bella, who swam with her head up, smiling. All I had to do was hang on to her mane. It was exhilarating, moving and totally magical.
We swapped mounts and I swam with Gigi. She submerged all but her nostrils, grunting and making little whale clicks. I worried that she didn’t like it. “Try and make her go back to the beach then,” said Chris. My case was rested pretty quickly.
Then, it was playtime. “Go on,” urged Shel, her eyes dancing. “You and Amelie ride Bella together.” Minutes later, Amelie was clambering from horse to horse, doing bareback acrobatics and shrieking with laughter as Chris pushed her off into the sea.
All too soon it was time to get out of the water and ride back. By now I felt like I was with family, and all the way back we chatted and teased like we’d known each other for years. Back at the stables, I silently thanked the clients who’d persuaded them to keep it rustic. It now felt like a very special secret home. This time there was no time for shyness in the changing “room” – only excitable chatter. “It was one of the best things ever, mummy!”
I’ll second that.
How was the mane event?
Total unbridled fun.
Chomping at the bit to go again?
We’d be there in a shot.
What if you’re a novice?
Beginners can be led.
What to wear
Alder spirit glove
Keep your hands warm and protected with these neoprene gloves which are ideal for waterborne jockeys. £29.99; aldersportswear.com
Speedo h20 active one-piece
Speedo’s sleek lines and uber comfortable fit are perfect under your wetsuit. £55; speedo.com
Acne Studios hoodie
We took something snuggy to pull on for the ride home. Try this over-sized number from Acne. £240; net-a-porter.com