Last year the City of Half Moon Bay and the local equestrian community battled over just how open the City’s Poplar Beach would be to horseback riding. For years the beach had been freely accessible to equestrians, but a minority on the City Council wanted to severely curtail this access. This minority used scare tactics, citing the terrible diseases that horses could transmit to humans and claiming that horses on the beach were accidents (horse vs pedestrian) waiting to happen. They encountered difficulty with these assertions when they were unable to demonstrate a credible disease threat, and when it became clear that the accident waiting to happen had already been waiting over 60 years. It also helped when the Coastside Chamber of Commerce showed, that, horseback riding was second only to restaurants in drawing people to the city. With the facts, money, and their own massive turnout working for them, the local horseman prevailed in keeping riding on the beach available to rental string and private horseman alike.
The City has now whole-heartedly embraced the equestrian community. In the first week of 2011, the City voted to approve a 5 year permit for the rental string businesses and recently opened its newly renovated, horse trailer only parking lot at Poplar Beach. Poplar Beach is a great winter riding destination. Rain has no effect on beach footing. The only winter related issues are that the ramp leading down to the beach can be a bit slippery after a heavy rain and high tide combined with high surf. Remember that the world famous surfing wave, Maverick’s, is just a few miles north. When the Maverick’s competition is being held the surf is high at Poplar. You should definitely check the tide tables and plan your trip for low tide. You do not want to be hanging ten from your saddle. However, for the vast majority of winter days, Poplar Beach is safe for riders. So, load up your horses and let’s go!
Poplar Beach is at the western end of Poplar Street in Half Moon Bay. The intersection for the beach is on Highway 1 about 0.8 miles South of Highway 92. As you approach the beach you will see the horse trailer only parking lot at the right (slide show). This lot can easily accommodate 6 – 10 trailers. The City intends to eventually charge for parking at the lot, but as of this writing parking is free.
The most challenging part of the ride occurs at the very beginning where horse and rider have to descend a fairly steep ramp (slide show). This ramp is shared by pedestrians and horses so care is necessary. It is recommended that you not attempt this alone with a novice horse. The crashing surf can unnerve some horses, causing a major balk at the top of the ramp. It is best to team up with a beach savvy horse and rider combo. You can also contact a local company that specializes in helping people and their horses “beach”. Once on the beach you can ride north about 0.8 miles to St. Francis State Beach (closed to horses) or south about 1.2 miles to an impassable rock outcrop below the Ritz Carlton Hotel.. Again it is best to be with another rider on a beach savvy horse while riding on the beach. The newbie horse does not generally appreciate being bracketed by a tall bluff on one side and Davy Jones’ Locker on the other. On the beach you may encounter loose dogs, beach umbrellas, and kites (the latter two are much less likely in the winter). Head south for the more open, less populated portion of the beach. Your horse may also be disconcerted by the occasional hiker or biker high above on the bluffs. However it will calm down and you will enjoy the spectacular scenery, crisp cool air and sound of the sea, and the feeling that you are starring in your own movie. You may also encounter a hauled out seal, or in rare cases a beached fishing vessel (slide show)
A couple of beach riding pointers: 1. For anything above a walk, ride closer to the water. The sand is hard packed there. 2. Stay alert. Your horse may decide to roll in the sand. Get him moving forward if there is any indication of a roll coming. 3. Don’t try to force the horse to get its feet wet in the surf. Loose horses on the beach are not good for public relations or your ego.
After your ride you can head south for a drink or lunch at Cameron's English Pub, just south on Highway 1. In the summer you can actually reach Cameron’s, which has hitching rails, on horseback from the beach, but trails are usually impassable in the winter. Need some tack or supplies? Stop at Half Moon Bay Feed and Fuel on Half Moon Bay's historic Main Street. No horse? No problem. There are excellent rental strings with beach rides just north. Enjoy the ride!