Hoofprints in the Sand

I’ve always been a horse girl.  Posters, figurines and Black Beauty books surrounded me as a child, preteen and beyond.  While I don’t decorate my walls and shelves with equine icons anymore, I do still have an affinity for a soft mane and a friendly whinny.

Hi there.

Hi there.

When I can combine my love of horses with the sand and surf of the beach, that is just an added bonus.  We’ve ridden horses on the beach, or close to the beach, in Bermuda.  That was an awesome experience and, until recently, I’ve never seen beach horseback riding offered in less tropical locales.  Now, though, you don’t have to go all exotic to ride horses on the beach. From October through Memorial Day, Virginia Beach Horseback offers the uber-cool equine adventure of horseback riding along the sandy strand of Virginia Beach.

Giddy up.

Giddy up.


Hoofprints in the sand.

This is a great activity even for a beginner.  No experience is necessary and the operators give helpful tips on riding.  My eight-year-old has never ridden a horse by herself and she looked like a pro.  These horses are super gentle and practically walk themselves.  They even know at which point to turn around and head back to the corral.  Horses gotta eat too, ya know.  They know what’s important.

A horse girl in the making.

A horse girl in the making.

Once a horse girl, always a horse girl.

Once a horse girl, always a horse girl.

Hello.  Nice to meet you.

Hello. Nice to meet you.

The corral is usually set up somewhere around 31st street.  Just look for the King Neptune statue.  You can’t miss it.  If you do, you probably shouldn’t be riding a horse.

King Neptune

King Neptune

It’s a good idea to call ahead to check on their exact whereabouts.  If there is a festival or special event going on, they may be set up at another location.  For example, I was there last year during spring break and the horses were around 27th street, but last week there was a lot of dredging and such going on in that area and the horses were at 31st street.

Reservations are not necessary, but are suggested.  When we were there during spring break, we just managed to get a spot before they filled up.  We’re not real up on the thinking ahead.


Virginia Beach Horseback.

Virginia Beach Horseback has been in operation since 2006.  They offer half-hour and hour rides.  Special occasion rides, proposals and wedding packages are also available.  During the summer beach season, when it’s way too crowded for beach back riding, they offer trail rides.

According to the website, Virginia Beach Horseback will soon be offering an experience where you can ride while the horses swim through the water.  Now, how cool is that?

I’ve compiled a list of a couple of other locations that offer horseback riding on the beach.  I’m hoping to get the chance to try out some more of them.  Let me know if you’ve been to any of these, or if you know of any that I’ve missed.  I would love to add on to the list.  Have fun and hang on!

Horseback riding on the beach venues:

Where's my carrot?

Where’s my carrot?

Another bonus of off-season beach excursions is the abundance of seaglass.  My up and coming horse girl is an expert seaglass searcher.





Going Outside with Richmond Recreation

Most would agree that Richmond, Virginia is the best town ever.  And by most, I don’t mean those that just happen to live there.  I mean an actual, bona fide ballot conducted by Outside Magazine.  And if you don’t believe me, you can check out the October issue (35th anniversary edition) of the magazine.  It’s on newsstands now.  That would be Richmond on the cover.

Reflections of Richmond and the James River

Outside Magazine partnered with American Rivers, a leading fresh water nonprofit, to conduct this tributary tally.  Fifty cities were evaluated on aspects such as environmental stewardship, cost of living, cultural vibrancy, access to the outdoors and job prospects.  After narrowing it down to 10 cities, the voting was turned over to Facebook fans.

Fans then voted for, and left comments about, their favorite river town, those cities that take a serious interest in outdoor recreation and environmental responsibility.  The winner was chosen by a combination of votes and comments about the town by these outdoor enthusiasts and river rooters.

Among others, the ten contestants included Hood River, Oregon; Asheville, North Carolina; Durango, Colorado; Boise, Idaho and Nashville, Tennessee.  Richmond racked up 9,315 votes – more than the next five towns combined.  Hood River, Oregon came in second with 6,500 votes.

