450 Friesians on the beach: ‘This Mega Beach Ride even appears on people´s bucket lists’

On October the 12th as many as 450 black pearls will thunder across the beach at Callantsoog. It is set to be the largest edition of the Mega Beach Ride for Friesian Horses. We talked to the mastermind behind the event, Linda de Jong.

‘A huge success, don´t you think?’ is De Jong´s enthusiastic response. ‘There´s still room for a few more riders because we have received a number of cancellations. But we have to draw the line somewhere. Some riders take part for the fourth time, mothers and daughters, people from abroad, young – we have set the minimum age at 14 – and old. As far as I´m aware the oldest participant is 72 years old. Some people have even put this beach ride on their bucket list!’

Bizarre

‘We had never expected this would turn into an ‘event’. My friend Marleen Rebel and I simply cooked up the idea to go on a hack with Friesian horses only, in 2010. We wanted it to be something special, so we chose to ride on the beach. We posted a notice on the site of breeding chapter het Friesche Paard MN – I was still on the board at that time –, stating that the ride would only go ahead if we had a group of at least twenty riders. But numbers went up to 210 in no time! On the last day the count stood at 329, just bizarre!’

A Bit ‘Out of Hand’

Since that first time the Mega Beach Ride kept growing. De Jong stopped working for the breeding chapter; now she is in charge of the organisation together with her mother Ria and sister Mieke. ‘In 2013 we had close to 400 participants: three years later we agreed that this ‘is the absolute maximum’, but then again, we don´t want to disappoint people. So now, in 2019, numbers have mushroomed to 450’, she states.

Preparations

So why not do this beach ride every year? ‘You have no idea what it takes to organise it. We start preparations more than a year in advance; on the day itself about 70 volunteers are up and running. We are fortunate to have Peter and Simone Oudshoorn from Manege Noot on the team as well. Their place is the starting point of the ride and they also arrange the permit that allows us to ride on the beach. On the day we need the police, ambulances and rescue-team to be on standby; one car of the rescue-team drives ahead to alert people on the beach to the arrival of the cavalcade of horses. In Huisduinen we ride a loop so all the streets are cordoned off and parking is temporarily prohibited.’

Reserve Riders

In order to prevent accidents all participants have to observe strict rules. ‘Obviously, there are always horses – minimum age for horses is four – that have never seen the sea before. Those horses don´t know where to look first! We have reserve riders that come along in accompanying cars so that they can take over horses in case somebody falls off.

Spectators and the Press

The Mega Beach Ride is not just hugely popular with riders. There are also thousands of spectators as well as the Press who line up to admire the horses and who try to catch the most spectacular moments on photo or film. ‘It´s important to maintain those contacts too. It´s great to attract so much attention. But then again, it simply is great: so many Friesian horses brought together, nothing can beat that…’

Text: Christine Dijk