Stumbling out of bed, I felt my way over to the sliding door and opened to a blast of warm air outside. Looking down below to the beach to check for any signs of life, there was one lone jogger tracing the shoreline. The sound of the waves crashing against the shore made a tempting argument to fall asleep to the melodic rhythm, but I began rubbing my eyes a little harder to stay awake. The sun hadn’t begun to transform the sky, yet the heat from the day prior still lingered.
Despite being one of the absolute worst people to have to wake up in the morning, I try to take advantage of the adrenaline of being in a new place, or any time zone changes that throw my body out of whack to get myself up for a sunrise. Some of my favorite memories begin with leaving the warmest of beds and the strongest of coffees. The world is a little quieter and while most watch the sun dip below the horizon for the day, not everyone catches first light.
While doing research for traveling to Barbados, an image of horses swimming in the ocean kept surfacing online. There wasn’t any sort of explanation attached, nor much information on where this occurs on the island. I had so many questions and the burning desire to see this for myself. Where did they come from? Was there a herd of wild horses running onto this Barbados beach of their own volition? Better yet, why had no one mentioned this before?
Padding across the hotel lobby, I looked out as the first signs of light began to show on the horizon. Some of the beach chairs were being set up, so I took a seat on one and waited. It was only a few days earlier I had learned the stunning images of horses swimming in the Caribbean sea were taken at the Barbados beach our hotel happened to sit on. Supposedly, the Barbados Turf Club at the Garrison Savannah nearby takes their horses down the street and into the water after race days, as sort of a rehabilitation for them. The salt water soothed their aching muscles, and the horses seemed to be content to allow their trainers to splash water onto their robust bodies.
As the sky became lighter and there was no sign of them, I wondered more than once if I had the wrong day, or if it was all just a legend. There’s plenty of photoshopped travel images swirling around the internet, but at least I didn’t travel far if this too turned out to be one of them.
Suddenly, the first hooves appeared from behind the palm trees lining the beach. The horse and trainer slowly made their way down the beach and into the water, in no particular rush. It was incredible to watch, an animal that typically was not found in an ocean glide carefully through the water. The trainer spoke to the horse softly as they poured water onto their backs, his words lost on the strong trade winds.
There was an ethereal feeling surrounding the scene before me. Seeing the crystal blue waves lap up against such dark, mahogany skin felt so out-of-place. Yet they both moved together in a rhythmic sway, one complementing the other in a way one would think nature intended these two to be. The ocean is not a typical place for a horse, yet here they were anyway. Graceful and lithe, despite the uneven sand and shifting tides.
Calmly, one of the trainers in the water led a horse further into the tide. They seemed to become enveloped by the water, only the shimmering head of the horse showing. The trainers used the natural buoyancy of the salt water to attempt to soothe some of the younger horses to bearing weight on their backs. One untamable element being used to coax an animal out of it’s equally wild nature.
More and more ambled out from the trees, and soon the brilliant, blue Caribbean sea was full of horses. Their dark coats shone in the rising sun, giving their taut bodies the effect of carved marble. The men laughed amongst themselves, enjoying this time to catch up and relax before the day’s heat took hold and life becomes a little more real. Sunrise is a strange time; it can serve to signify the start of a day, but also acts as a sort of limbo before the air began to buzz with activity and responsibility.
Before long, the sun began to rise fully. The last of the horses were walked back to their stables, people began to mill out from breakfast, and the ocean was once more an uninterrupted sheet of turquoise. It was beautiful, yet most in the hotel had no idea this was even taking place as they slept. Aside from a few stray hoof prints left in the sand, it was as if it never happened. A quiet, sunrise ritual.
Sleep washed over me at this point, and I made my way back to our room. Everyone was asleep, and I winced as the door clicked behind me. Seeing that no one stirred, I crawled back into bed but found sleep would not come. Barbados is full of little mysteries, past the chain restaurants and tourist spots. It’s easier to stumble across something so beautiful shared by so few than it is to go looking for it at a ticketed attraction. This moment, this place, I realized, left an imprint on my heart. Small as the moment itself, yet there forever.
Guide to Finding this Barbados Beach
Seeing the horses swimming around this Barbados beach was an ethereal experience I would recommend to anyone visiting the Caribbean islands. Very few people were on the beach with me that day, and I debated even creating a blog post this story to keep it so. Yet the internet is alive and because I’m not the only one to have seen this, I’m hoping this mini guide will give you all the information you need to get there, but to also keep certain things in mind. As we travel this world to fill our souls with experiences, it’s equally important to tread carefully. To keep the traditions we so desperately seek to witness ourselves unmarred by annoying, touristy antics. That all being said, the number one thing I want to clarify before jumping into this is:
The horses & men are NOT solely here For Your Entertainment.
