By Channing Hailey
If you’re new to the world of horseback riding (or if it’s been a few years), there are plenty of options for a safe and enjoyable day on the trail. With many ranches offering trail and beach rides, there’s no better way to explore Tampa Bay’s waters. Expert horsemen and guides take riders through open prairie, tropical woods, oak scrub and sand pine. Ranches ask that you call ahead to schedule a ride and to learn about safety measures and attire requirements before you arrive.
C Ponies Beach Horses
Carmen Herrmann Hanson comes from a long line of horse lovers. Her family was one of the first importers, breeders and trainers of Lipizzan Stallions. Hanson continues this tradition with her own riding academy. Years ago, she found that swimming was a great way to keep her horses in shape while having fun during the summer months when it is too hot to show. Swimming with the beautiful show horses soon earned Hanson attention from beachcombers who also wanted to ride horseback in the warm bay waters. That’s when she decided to create the opportunity for horse lovers to experience beach rides with horses that are safe, gentle and love to swim. C Ponies Beach Horses rides leave from the beach at the North Skyway of I-275. A guide navigates the tides to find a perfect spot to swim with your horse. Along the way, learn about native sea life and keep your eyes open for manatees, dolphins and stingrays.
To make reservations and learn more about the horses, visit cponies.com. (941)737-5755
Cypress Breeze Farms
If a horse-drawn carriage has ever crossed your path in downtown St. Pete, then you’ve met a horse from Cypress Breeze Farm. This farm in Pinellas Park offers horseback trail riding for all experience levels on trails that run through the local horse community and tropical woods. Guides want you to sit back and enjoy the ride with the opportunity to learn about horses, ecology and the Tampa Bay area. They also offer beach horseback riding and swimming with horses. Equine yoga is another horse adventure for ages 12 and up.
To make an appointment for a trail ride or other horse adventures, visit cypressbreezefarm.com (727)460-0891
HorsePower for Kids
HorsePower for Kids is a non-profit organization that offers an opportunity for children to interact with animals at a safe, family-friendly farm and petting zoo. As a child in Cuba, founder Armando Gort dreamed of owning a horse farm in the United States where kids could learn about horses. In 1994, his dream came true when HorsePower for Kids opened. Beyond relaxing trail rides through the partially wooded trails of Old Tampa Bay, HorsePower for Kids offers riding lessons, horse camps, group field trips, equine education and ranch-themed parties.
To learn more about interacting with horses at HorsePower for Kids, visit horsepowerforkids.com (813)855-8992
In the Breeze Ranch
All trail horses at In the Breeze Ranch were born and raised right there, so each one is well-mannered and experienced in navigating the trails you’ll take. Five miles north of International Airport in Tampa, this ranch takes visitors on their choice of walk-only rides; Giddy Up & Go rides for trotting, cantering and galloping; advanced; moonlit and pony rides. During especially warm days, cool off by swimming with the horses on a beach ride. This ranch has been in business since the 1970s. Although they specialize in horseback riding, they also offer all the horse-related activities you could imagine: ranch parties, hayrides, lessons, leasing, boarding and horsemanship camp for children.
Find out more about In the Breeze Ranch and book your trail ride at inthebreezeranch.com (813)264-1919
Equestrian trails in parks and protected land:
For horse owners who are looking for a new place to ride, there are miles of equestrian trails that run through Tampa Bay’s state parks and protected lands. With options ranging from hour-long fitness trails to overnight and multi-day excursions, there’s plenty to keep the horse and rider from boredom.
Remember, riders must always carry proof of a negative Coggins test and riders under 16 must wear a helmet when riding on public land.
Alafia River Corridor
An eight-mile horse trail winds through this 4,700-acre refuge in Hillsborough County. The site, owned by Southwest Florida Water Management District, has many natural habitats including pine flatwoods, dry prairie, hardwood hammock and riverine swamp hardwood forest. Trails also meander through areas that were formerly phosphate mine pits. Watering points are located at each of the river or stream crossings. swfwmd.state.fl.us
Brooker Creek Preserve
Enjoy over nine miles of riding on two trails through this 8,700-acre natural area in Pinellas County. A 5.2-mile scenic horse trail takes riders through pine plantations, wetlands and vast fields. There is also a shorter 3.9-mile exercise horse trail. brookercreekpreserve.org
Croom Equestrian Trails
More than 40 miles of designated, well-marked trails run through the 20,000-acre Croom Tract that lies along the Withlacoochee River. Most of the trails are shady and can be comfortable year-round. Standout sections of the trail are the area’s ravines, prairies and abandoned rock mines. naturallyhernando.org
Colt Creek State Park
Riders on the 12 miles of multi-use trails through this site have the chance to see bald eagles, white-tailed deer, bobcats, river otter and over 150 bird species. Little Gator Creek, Gator Creek and Colt Creek all run through the park. floridastateparks.org
Flying Eagle Preserve
Nine miles of multi-use trails wind through this preserve on the Tsala Apopka chain of lakes. The Withlacoochee River forms the eastern property boundary, and riders will enjoy hardwood and cypress swamps, small lakes, marshes and scattered islands of forested uplands.
JB Starkey Wilderness Park
This site in western Pasco County has 10 miles of marked equestrian trails with equestrian camping allowed at some campsites. The SWFWMD property has a corral and watering trough in the equestrian parking/staging area.
Little Manatee River State Park
An extensive network of equestrian trails covers more than 15 miles along with many more miles of firebreaks connecting the four main trails. Explore a variety of ecosystems through the park, including sand pine, oak scrub and oxbow wetlands. floridastateparks.org