(comments from Dan)
Printed March 2006
It’s quite a spectacle. As waves crash on a Cornish beach, a thoroughbred horse and its rider gallop through the surf, pulling a man on a kite board. As the horse pounds along, the surfer jumps the waves, which act like mini-ramps for the board. The age-old relationship between man and horse is reaching new heights.
This is horse surfing, a new extreme sport, and the latest variation in the ever-evolving world of board sports. It was invented by a stunt horseman, 26 year old Daniel Fowler-Prime, when he was staying with a friend in Cornwall. He says it started after they were feeling a bit bored one day. “We hitched up a mountain board to the back of a car, and tried to ride it. Then we did the same with a motorbike, then I thought, why not try it with a horse?”
Daniel is a horseman of tremendous ability. He’s made a profession of his daredevil riding. He’s been in films - including the Da Vinci Code – he performs in live arena shows, doing anything from jousting to Wild West riding, and he’s an equine specialist, advising on the use of horses in anything from children’s programmes to Hollywood blockbusters.
( the last line is not really true. I have advised on things like Blue peter and some other T.V. programmes but never on anything funded by Hollywood.)Dan.
He has a company called The Independent Horse, which he says is about taking horses into the world of extreme sports, and coming up with new ideas with what you can do with them. “There’s a hell of an adrenalin kick when you’re hanging off the side of a horse, and that’s one of the things with extreme riding, there’s always that thought that you can lose your bottle at any time. We’re trying to push the boundaries of what we can do with horses.”
Daniel believes that he’s the first person in the world to come up with the idea of horse surfing. He’s worked with two Cornish kite boarders, Matt Smith and Denzil Williams, who were the first surfers to try the new sport out.
Both admit to being somewhat apprehensive, as neither is familiar with horses. Matt says preparing for the first surf was quite daunting. “The horse was massive and powerful, and it was ramped up and raring to go. As we pulled off I was a bit unsure about how it was going to go, but Daniel was really good on the horse, he controlled it so we got a good, tight rope, and we got a good constant speed up.”
Horse surfing combines aspects of various board sports. The board rider does a water start– like in water-ski-ing – where he stands or squats in the surf, his feet strapped to the board, holding a bar attached to the tow rope. Then as the horse moves off, the surfer has to press down on the board and start moving too. It’s quite a skill.
The sport is still in its infancy and Daniel and his team are working to improve it. They’ve experimented with various boards, and a kite board is currently the most successful, although they’re trying to custom design a board which will ride very high in the water but which can also be used to ‘edge’ – to perform jumps and turns – in the surf. They’re also trying to refine the launch system to reduce the pressure on both the horse and the surfer, and are designing a special saddle for the horse (to which the tow rope is attached).
Of course what is special about this new board sport is the involvement of the horse – a living creature with its own temperament. One of the board riders, Denzil Williams, says his ride was thrilling. “It’s different from being pulled by a speed boat in that it’s a darn sight more shallow and unpredictable. I tried two different horses – one was very well behaved and gave a good but slowish ride, the other was very wild, but it was really fast and exhilarating.”
Is there not a concern that pulling a board puts too much strain on the horse? Daniel Fowler-Prime says not. “This is not as heavy as ploughing and not as light as normal driving. People have questioned the pulling to the side, but if you look at polo you can see that the horses accept it. The horses we use are athletes, they are used to trick riding, and we always make sure they are warmed up and fully prepared, and none of them have been injured while we’ve been surfing.”
The new sport is still very young, and you’re not likely to be seeing it on the average British beach just yet. But for those board sports enthusiasts looking for a new thrill, horse surfing could be an exciting option – especially on days when there’s no wind and no waves.
Daniel Fowler-Prime is running week-long horse surfing courses.
He also runs the British Extreme Horse Riding Association – a small membership fee entitles members to take part in training weekends for horse surfing and other extreme forms of extreme riding