OCEAN CITY — While the jury is still out on the long-term future of horseback riding on the beach in Ocean City, the first attempt on Wednesday morning was clearly a success.
After considerable debate, the Ocean City Mayor and Council last week approved in a 4-3 vote horseback riding on the beach on a limited basis as a means of attracting more visitors to the resort in the off-season. On Wednesday, the first small group of riders took advantage of the new opportunity on a picture-perfect February morning, trotting along the water’s edge as curiosity seekers and onlookers gathered.
“This is a really special day,” said Councilman Brent Ashley, who promoted the idea before his colleagues. “I think it’s going to be good for business and bring a lot of people to Ocean City. It’s entertaining for the riders and I think it’s beautiful for the visitors.”
Under the approved ordinance, horseback riding will be allowed on the beach only from 27th Street south to the South Jetty at the Inlet from Nov. 1 to March 30 from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Only leisurely activity will be allowed, including riding or walking the horses. The ordinance prohibits any competitions, such as polo matches or racing. The original ordinance allowed for a $50 seasonal pass, but was amended to include a $20 one-day pass after some debate about the cost being prohibitive.
Those who obtain permits will be responsible for those in their party, and beginning or intermediate riders must be accompanied by an experienced rider capable of controlling the animals. The ordinance includes specific language about cleaning up after the horses including the handling of manure. The latter was a source of much consternation for some on the council and the public, but on day one at least, the riders from Holly Ridge Farm in Powellville had a handler on with a pitchfork and bin on hand to take care of a few droppings.
Councilman Joe Hall, also a strong advocate for the program, was on hand on Wednesday and repeated assurances the riders will pick up after themselves if necessary.
“Whatever these horses leave behind, if anything, will be long gone before any tourist puts down a blanket,” he said.
While the three riders from Holly Ridge Farm, including Margo Luke on Sparks, Catherine Paul on Lucky and Amy Neeley on Lady, don’t necessarily constitute an immediate hit, there is reason to believe the equestrian set will embrace the idea. Ashley said a group of 21 riders from Pennsylvania have already inquired about permits for Saturday. Because the ordinance only allows for 12 horses on the beach at a time, the group will likely have to divide their time.
“I think that’s a great start,” said Hall. “If you have 21 riders, you probably have spouses, children, handlers and others tagging along. That’s quite a few people in hotel rooms and at the restaurants on a Saturday in late February.”
Already, area stables are attempting to set up package plans with resort hotels to attract riders, according to Holly Ridge Farm’s Anne Luke. The plan is to package stabling at nearby facilities with hotel rooms.
“We’re trying to get some packages together with the hotels and the stables so the out-of-town visitors can take advantage of this wonderful opportunity,” she said. “It’s nice to see something that might help the winter months.”
While the obvious benefit is for the riders and their horses, the hope is horseback riding on the beach will provide a unique experience for residents and visitors. The sight of the horses frolicking at the water’s edge produced postcard-like images and attracted considerable attention, even on a Wednesday morning in February.
“You can see already see people riding by and checking it out,” said Ashley. “People are very excited about this and I think it going to be equally enjoyable for the riders and the spectators.”