Seeing a country or destination from horseback can be such an amazing experience. It gives you access to mountain tracks off the beaten path, endless fields of flowers, olive groves, and secluded white-sand beaches. Even a familiar place can become new and exciting once you see it from the saddle together with your equine partner. As I work remotely and travel frequently, I have also had the opportunity to do quite a few trail rides in the places I have been and most recently in Khao Lak, Thailand.
Horse riding in Khao Lak can be a wonderful experience as the region offers the opportunity for rides in various terrain such as the beach, the mountains and through the tropical forest. You are likely to see wildlife such as water buffalo, monitor lizards, a variety of birds and even elephants (albeit, not wild) and trails are offered for most experience levels but cater primarily to those who already feel comfortable in walk and trot.
Khao Lak is an area with a series of small villages dotted along the coast of the Andaman Sea. It’s a coastal destination in the Phang Nga Province about 50 miles (80 km) north of Phuket which is the main hub for international flights to Thailand’s southern region and the 4th busiest airport in the country. Khao Lak relies heavily on the tourism industry and is a popular tourist destination. The area was ravaged by the 2004 tsunami, which left it largely in ruins and where over 4000 people lost their lives, and even more, were reported missing. The destination has however rebounded since then and re-established itself as an attractive holiday spot with a pleasant climate and a family-friendly atmosphere.
Horse Riding in Khao Lak
When I was looking for horse riding opportunities in Khao Lak, Google served up two alternatives in the area; the Khaolak Horse Club and the South Arabian Horse Club. The centers are located a 12-minute drive apart and offer similar types of trail rides, with options for both beach and mountain. My main motivation for booking a ride this time was the opportunity to canter on the gorgeous beaches of Khao Lak as I had already visited two years prior and knew the potential of the long, wide stretches of beach just waiting to be enjoyed on horseback with the wind in my face and sun setting on the horizon (yes, yes, THAT cliché!). For this reason, the experience level of the ride was key and needed to be sufficiently high which is why I ended up opting for the South Arabian Horse Club.
The South Arabian Horse Club
The South Arabian Horse Club is a family-owned business run by Cat and Joe – a Norwegian/Thai couple, with a helping hand from their adorable daughter Selina. The horses on the farm are purebred Arabian horses – anther drawcard for me as I had never ridden a purebred before. Cat and Joe take excellent care of their horses and their well-being goes before anything else, which is clearly communicated on their website and to anyone booking rides with them. They have about a dozen horses and use half of them for trail rides. You can choose between mountain, forest, and beach rides and there are different options and durations to choose from based on your level of experience. It is important being honest about your riding abilities when booking to ensure you chose a suitable ride, you are allocated the right horse and to make sure you and everyone else in the group have a great experience.
The Beach Ride (Option A)
I opted for the beach ride for experienced riders (option A) which runs from the farm, through rubber plantations, crossing a small stream, twists and turns on narrow paths as well as small paved roads down to Khuk Khak Beach. Once at the beach we had several long canters up and down the dunes. The cost for this 3-hour trail is 4,000 Bath, which at the time of writing is 133 USD, which is not cheap by any means but takes into consideration the time to prepare the ride as well as tending to the horses after the trail is over. There were also additional services and nice touches that were sprinkled throughout (more on that later).
Before the Ride
I booked via email, but you can also contact them on WhatsApp, Facebook or the phone. I inquired about two potential dates, provided the number of people I was making the booking for, the type of trail I wanted as well as my contact details and experience level. The options for this were:
- 0 – no experience at all, first time
- 1 – have been on a horseback before, and know some basics like left, right, stop
- 2 – know how to control a horse, trot
- 3 – know how to control a horse quite well, trot and cantering (loping)
- 4 – know how to control a horse very well, trot, cantering, and galloping
- 5 – Teacher and Trainer level, highly experienced and can handle all types of horses and situations
In order to do an option A beach trail, you need to be a level 3 or higher and I can confirm that there is a reason for this! It is a strenuous ride with lots of trotting and cantering and requires a rider that is both experienced and with a good fitness level.
The booking instructions are strict and can be a bit off-putting, but they are there to ensure the safety and comfort of horses and riders alike and to ensure people are upfront about their abilities. I previously worked as a horse trek guide and I can attest to the dangers that can occur when people are dishonest about their riding skills, so don’t let it scare you – just be honest and rather a bit modest than overly confident.
If you need transportation to the farm from your hotel, this can be arranged at an additional cost and should be included in your booking request. I rented a scooter while in Khao Lak and the center was easy to reach and there is large and clear signage to guide you from the main road as well as further along the smaller roads. I was asked to arrive 15 minutes before the ride and preferably not sooner.
