It's a lot like surfing, just with horses

  • 04.16.2021

From the Herald Tribune... Yep, just like surfing… Read on below!

Horse Surfing

BRADENTON – The latest craze in the world of surfing does not require a board or big waves.

What is needed, however, is a tall horse, a calm bay, and balance and fortitude on the part of the surfer.

It is called “horse surfing,” and if the “surfer” can remain standing upright on a horse’s back as it navigates through the calm waters of Palma Sola Bay in Manatee County, patrons of the new sport say, the experience can be just as exciting as riding a board atop a monstrous wave.

The local equine surfing experience is led by Tim Mattox, a former polo player, who has been horse surfing for about 10 years.

About 18 months ago he decided to start his own horse surfing business, and this week he said his business has grown by leaps and bounds. People have come from as far as Europe to ride or stand on a horse as it wades through the water off Palma Sola Causeway.

“We started the business in 2007 doing trail rides at first, and in May of ’08 we decided to try bringing horses down here to the beach,” Mattox said. “We have nine horses, but try not to bring more than four at a time to keep it manageable.”

Mattox said he and his team stay on the beach for two hours, and provide rides for about eight riders each time.

“We are pretty much sold out,” he said.

At a farm in Sarasota County, Mattox has a stable of former polo horses, which he believes are perfect for wading through the waters where anything can happen. The water in the bay is about five feet at its deepest spot where the horses go, which is almost up to their necks.

“We need horses that are ‘bomb proof,’ which is a horse expression,” Mattox said. “You need a horse that is unflappable, a horse that will tolerate surprises. It’s a public beach and if you came down here with a horse that was spooked by a dog or a fishing pole or Jet Skis or that kind of thing, it would not be a happy horse.”

So far, he said, things have gone safely. “These horses are pretty calm and most of them like going out in the water,” he said.

The horses Mattox uses are mostly in their teens and can be of either gender. They are mostly polo ponies and many are half thoroughbred and half quarter-horse.

Mattox’s customers range widely in age and come from all over the world. He said the only place he knows of with a similar program is in Jacksonville. His clients include long-time horse riders, and others who always wanted to experience what it was like to ride a horse in the water.

Tysa Alvis is a tour guide for Mattox who has been riding horses nearly all her life. But the 22-year-old did not start riding a horse in water until last March. She immediately realized all the fun she had been missing.

“It’s way different than a trail ride. You feel lower because the water is up so high. People get on and stand up on the horse and jump off,” she said. “It’s just a lot of fun. You have dolphins sometimes coming up to within about 15 feet of the horses. It doesn’t bother the horses, but sometimes it scares me when they get real close. We also see manatees out here.”

Mattox said his customers are free to try almost anything on the water; some experienced riders try to see how long they can stand on a horse’s back.

Mattox said he tries to ensure the horses do not defecate into the water, and he makes sure anything deposited on the beach is cleaned up.

“We call them grass clippings, which is really fish food,” Mattox said. “We can clean it up if it is on the beach. We really take care of this beach because this is our livelihood.”

  • 04.16.2021