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Galloping on the Beach

Oregon’s coast makes for beautiful beach rides
Queen of Cairo and Camilla Mortensen canter at Nehalem Bay State Park. Photo by Kristine McMahon.
Queen of Cairo and Camilla Mortensen canter at Nehalem Bay State Park. Photo by Kristine McMahon.

Galloping down the beach, the wind in your hair and whipping through your horse’s flying mane as her hooves splash in the frothy waves — I’ve daydreamed about it, and I know I’m not the only one. Even non-horse owners get caught up in the romance of thundering across the sand and water à la The Black Stallion

I’ve ridden other people’s horses on the Oregon Coast before, but never my own horse. This past April, my friend Kristine offered to take my new horse, Queen of Cairo, and me to Nehalem Bay for our first-ever beach ride. In between daydreams of breathtaking gallops, I also had some visions of my rather sassy and opinionated little mare dumping me headfirst into the waves. I’d say two out of three of my previous equine-beach adventures have resulted in one of my fellow riders either sprawled in the sand or sputtering in the ocean while her trusty steed galloped majestically down the beach without her. 

Kristine and I decided to make a weekend of it. We met in Portland and trailered the horses over the Coast Range to a horse-oriented bed and breakfast outside Nehalem. Horse Tale Flats B&B is just off Hwy. 53 and a short haul to the beach. Horse Tale offers two lovely guest rooms, but we went for the low-budget camp-in-the-horse-trailer option. Our horses stayed in beautiful stalls and were waited on hand and hoof by Don Shimek, who runs the B&B with his wife Constance Shimek.

We got up bright and early the first day and hit the beach — somewhat literally, as it turned out — at Nehalem Bay State Park, which has corrals, water and ample trailer parking in the day-use area, as well as horse camping that opens in the summer months.

We tacked up, got on, sauntered down the trail and soon crested the top of the dunes, where we gazed upon endless waves crashing on the beach below. 

And both our horses promptly said, “Screw this sh*t,” spun and headed back the way we came. We are both experienced horsewomen (and helmet wearers), and we soon got them headed the right direction again. Cairo, upon second glance, decided the waves and roaring wind were no big deal and romped onto the beach. Kristine’s horse Andy, an ex-racehorse, was less sanguine and began doing doughnuts until he stumbled over a driftwood log. He leaped back to his feet relatively unscathed and, having gotten the falling-to-the-sand part of the day out of the way, we headed for the water. 

While Kristine and I were visualizing our thundering gallops down the beach, our horses were visualizing a sea monster rising from the deep to eat them. Each of them dealt with the wave-monsters in his or her unique horse way. Cairo, at first startled by the waves crashing at her hooves, backed away from the water and foam. Then, not a timid mare by nature, she decided to attack. She trotted up to the next wave coming toward her and struck at it with her hooves, apparently determined to stomp the sea monster/waves into submission. When that failed, she simply chose to ignore them. 

Andy, a more sensitive, New-Age type of gelding, was no less horrified by the waves up close than he had been from a distance and started doing doughnuts again. Kristine, who is both sympathetic to her mount and in good shape, wound up hopping off and walking him most of the 2-mile ride down the beach, which Andy thought was great. 

Afterward we left the horses at Horse Tale Flats and headed to the nearby town of Wheeler for a little wandering through the Antique Mall and, more importantly, for halibut fish and chips and a much-needed shot of whiskey at Tsunami Bar and Grill, where we watched the sunset over the bay.

After a quiet (and slightly whiskey-tinged) night at the B&B, Kristine and I got enough coffee in us the next morning to hit the beach again. Andy probably would have been a little less prone to spinning circles — on trails he’s normally a wonderfully steady and brave horse — if it wasn’t for the person flying a kite who came racing down the beach toward him like some sort of colorful bat out of hell. But despite the wind-borne kite-demon, Kristine was able to lead him into the water by sacrificing her leather riding boots, and later had him walking and trotting along the shoreline.

Cairo, who is a cocky little filly, had decided at this point that beach riding was kind of ho-hum, and walking and slowly trotting are very low on her list of things she enjoys. She’s a horse with a yen for speed, and she was dancing and swishing her tail with eagerness. Feeling pretty sure my horse wasn’t secretly plotting to send me swimming, I got Kristine’s good-natured consent to leave her and Andy behind, and I nudged Cairo into a canter. She grabbed the bit, and we headed up the beach.

Galloping astride your horse, with waves crashing beside you and the wind sweeping down the bay, sending your steed’s tail streaming behind her — it really is just like you dream it would be. 

For those of you non-horse owners who dream of beach rides, Nehalem Bay State Park has a horse concession where you can rent a horse or pony in the summer months. Closer to home, C&M Stables just north of Florence offers guided trail rides all year via Baker Beach, which also has limited, rustic horse camping.


For Nehalem Bay State Park, directions, day-use fees, etc., go to wkly.ws/1qx. To ride a horse on the beach at Nehalem Bay State Park, contact Oregon Beach Rides, 971-237-6653, oregonbeachrides.com. Find C&M Stables in Florence at 541-997-7540, oregonhorsebackriding.com. Check out Horse Tale Flats B&B at 503-368-4678, horsetaleflats.com.