Playa Chiquita
Playa Chiquita
Photo courtesy of razihusin via Shutterstock

Riding a horse in the Caribbean is a dream for many, and Bruce Walker is on a mission to help others achieve their dreams. In 2009, Bruce left his job as an ex-military government employee for Playa Chiquita de Talamanca, Costa Rica, a quiet beach town just 20 minutes from the popular party town Puerto Viejo on the country’s Caribbean coast.

It was in Playa Chiquita that he finally realized two of his lifelong dreams — owning horses and helping others achieve their dreams — by opening Playa Chiquita Riding Adventures.

A Horseback Riding Non-Tour

Unlike other horse tour operators in Costa Rica, Bruce runs a very small organization in a humble manner. There are no fancy, lavish stables with high-end cowboy hats to rent here. Instead, Playa Chiquita Riding Adventures consists of a small stable — home to three or so horses — with a separate office space that also acts as Bruce’s home. If you’re not specifically searching for it, it’s easy to walk past (something I almost did, even after being given directions).

When contacting Bruce about a ride, he is quick to set the record straight. He does not offer tours. Instead, he provides “a ride with strangers starting out and becoming friends.”

Playa Chiquita
Me, riding White Socks. Photo courtesy of Playa Chiquita Riding Adventures

Though I was unsure at first, by the time my ride was over, I had shared more with Bruce than nearly any other friends I’d made on my trip and learned much more about him, his business and Costa Rica than I had anticipated.

Facing My Fears

Despite having always dreamed of riding a horse, I had never actually gotten on one, something Bruce assured me would be no problem. When making the booking, I felt nothing but excitement. In fact, I counted the days until I would finally arrive in Puerto Viejo; however, as I boarded the bus for the short ride from Puerto Viejo to Playa Chiquita, that excitement quickly turned into a nervous fear of actually getting on the horse.

When I arrived he introduced me to White Socks, a horse he assured me was used to new riders, looked at my height and immediately brought over a bucket.

“…did I forget to mention I’m terrified of actually getting on a horse when I said I’d never rode before?”

Bruce simply smiled, offered some philosophical advice regarding fear being nothing more than a feeling that needed to be explored, and talked me through getting in the saddle. And when I was confident enough to relax Bruce led us out on to the road.

I still had little idea of how exactly to ride a horse. It didn’t, though; White Socks knew exactly what to do, following Bruce without a signal from me.

Playa Chiquita
Playa Chiquita. Photo courtesy of Simon Dannhauer/Shutterstock

The ride was going smoothly…at least for the first half mile. Until I panicked, awkwardly pulling the reins the wrong way and galloping into a branch, sending my glasses flying to a devastating death on the dirt path.

Luckily, that was the low point of my ride.

More Than Just A Ride

Riding with Bruce is a learning experience. As we continued down the dirt road, we stopped frequently. Bruce pointed out sloths, birds and monkeys hanging in the trees above, explaining the basics of the local ecosystem. Playa Chiquita and its surrounds offer a very holistic lifestyle, taking good care of their environment while also utilizing it for their health and life improvement. Bruce uses his rides to educate others on the local environment, allowing them to learn more about the culture of Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast.

As we rode, Bruce also talked more about the other side of his business. When he’s not leading tours, he works with local youth, using his horses to teach the children about hard work and responsibility. As someone who believes that working with animals — horses in particular — can changes lives for the better, it was an honor to ride with someone using their passion to help others.

About halfway through our ride, Bruce stopped to pull a leaf from a branch. “Take a deep breath, close your eyes, and smell this,” Bruce said, handing me the leaf. “What is it?”

I took the leaf, shut my eyes, and inhaled deeply. “Lemon?”

Bruce nodded. “Now every time you smell a lemon, it’ll be a reminder of this day.”

By the time we had ridden a few more through the forest to the paved road, I was feeling slightly more confident in the saddle. Children on the sides of the roads yelled to Bruce, cars slowed down and waved, and bikers often stopped to say hello, showing the true sense of community in Playa Chiquita.

We took a  path off the side of the main road, through a small wooded area. Dirt and mud slowly turned into sand.

“Watch your head,” Bruce said as we rode under a tree.

When I looked up, I gasped. We were finally on the beach. The Caribbean Sea loomed endlessly before me, reaching out to meet the cloudy sky.

Playa Chiquita
Me, riding White Socks on the beach

My heart pounded as we rode along the shore. Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast was experiencing the highest water they’d seen in years. Many locals swore it had never been as high before, so we were left with only a few feet of beach to ride on as rough waves crashed against the sand. My nerves slowly began to fade as I could only smile watching Bruce’s dog run ahead to play with the water and White Socks enjoyment of being at the beach.

As we rode further, Bruce and I discussed topics ranging from global warming to world peace. “The world is crazy right now,” he said, “but we’re heading for peace.”

“I hope so.”

“We are, I’ve seen it.” He sounded so sure that I was hard not to believe him.

The Final Stop

The final stop on our ride was the coconut stand. As I drank from a fresh coconut for the first time it finally hit me — I had just spent the afternoon riding a horse for the first time on the Caribbean Coast.  I closed my eyes and smiled, trying to memorize every scent, sound and feeling from the day.

The grin never left my face, even after I dismounted the horse and waited for a taxi back at the stable. Riding with Bruce at Playa Chiquita Riding Adventures was more than just a horse ride on the beach. It was a transformative travel experience.

Not only did I learn more about Costa Rica, myself, and the world in general that day than any other day on my trip, but I also managed to conquer a fear that had been holding me back from achieving a lifelong dream.

What fears has travel helped you face?

Bonus Costa Rica Travel Resources:

15 Best Vegan Resorts In Costa Rica

How To Visit An Indigenous Community In Costa Rica

How To Shop Sustainably In Playas del Coco, Costa Rica

How One Art Gallery Is Promoting Indigenous Culture In Costa Rica

How The Sloth Sanctuary Is Educating Visitors To Costa Rica

Sky Fisher

Sky Fisher is a small-town country girl with a passion for travel. She has a love affair with Central America and currently calls Costa Rica home. Follow her adventures at Sky vs World.

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