As I galloped down the beach, the sounds of the wind and the waves and the hoofbeat of my horse swirled together with my laughter. Riding in Oregon’s coastal waves is one of the best experiences I have had.
Nine times out of 10, beach rides feel like the culmination of an equestrian dream — and the dream of many non riders as well. That 10th time, though, the gallop ends ignominiously with the rider’s plunge into the ocean and the sight of your steed high-tailing it down the beach without you.
But if you can block out a weekend, camping on the coast with that fiery steed makes it possible to slowly get your horse used to the waves and really cuts down on how much sand and water winds up down your pants and riding boots. A longtime equestrian, I have gone riding on the coast any number of times, but I jumped at the chance last summer to camp at Nehalem Bay Horse Camp and take a couple days to introduce a horse who was new to the waves.
Pulling into the state park to meet my friends, I was a little intimidated by the RV camping I had to drive through to get to the horse area. It felt crowded. But on reaching the horse camping area, the 17 spots — each with two corrals and some with room for more horses — felt spacious and even a little secluded. (Side note: Nehalem Bay State Park also has fly-in camping for those who just happen to have a small plane.)
I have an old gooseneck trailer and an even older Ford truck, and sleep in my horse trailer when I camp. Zaiden, the horse I brought, settled into his corral, which was conveniently near a hose for water and a grassy area he could graze, or where folks with less accommodating trailers could set up camp. I brought my own hay, feed and manure removal gear, and the park has a manure pile and some gravel to help with wet corrals.
The horse camp is reserved only for those with horses, but some of our nearby campers brought boats as well as horses. This worked out rather nicely for my friends and me when the folks with boats came back with their limit of fresh caught crab and cooked them up for us.
A night sipping whiskey by the fire and eating the crab was preceded by the first ride to the beach. At Nehalem, you have a number of options — ride through the dunes to the beach, ride a trail behind the dunes for a couple miles to the jetty and cross to the beach, or ride along the bay. We elected to ride along the trail then cross over, and by the time we got to the waves, Zaiden was so used to the sound he barely noticed them.
Pro-tips: Don’t ride your horses toward the waves; ride them in at an angle, don’t let them stand staring at the waves or they get dizzy between the moving water and shifting sands. And finally be ready for small children, dogs, kites and Frisbees.
Day two we checked out the bay and the crabbers and fishermen, and by day three, Zaiden was so unconcerned about the whole ocean enterprise we were soon doing that gallop through the waves. He was, as one of my fellow riders put it, wave broke.
There’s something amazing about sleeping with the sounds of waves crashing in the distance at night. Add to that the sound of a crackling fire and the contented snorts of a horse, and it’s pure Oregon magic.
For those of you who are horseless, Oregon Beach Rides does guided rides out of the Nehalem Bay day-use area during the summer. Closer to home, C&M Stables does the same in Florence at Baker Beach, which offers horse camping sans corrals.