Once I arrived at the farm, Cat gave us some instructions about the ride, told us a bit about the horses we had been assigned, took cash payment (no credit cards are accepted so remember to bring cash) and collected our signatures for a pretty standard liability form for horse riding. Make sure your travel insurance covers horse riding activities.
Cat also provided helmets with an adjustable dial at the back, fanny packs with a pre-filled water bottle and space for a cell phone as well as half chaps for those who wanted. Horses were assigned according to the experience level provided at the time of booking. I was given Phi Mai, a 6-year-old mare that had already won her first 40k endurance race! She was energetic and at times a bit challenging to handle interjecting a good few bucks, especially during our canters. She did, however, calm down about halfway through the beach ride and became much more pleasant to ride.
The Beach Trail Ride
The horses are tacked up in Western-style, which for someone used to English style riding was a change of pace yet easy to get used to. After setting off from the farm we quickly started trotting and our first canter happened less than 5 minutes into the ride through the rubber plantation edging their property. There are some twists and turns in between the trees where we needed to pay attention not to get our legs pinched. The trail crosses the main road to get over to the beach. The horses were however clearly accustomed to the traffic and did not twist an ear (not even Phi Mai who was spooked by several things along the way) and Joe stopped the traffic before signaling for us to cross – easy-peasy.
The water bottle in the fanny pack bounced around quite a bit in the beginning during the trot and canter, but as I drank it got increasingly better (and I was VERY happy to have it in the heat and humidity!). Joe instructed us well and gave me some tips on how to handle Phi Mai when she acted up. He is an excellent rider and guide and told us interesting things about the horses and area and asked us repeatedly if we felt comfortable with our horses and were enjoying ourselves.
After long and numerous canters, up and down Khuk Khak Beach we even encountered an elephant with his mahout out to greet the tourists. To my surprise, Joe told us that we needed to keep our distance as elephants fear horses! So, we remained at walk at the edge of the water and later exited the beach at the same place we entered it. The return was fast-paced in order to return to the farm before dark fell. When we got back my face was tomato red and my shirt drenched, but what a ride it was!
After the Ride
As soon as we dismounted the horses were taken care of by the farm staff and immediately given a shower. This was great to see as the white-coated equines had gone completely grey with the sweat from the ride and this is one of the reasons you pay a premium for these rides – the horses are truly loved and appreciated.
Another small but oh-so-appreciated gesture was the cold drinks that waited for us back at the farm. Cat gave us a printed copy of the best photo Joe took of each of us at the beach during the ride (and sent ahead to her during our ride back!) and also showed us a video in 4k he took during our canters (which was later shared with us by email). How he managed to film us while in motion without any camera shake is beyond me but such an added value to the ride. Who doesn’t want their dream equestrian moment immortalized?
Before heading back to the hotel, Selina showed me her pony, Simba, who was contently grazing in one of the large enclosures. If that is not a budding equestrian, I don’t know who is!
Thoughts on the Experience
Holiday trail rides in unknown locations and with unknown equestrian centers can be pretty hit and miss. I have had my fair share of disappointments, but also some absolutely incredible experiences so I keep rolling the dice. However, after a while, I like to think that I have gotten better at sussing out quality offerings and certain signs that a center is more likely to provide value to its clients. One of those signs is clear pre-booking guidelines and trail information so trail ride types and horses can be adapted to each rider according to their experience and comfort level. I have been on rides where this was not done properly and it, unfortunately, ruined parts of the experience for many of the participants. While I do find some of the wording on the South Arabian Horse Club website a tad strong, I understand the reasoning behind them and support their underlying philosophy.
The beach ride experience was fantastic! Mine was somewhat influenced by riding a young and somewhat unpredictable horse, but the stretches of cantering in the sand were nothing short of incredible and I would happily do it again. And again. (just as soon as my thighs have recovered..!).
I loved the ride, but for me, it was surprisingly challenging on a physical level. Although I am not currently at the top of my fitness game, I have a decent cardio and strength level. However, I have not ridden regularly for a while and my legs fatigued quickly after a few canters on the beach and in the end, I actually struggled a little to maintain a stable two-point seat. That’s why I would recommend the Beach Ride (option A) to riders who are comfortable in all gaits (outside the arena) and that have a good level of fitness.
You can find the South Arabian Horse Club at www.southarabianhorseclub.com and they also have a YouTube channel where you can see videos from their various trail rides and meet some of their horses. Cat and Joe have also recently started a second YouTube channel focused on the family and their relationship to nature. You can check out those videos at Our Life and Nature.
All photos are courtesy of the South Arabian Horse Club. They all feature the beach trail ride, but not all are from the specific ride I participated in but included to illustrate the trail terrain.