If you would like to experience St. Croix from a whole new perspective, you should see it from the back of a horse. Whether you have ever been horseback riding or not, you won’t want to miss an opportunity to take a ride with Stephen O’Dea of Equus Riding Tours. This won’t be your typical trail ride – instead you will wander around historic sugar plantation ruins, along the scenic North Shore, and into the Caribbean Sea, all atop one of Equus’ beloved horses.
Our group met up with Stephen (also known as ‘The Cane Bay Cowboy’ or ‘Cowboy Steve’) at Off the Wall near Cane Bay Beach, and then followed him to a spot a short drive away where the horses were tethered. Stephen had everyone in our group circle up among the horses and we took turns introducing ourselves. Cowboy Steve himself started by telling us that he is originally from Limerick, Ireland (which explains the Irish lilt), spent time working on a cattle ranch in Texas, and moved here to St. Croix many years ago. The rest of us then introduced ourselves and we discovered that out of our group of 8 only two were visitors to St. Croix and the rest of us were residents. As it turns out, our visitors, Bryan and Laura, were on their honeymoon here on St. Croix!
When we had all introduced ourselves, Stephen led us through a short breathing and meditation exercise to calm everyone down and prepare us for the ride. At that point, our introduction to the horses began and we were informed that once we learned about them we could choose the horse that would suit us best. Cowboy Steve explained a little bit about each horse including their name, their breed, a little bit about their individual personality, and what level of experience you should have to ride that particular horse. I must say that having not ridden in about 10 years, I appreciated this part and happily chose a ‘beginner’ level horse named Blarney.
Cowboy Steve and his friendly guides, Noah and Bonnie, then helped each of us get up in the saddle. They gave us individual short lessons on how to sit and balance in the saddle properly, how to hold the reins, how to ‘steer’, and how to ‘put the brakes on’ the horses. Once everyone was situated, we slowly rode along North Shore Road to the beautiful sugarmill and plantation ruins of Rust Op Twist. We meandered up the hill to the sugarmill where the horses took advantage of our first stop to do some grazing. While most of us sat on our horses and took in the breathtaking views of North Shore and the surrounding ruins, Cowboy Steve led my husband, Steven, atop his horse, up the stairs and into the sugarmill. Cowboy Steve then brought them back out and had Steven stand up on his horse’s saddle at the top of the sugarmill steps. It was amazing! Cowboy Steve then took Wendy’s husband, Tom, up the sugarmill steps and he was able reach up from his horse and touch the keystone of the sugarmill entryway. Laura, Wendy and Bridget all took turns standing up on their horses’ saddles as well, while I chose to sit back and take pictures. Bonnie and Noah then rounded up everyone’s cameras and we spent time taking group photos in front of and around the sugarmill.
Once everyone in our group had an opportunity to stand up on their horses, and take advantage of the gorgeous photo ops at Rust Op Twist, we headed back down along the ruins and sauntered toward the beach. Before heading down the beach and into the water, we stopped at Bernard’s Scenic Spot for a complimentary local sour sop lemonade. This delicious and refreshing concoction was handmade, and handed to each of us personally by Bernard himself. With our thirsts quenched, we rode down the beach and soaked up the late afternoon sun as it sank towards the western hills, while the waves lapped at our horses’ hooves. It was like a scene from a movie…tranquil, romantic and picturesque all at once. We even saw a sea turtle just offshore, which seemed all the more amazing since we were on a horseback ride.
The real adventure began when Bonnie and Cowboy Steve led us into the water on our horses. As we all walked (and swam) our horses out into the warm Caribbean waters, Cowboy Steve pulled me aside and told me we were going to do something fun with Blarney. He told me to hold on to the saddle horn with one hand, and hold his cowboy hat up in the air with my other hand, and he was going to have Blarney rear up. I felt comfortable trying it since we were in chest deep water, so I went along for the ride…literally. Stephen told everyone to get their cameras ready and then he had Blarney rear up a few times with me holding on like a pro as Wendy snapped some pictures. It was thrilling, and I was having a lot of fun, which is when Blarney decided to really show off. He reared back really far and I tumbled off his back and into the water! Although I was soaked from head to toe, I have to admit, even that part was fun. Since I had already ‘dismounted’ Blarney, Cowboy Steve had Bridget and Laura take turns hopping up on him and standing up on the saddle, then he had Blarney rear up as they jumped off his saddle into the water. As it turns out, once the horses were in the water Blarney was the star of the show.
After countless photo ops, and lots of fun playing with the horses in the water, we headed back towards the pasture. Trotting back along North Shore Road, cars would slow down so that the passengers could check out our horses and say hello. I’m sure we were quite a sight to passersby, all of us atop our beautiful horses, dripping wet from the thighs down (if not from from the head down) – but, with big smiles on our faces. As we reached the pasture gate, we dismounted and Noah, Bonnie and Stephen led the horses into the lush, green pasture. We all stood at the gate and chatted excitedly about what a great time we had, and then we all took some time to thank the Equus Riding Tours crew for a wonderful afternoon.
If you’re looking for an activity to do with friends and family, or something different for a romantic date, definitely check out Equus Riding Tours. It is such a fun and unique way to experience the island, and riders of all ages and experience levels can enjoy the trip. Cowboy Steve is a wonderfully friendly, informative and entertaining guide and he will tailor the trip based on your abilities and provide a truly personalized experience. While this is a great activity for families, it can also be a wonderfully romantic experience with the one you love. Take a sunset ride, and perhaps make a date of it by stopping off for a drink or dinner afterwards, for a truly romantic and unforgettable evening. Happy trails!
– Jennie Ogden, Editor
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