I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a tad nervous on arrival at Studland Stables. Despite spending many weekends at my local stables during my teens, it had been a decade since I last rode a horse. Yet there I was on a drizzly winter’s day in south Dorset, anxiously waiting to meet the horse that would be my companion for the next couple of hours.
The riding stables on the Studland Peninsula have been active for many years; in fact, the name Studland is derived from the Anglo Saxon word stolland, meaning ‘stud ranch’.
Now owned by Stuart and Helen Stiles, who relocated to south Dorset from London three years ago, the stables are ideally located in an area with limited traffic most of the year (summer tourist traffic an exception), a variety of scenery and a diversity of terrain. The wealth of tracks and routes means Helen and her team of staff can take people of all riding abilities on hacks through forest and heathland or, for more confident riders, along the coastal ridge near Old Harry Rocks, with its sweeping views of the Jurassic Coast. Between October and June, however, Studland’s four-mile stretch of sand gives riders a rare opportunity to experience the thrill of cantering beside or through the waves.
Looking out to sea
Trying to ignore the mist and rain engulfing the stables, Helen fitted me with a riding hat before introducing me to my trusty steed, a Spanish gelding called Calé. “I presume he has a grasp of the English language?” I tentatively asked, trying to hide the worry in my voice.
“Well, he arrived from Spain 18 months ago so he understands basic English. But don’t worry, he’s a wonderful horse to ride and he’ll happily follow in the hoof marks of my horse, Poppy,” Helen assured me.
Ten years is a long time out of the saddle, but once I was up on Calé, Helen’s calm and gentle guidance put me at ease. “Just hold his reins loosely so he has some freedom; these hacks are great opportunities to let the horses relax while they get some exercise.”
After a warm-up walk along a muddy bridleway and a gentle trot down a short section of road, we reached the National Trust-owned Knoll Beach. The sands are usually packed with tourists in the summer but on this winter’s morning it was deserted, except for a few dog walkers. Despite the mizzle partially obscuring our view, the scenery was spectacular. Across the Solent strait I could just make out the white cliffs of the Isle of Wight on the horizon and, jutting out to sea on my right, were the famous chalk sea stacks, Old Harry and his latest wife (his original wife fell into the sea in 1896). On a clear day I can imagine the panorama is even more breathtaking.
A lifetime’s ambition
Following Helen’s lead, we trotted along the water’s edge before she casually asked if I wanted to up the tempo and try a canter. Not wanting to miss an opportunity to tick something off my Bucket List (a rundown of things I must do before I ‘kick the bucket’ – number 67: canter on horseback along a deserted beach), I found myself nodding enthusiastically. Muttering repeatedly the only Spanish I know: “la cuenta, por favor?” in the vain hope that hearing some Spanish would ensure Calé treated me gently, our rising trot gradually turned into a rhythmic canter. It only lasted a minute, but it was certainly an exhilarating minute.
Few activities can make you feel so alive as cantering on horseback along a beach, while the wind whistles past you and the waves break beneath your horse’s stride. Easing to a halt just before the most popular nudist beach in Britain, which, not surprisingly, was empty on such an overcast winter’s day, I was secretly delighted when the photographer asked us to canter along the beach again to ensure he got the shot. Me? Nervous? Not at alI – I was hooked.
How to get there
From Bournemouth follow the A351 toward Swanage. After Corfe Castle take the first left, following the B3551 toward Studland. The stables are on Ferry Road as you exit the village.
Find out more
Studland Riding Stables
Ferry Road, Studland BH19 3AQ
Two-hour beach rides cost £60 and are suitable for riders who are confident cantering in open spaces. Minimum age is 12 years. Available Oct-April (day time rides; mornings only at weekend and during school holidays), May and June (evenings only).
Manor House Hotel
Studland Bay BH19 3AU
Country house hotel with stunning views across Studland Bay. Fantastic lunch and dinner menus.
Rectory Cottage B&B
Studland, BH19 3AU
A few minutes walk from the stables, Rick and Bonny Whitman happily welcome riders into their home – dismounted of course.