Following is the list of top ten river towns (with their respective rivers in parenthesis):

  • Richmond, Virginia  (James River)
  • Hood River, Oregon  (Columbia River)
  • Nevada City, California  (Yuba, American and Bear Rivers)
  • Boise, Idaho  (Boise, Payette and North Fork Rivers)
  • Durango, Colorado  (Animas River)
  • Missoula, Montana  (Clark Fork, Bitterroot and Blackfoot Rivers)
  • Nashville, Tennessee  (Cumberland River)
  • Milwaukee, Wisconsin  (Kinnickinnic, Menomonee and Milwaukee Rivers)
  • Asheville, North Carolina  (Nantahala and French Broad Rivers)
  • Ithaca, New York  (Cayuga Lake, Finger Lakes National Forest and gorges)

Richmonders have always known the merits of their city.  Kayakers, mountain bikers, hikers, rock climbers and sightseers alike can enjoy the James River and its backdrop of the downtown Richmond skyline.  Every spring, extreme athletes from all over convene upon the downtown riverfront for the Dominion RiverRock Festival, a three day event featuring extreme sports such as slacklining, kayaking, mountain biking, mud runs, ziplining and a bunch of other stuff that I would never try myself.  There are also dog events and concerts.

Kayakers navigating the James River.

Richmond is the only urban capital with class III and IV rapids running through its downtown scene.  Bald eagles nest along the river, the same river that Captains Christopher Newport and John Smith sailed up from Jamestown back in the day (1607 to be exact).  There are smooth areas of the river as well, perfect for stand-up paddleboarding and peaceful kayaking.

The James River from Belle Isle.

Already a great mountain biking spot, a brand new Bike Skills Area has been built at Belle Isle.  The official dedication ceremony was last weekend and I just missed it by a few hours.  That’ll teach me to sleep in on a Saturday morning.  Conveniently located under the Lee Bridge, to eliminate run-off and damage to the dirt bumps from rain and weather, this cool park was built out of repurposed city materials and designed by the International Bicycling Association.  Bumps, logs, hills, and boulders allow bikers to practice their skills in a safe space.

Belle Isle’s new Bike Skills Area

Boulders and logs to test your biking skills.

The bumps at Belle Isle.

Biking the bumps beneath the Lee Bridge.

Pretty flowers provide background for the Bike Skills Area.

Bumping through the wooded area.

Handcrafted wooden sign at Bike Skills Area.

The gorgeous sign was provided by the skilled artisans at Dreaming Creek – authentic architectural timbering.

Dreaming Creek handcrafted sign at Bike Skills Area.

Here’s another thing you might often see along Richmond’s James River.  Look closely.

Swingin’ out into the James River.

Voting for Outside’s best town ever was also based on the enthusiasm of its residents.  It turns out that Richmond has enough enthusiasm for many larger cities put together.  Several comments were posted by top outdoor and recreation experts, as well as public relations representatives from many of the city’s top tourist attractions, all touting the merits and awesomeness that is Richmond.  Governor Bob McDonnell even gave an endorsement via Twitter.  Perhaps more creatively, and definitely athletically, 14 kayakers held up signs while floating down the James River.  Yep, that’s us.  We’re Richmond and we’re proud of our river city.

Standing up to Paddleboarding

Sound-side at Kitty Hawk Watersports.

A while back, I was pondering the art of stand-up paddleboarding, or SUP to those in the know.  Watching those who glide seemingly effortlessly through the water while standing atop a sturdy, floating board just made me want to give it a try.  Since I am a bit of a wimp when it comes to adventurous stuff, I decided to test my stamina with something that seemed fairly safe and peaceful.  Goodness knows, the word “peaceful” doesn’t often come up in the world of outdoor sports.

The Sound behind Kitty Hawk Watersports and Miller’s Restaurant.

Kitty Hawk Watersports, in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, sits on the Sound side next to Miller’s Restaurant (which is a-may-zing, just so you know) and offers a great spot to practice and try something new.  Plus, they have these awesome water bumper boats that the husband and child took advantage of while I was enjoying my SUP experience.

The art scene at Kitty Hawk Watersports.

I decided that I did not need an actual lesson.  For once, that turned out to be a good call because the employee that helped me did a really good job of explaining the basics.  Now, for more advanced techniques, I would recommend a lesson or two.  But to just start out, it’s kind of nice to just “wing it.”

Practicing kiteboarding skills.

I discovered that paddleboarding is both easier and harder than I imagined.  Balance was my worry (I can trip over air).  Turns out there was nothing to worry about in that department.  Those boards are really wide and very sturdy.  If you can stand up, you can stand up on a paddleboard.

Now, the hard part was to be found in the rowing.  Yes, rowing.  As in with a paddle (hence the name, paddleboarding).  Let’s just say I am more spaghetti arms than rower’s arms.  I did not do too bad, if I do say so myself.  Which I do, as there is nobody to dispute my claims.  But boy were my arms tired.

