There’s something about seeing a brochure or an ad on TV where there are people riding horses through waist-deep water on the beach that makes you feel that would be one of the best experiences in the world.
When we went to Espiritu Santo we weren’t sure if you could ride horses but we quickly found out that there is one (and only one), horse riding business offering trail rides and yes, that does mean a ride along the beach and in the water.
I’m a big lover of animals and I adore horses but I’m the world’s worst rider. I have ridden quite a few times and seem to be highly skilled at falling off. And that makes me nervous. Because falling from a horse and ending up with one foot caught in a stirrup is terrifying. But because I love horses I never say ‘no’ to an opportunity for a ride.
Megan is a Kiwi who owns and runs Santo Horse Adventures from land at Lope Lope Lodge. Lope Lope is just 15-minutes from the town of Luganville and situated where you can trail ride through rain forest, arriving at a Blue Hole and then heading to a white sand beach to horse ride through the warm turquoise waters of the Pacific Ocean.
Megan has had her business for over a decade. She grew up in New Zealand and was given her first horse and started riding when she was three. All the horses she has at Lope Lope are rescue horses and being an enormous lover of the four-legged friend that has best served man, she uses her funds to continually rescue horses who are being abused.
I was shocked to hear of the abuse of horses but Megan was quick to tell me that most abuse occurs through ignorance rather than intent. More than half of the horses Megan has rescued will never be able to be ridden due to their traumatic past but the remaining horses have been successfully rehabilitated and are loyal, faithful and gentle, and have totally embraced their new life at Lope Lope.
Booking a trail ride with Santo Horse Adventures includes a pick-up and drop-off service from your accommodation. Lope Lope is just a five-minute drive from Barrier Beach House and had I known how close it was I would have suggested we just take the bikes and cycle there.
When we booked the ride it had been raining in Santo for about 10-days straight. Megan advised the trail ride she would normally take us on was closed due to the wet conditions but that there was an alternative she was sure we would enjoy.
We couldn’t have arrived at Santo Horse Adventures on a better day. Megan was bubbling over with excitement because one of her mares had given birth to a new foal. The new mother was being an excellent mum to her baby and the new foal was absolutely perfect-looking and up on his feet and doing very well. The first thing Megan did was drive us to the fence where we could see the foal, not yet 12-hours old. What a privilege!
The set-up at Santo Horse Adventures is impressive. Megan’s horses are kept in beautiful conditions; their stables are clean and airy and spacious and there is an entire team devoted to their care. And they’re not overworked; regardless of tourism demands, the horses aren’t ridden every day but are given days off from their duties just like humans.
I was quick to inform Megan of my previous misadventures on horseback and she listened to me intently and was extremely sympathetic and took some time to think about which horse would be best for a ‘Nervous Nellie’. Megan put me on ‘Whiskey’, a horse with a sad past who’s very gentle and predictable and I felt very confident while sitting in the saddle.
All saddled up, Megan gave us a quick riding lesson and off we went. I have to say this was the most relaxed I’ve ever been on a horse. Megan knows her horses well and tells you what to look out for in their personalities and she’s everywhere making sure the ride and experience is going well for you.
We left the grounds of Lope Lope and headed through the rainforest and came out onto the main road. But it’s not like a main road in Sydney as there’s no traffic to worry about. We then called in to Megan’s property because Archie had somehow been in conversation with Megan where he mentioned, of all things, a flying fox bat. Megan said, ‘I’ve got one’. What were the odds?
Over a year ago Megan found an orphaned baby flying fox in her backyard and took care of it. The bat’s not kept in a cage and is free to fly away but he just loves being a part of Megan’s family and stays on their property where he’s as well looked after as her horses.
We left Megan’s property then went around the outskirts of some villages and then headed into the rainforest. You do need to duck your head as horses seem for forget you’re a metre higher off the ground than they are and they also need to be reminded to allow for greater clearance as they walk beside fence posts and tree trunks as otherwise your leg will make painful contact with a stationary object.
We went through the rainforest and came out at a blue hole on the Lope Lope land. This was when the heavens opened and there was a massive downpour. We headed down to the beach and had a ride through the water. I had to put my camera away as it’s not water-proof.
After our ride through the water we made our way back to the stables where Megan gave us a fresh coconut water to drink. The coconuts are delivered every morning for Megan, her team and the trail riders.
If we hadn’t been so saturated we would have walked down to Lope Lope and enjoyed a drink or something to eat at their restaurant but we were so soaking wet we just headed back to Barrier Beach House. Even if it doesn’t rain, do be prepared to get wet as the ride through water is quite deep in parts.
Santo Horse Adventures is an excellent way to spend half a day in Santo. The rides suit everyone from the competent rider right through to the Nervous-Nellie amateur. This was definitely the best trail ride I have ever been on and the most comfortable and confident I have felt on a horse. And the best part is, all the money spent goes towards keeping these horses in the best possible conditions with all extra funds being devoted to rescuing more horses.
Verdict: A ‘must-do’.
Santo Horse Adventures: Lope Lope Lodge, East Coast Road, Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu