While looking online for something to do when Carnival Breeze stopped in Montego Bay, Jamaica, I came across a horse ride and swim at Half Moon Equestrian Center. This is the stable at Jamaica’s biggest and oldest resort. Half Moon Resort is a beautiful place residing behind massive iron gates. Several months prior to my cruise I contacted them by email, wanting to make sure these horses would truly swim. I tried a cruise line horse swimming excursion once at Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas and the horses just trotted through the water instead of the promised swim. While the name sounds similar, the ride is not. Trina the stable manager assured me these horses go out in water 20 or more feet deep where they do indeed swim for real. I reserved a ride for the date our ship came to Jamaica, reconfirming before we set sail. We had to get to the stable on our own and they would return us to the ship from there.
The stable sits just 11 miles from the cruise port so we expected to take a taxi for around $20 or so. We felt quite shocked at the port’s taxi line when they said the taxi cost $70. That was considerably more than we had ever imagined. Because Carnival stayed on Miami time, which is an hour ahead of Jamaica time, we had a bit of time to spare before our scheduled ride time so we waited around a bit in hopes someone else wanted to go to that area in a shared taxi, but no-one came by who did. One taxi driver said to go over to a nearby bus as they may be able to take us for less. The bus said they were going right by there and could take us for $20 each so we got on. If we had not had much time to spare before we were due at the stable for the ride we would have had to take the taxi, but since we still had over an hour to get there for our 10:00am ride the bus worked.
The bus went a short distance, then stopped while the guide tried to talk the majority of people who had got on for a $7 ride to town into taking a $30 island tour instead. As it sat there while the lady talked about stopping here, there, and everywhere we worried we might not make it to the stable on time. Finally the bus moved. It stopped at a beach where people can pay to stay for the day and quite a few got off. Then it moved on to a nicer beach where several others left. After that things moved quickly and the people who stayed on for the tour got to go behind the iron gate and see Half Moon Resort, something the guide said she had seen only a couple times before after living in the area all her life. At the hotel they told the bus driver where to drop us off for the stable. We walked down a short path from the road to the stable, arriving with about half an hour to spare.
The stable held many thoroughbred horses, mostly former racehorses or jumpers. Thoroughbreds tend to look lean. I had one once and no matter how much that horse ate (which was considerably more than any of my other horses) his ribs still showed, even living in a pasture full of grass. When riding rental horses in the USA they always wear western saddles. These were saddled with English saddles when the time came for our ride. I rode English for years when I had my own horses and English saddles are more suited to Thoroughbreds than western so we were fine with that. Jamaica once belonged to England. They drive on the left side of the road too.
They had a mounting block with stairs for these tall horses, so it’s easy to get on even for people who have never ridden before. Once mounted we rode around an arena for a bit to get familiar with the horses. They had one guide to each rider. I had a horse named Wesley and John had one called Romeo. After a bit we set off across a field, down a path, and on a road to the beach. We stopped by their dolphin swimming area to watch the dolphin trainers work with the dolphins a bit. They swam on their backs waving fins, went head down and waved their tails, then jumped out of the water.
After watching dolphins for a bit we rode to the swimming area where we were joined by a few other riders and their guides. While the riders stripped down to swimming suits the guides unsaddled the horses – and stripped down to their swimming suits as well. They offered to carry our cameras and take photos while we were out in the water so we could just have fun and still have photos when we got done. While normally I never let my camera out of my hand I decided to let the guide take it. I much regretted that when I ended up with mostly just photos of me, most of which didn’t even show the horse. He did get a few good snippets of video though. I suppose he’s used people wanting photos of themselves since selfies seem to be the thing with a lot of people these days.
Another mounting block made getting on the horses easy even without saddles. Then they said to hold one hand on the reins and the other on the mane until the horse started to swim, at which time they wanted both hands on the mane, one above and one below the reins and then when they said to, let go of the reins. I could ride bareback without falling off, but they are accustomed to people who don’t ride and want to keep them safe so I just followed their instructions and held onto the mane to keep the guides happy. They clipped a lead rope to each horse, no explanation needed once the horses started to swim.
The horses walked out into the water going deeper and deeper. The guides warned people to pick up their feet, the reason becoming obvious when the lead horse picked up its tail and pooped. Once it all floated by putting legs in the water was fine if keeping a watch on the tails of any horses in front of you. When we got deep enough that the their hooves no longer reached the ground the guides asked us to lay flat over their backs, hold the mane, and let go the reins. That way we floated along rather then the horses having to carry our weight while they swam. Next they had us slide off their backs and grab the tail, the reason why each horse needed a leadline as the guides now had to control both their horse and their rider’s while swimming beside them. Most horses can swim a short distance with a rider on their back, but not for as long as we spent swimming with these so by having the rider float behind holding the tail the horses only had to keep themselves afloat.
The horses kept their heads out of the water and the hindquarters would sometimes surface, though mostly stayed under along with their backs and rest of the body. From back at the tail it was pretty easy to see that Wesley liked to swim with one side of his hindquarters higher than the other so if his rear broke the surface at all it was usually just on one side.
In this short horse swimming video there are bits where you can see how their legs and feet move under the water while they swim
After swimming around in the deep water for awhile and doing donuts a bit we headed back to the shore. Horses expend a lot of energy swimming and can’t keep it up forever. As they started approaching shallower water we slipped back up to their backs again, which is pretty easy to do from the tail when you are in the water behind a swimming horse wearing a float around your waist. Once their feet reached solid ground we were all in position to sit up on their backs again while they walked to the shore.
We had brought towels and underwear, but since those things were back at the stable we just put our clothes back on over the wet swimming suits. The horses had some time to rest in the corral on the beach before getting saddled back up to ride back to the stable. The others that joined us for the swim were staying at the hotel and all remained on the beach while we rode back to the stable. One of the guides said he had worked for Chukka before and that their horse “swim” in Jamaica went deep enough for the front hooves to leave the ground, but not the back ones so I’m glad we did not book a ride through the ship.
While we waited for the van to come and take us back to the ship one of the people at the stable showed us a table of handmade things they had for sale. The artist sat next to the table weaving a basket. She did nice work with wooden figurines as well as a variety of woven items. It wouldn’t be Jamaica without someone trying to sell you something, but unlike vendors at the tourist attractions these people were not aggressive about it. On the way back in the van we saw all sorts of street vendors taking the name literally and standing in the middle of the street trying to sell things to passing cars. Seems like quite a dangerous way to make a living.
Although getting there was a bit of a hassle, truly swimming horses in the ocean for awhile was an amazing experience and well worth the trouble. We much appreciated the ride back from the stable. The driver even stopped at a viewpoint along the way where we could take a few photos of the ship. If ever you find yourself heading for Montego Bay, I’d highly recommend this ride. Just make sure to make arrangements in advance at www.horsebackridingjamaica.com.
A port is what you make of it. A lot of people don’t like Jamaica, but we’ve always had fun there and this was one of the best excursions we’ve ever done. If I ever go back to Montego Bay I’ll do it again. Jamaica has 3 cruise ship ports. In addition to this one at Montego Bay, ships also stop at Ocho Rios and Falmouth.
Other Jamaica Blogs:
Dunn’s River Falls (Ocho Rios)
Jamaican River Tube (Falmouth)
Zip Line at Good Hope Estate (Falmouth)