If you’re wondering why there are no photos of myself actually on a paddleboard, remember that my traveling companions were soaking themselves on the water bumper boats.  They have their priorities.

Jet ski rentals at Kitty Hawk Watersports.

Pondering Paddleboarding

Stand-Up Paddleboarding

The art of Stand-Up Paddleboarding – Photo Credit: Flickr/CC/Madmarv00

I’ve been thinking about trying stand-up paddleboarding for a while now.  That graceful image of balancing atop a big board while floating across the water keeps drifting through my mind.  No odd-shaped balls to catch, no chance of being pummeled by said odd-shaped ball and no muscle-y teammates to deal with (I have bad memories of high school gym class … but then, who among us doesn’t?).  So, in all aspects, the perfect sport for me, right?

I do have a couple of really good reasons for wanting to embark upon this increasingly popular and peaceful past-time … 1.)  It looks really fun.  2.)  Jimmy Buffett does it and really, if Buffett does it we all should be doing it.  3.)  I take  yoga; how hard can it be?

I will be in the Outer Banks a couple of times over the summer and hope to take in a lesson or two at Kitty Hawk Kites.  Stay tuned for an update in the coming weeks.  Oh, and wish me luck.  I have a feeling I’m going to need it.

Celebrity Cetaceans and Marine Miracles

Winter the dolphin

Winter at her home in Clearwater, Florida – Clearwater Marine Aquarium

The Warner Bros. movie Dolphin Tale hits theaters on September 23, 2011.  Sure to be the feel good movie of the year, it’s based on the true story of a bottlenose dolphin named Winter.  The movie was filmed on location at her home at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA) in Clearwater Beach, Florida.  I have had the pleasure of visiting this aquarium several times.

CMA Sign

The Clearwater Marine Aquarium specializes in the rescue, rehabilitation and release of stranded and injured animals.

Winter was caught in a crab net when she was three months old.  She was found stranded on the beach in Mosquito Lagoon, near Cape Canaveral, by a fisherman (the movie version features a troubled boy named Sawyer Nelson as her rescuer … gotta have a good story-line for a movie).

Marine rescue experts from the Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission were called in.  Winter was taken to the CMA where she eventually lost her entire tail fin and two vertebrae.  Without a tail fin, it is virtually impossible for a regular dolphin to swim.  Winter, however, is not a regular dolphin.

Winter under water

Winter has learned to swim quite well without a tail fin.

With the hope, hard work and determination of marine biologists, volunteers and trainers at CMA, Winter was given a prosthetic tail fin and re-learned to swim.  Hanger Prosthetics, which makes prosthetic limbs for human amputees, made Winter’s tail.  Winter has also learned to swim beautifully without the prosthesis, by swaying her body from side to side rather than up and down.


The Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Clearwater, Florida.

The CMA is a working aquarium and specializes in the rescue, rehabilitation and release of stranded and injured animals.  Dolphins, sea turtles, otters, sharks and manatees are nursed back to health and released back into the wild.  If any are considered unable to return to the wild (like Winter), they become permanent residents of the aquarium.  Several dolphins reside with Winter at CMA, including Panama, Nicholas and Hope.

Winter and her aquatic friends, which includes the ever-adorable river otters, give daily shows to educate visitors about marine animals and explain how the aquarium works to rehabilitate and return injured animals to the wild.

Winter giving her show and demonstration at the CMa

Winter’s show at the CMA – Look behind the cameraman and you’ll see the prosthetic tail fin.

It’s really interesting to visit the aquarium and watch how the prosthetic fluke is put on.  A “sock-like” piece is first put on.  This reduces friction on her skin and makes the prosthesis fit better.  Next, on goes a stretchy plastic sleeve, which is attached to the artificial tail fin.

Winter’s story doesn’t end with her miraculous accomplishments.  She has given hope and inspiration to the many disabled children, adults and wounded Army soldiers that have visited her at the aquarium.  She has been visited by Scott Rigsby, the first double amputee to complete the Hawaiian Ironman Triathlon, and numerous school groups.

Dolphin Tale was filmed on location at the CMA in Clearwater, Florida.  Several new tanks were built just for the movie and are now used by the aquarium.

Houseboat set for the movie

Houseboat set for the movie – Harry Connick, Jr’s character lives here. It is quite cool!

From the producers of The Blind Side, Dolphin Tale stars Morgan Freeman, Harry Connick, Jr., Ashley Judd and Kris Kristofferson.  Nathan Gamble portrays Sawyer Nelson, the fictional boy who rescued Winter.