The trainers are here to complete a JOB. This happens to include bathing the horses, providing some physical therapy after race days, and using the ocean’s natural buoyancy to get newer horses used to having pressure on their backs from riders. They do not do this for show, and the only reason it’s happening right in front of the hotel we stayed at is due to the racetrack being so close. Please treat them the same way you’d want to be treated if you were on a job.
Imagine being stopped by strangers constantly for photos, having them touch whatever you’re handling that’s expensive without asking, or having to explain something so obvious as, “don’t swim up to the horses” over and over. Use common sense when getting close to horses.
Where to find the Barbados beach where they take the horses.
This happens right on Pebbles beach in back of the Radisson hotel. If you’re not a guest, there’s a parking lot you can walk through to the left of the hotel. This is currently free to witness and not limited to hotel guests only.
Be aware of your surroundings.
At some points, they’ll bring as many as a half-dozen horses out into the water. Meaning, if you’re in the water, give them a wide berth to work, and if you’re on the shore, keep an eye out for any other incoming horses as some of them weren’t as receptive of going in the water at times, rearing up. I don’t know about you, but getting kicked in the head by a horse was not on my agenda for the day.
When in doubt, ask.
If you want to really get some beautiful photos of the horses and trainers in action, contacting the Barbados Turf Club directly will be your safest bet. Sometimes there’s a man from the stables hanging out at the shore watching over all the trainers & horses who might be easier to ask. They’ll more than likely say yes to a few photos, but again, they are working. If you were in the middle of something at work and someone suddenly asked you to help for “a few seconds” and it turns out to be far longer than you expected and this isn’t the first time they’ve done this (using “they” here to refer to all the people who come, take a bunch of photos, and hold up their process constantly) – what are your chances of saying yes again?
Standing to the side, out of the horses’ paths and politely asking will get you so, so much further than just going for it. The morning I was down there, I was honestly disgusted. This one dude was running all over the beach, getting in the horses and trainers faces, and ruining other photos. I felt embarrassed to be another tourist on the beach and it took the wind out of my sails to where I just put my longer lens on to give the men space.
Quick Horse Etiquette:
As well-trained as these horses on Barbados may be, they can still be easily spooked. To keep yourself safe, here are a few general guidelines:
- Horses have a few blind spots and being approached directly from the front or rear can startle them. If given permission to touch the horses, approach from the side and use a stroking motion rather than a patting/slapping.
- Use a soothing voice and limit any sudden movements. Most animals aren’t great about seeing something running and/or screaming around them.
- Stay safe by keeping about 10 feet away & out of kicking range if you’re simply there to observe.
- As beautiful as your Barbadian breakfast spread may have been, don’t feed the horses.
- If you want to take pictures, please PLEASE do not be the dude I witnessed running in after the horses and stopping the handlers on their way to/from the beach to start a mini photo shoot as the horses became uneasy and the men uncomfortable. Try to avoid using flash when taking photos as it may frighten the horses.
When to go:
I’ve heard conflicting stories on when exactly they do this. Some have said the trainers only take them out after a race day, while others have mentioned it’s every day. Whatever the case, it might make sense to check out the Garrison Savannah’s racing schedule to get an idea. I woke a bit before sunrise on a Thursday and sure enough, they made their way down the beach shortly after.
I’m now realizing I was fortunate the day I decided to muster up the energy to go down to the beach. Some days, they arrive shortly before sunrise and only stay for about 20 minutes. This day, they were there well over three hours and hotel guests began to take up residence on the beach chairs laid out hours before. The best advice I have is to look up when sunrise is (in January, that meant around 6:20 am) and get there ahead of time.
- Tip: Managing to mess this up far more often than one would think, I always assume the sky won’t begin to do its thing UNTIL whenever the sunrise time is. Opposite to a sunset, all those colors begin to swirl around a half hour prior to, you know, the sun actually rising.
Where to eat afterward:
I’m assuming you’re now filled with all the good vibes from a mixture of those warm trade winds and beautiful horses in the clear ocean. The only thing missing? Some great food. I’ve never been a fan of buffet style meals because I feel like I need to constantly overeat to get my money’s worth and never eat enough on my plate to feel better about taking so much. Skip breakfast at the Radisson and walk up the hill to Coffee Barbados Cafe on the grounds of the George Washington house for some locally sourced food. Service can be a bit slow, but you’re sort of hard-pressed to find many restaurants that don’t run on island time in Barbados.