We went to Punta Cana in April 2009 and stayed at the Occidental Grand Flamenco Resort. It is advertised that horseback riding is free- and there is a yellow shirted "Pandora's stables" staff member circulating in the main lobby every morning. We were told that the free horseback riding was done in a ring on a lunge line and wasn't much fun but for $70 for two we could get a 90 minute semi-private ride down the beach. We opted to pay more figuring you get what you pay for. Not so.
The next morning we showed up (having prepaid) and were told, first, that we'd be getting a solo/private ride as no one else had bought in...about 20 minutes later we were told that it was cancelled and would have to do it in the afternoon (don't...way tooooo hot by then and you've really got to wear long pants- the chaffing of your legs on the stirrup straps will wear the skin right off your legs no matter HOW good you are at riding- especially once you get a bit wet!) So, we got a $10 discount and said we'd try the next morning instead.
Day 2 did find us being picked up promptly at our hotel by a smelly diesel (typical) truck and we travelled to a few other resorts picking up other tourists before heading out to the beach. If you just want a look at typical life in the DR just take this trip- enough said. Upon arriving at the "stables" we were greeted by several men, one white European and several dark-skinned Domincans, the European was the only one who really spoke English though all spoke enough English to explain VEHEMENTLY that their horses were NOT very, very skinny and sick looking but that they were DOMINICAN horses and they were very different from American horses they were just small. Well, I get that the mixbred horses they had there were on the smaller side- the biggest being about 15.2 hands but they were DEFINITELY very poorly taken care of and emaciated. I've attached some pics that I took before being yelled at to put my camera away.
There were about 30 horses already tacked up hanging out in an area that was a concrete slab with a room (blessedly as it is really hot). Most were loose, bridles just hanging but some were tied to the sides- safer but unfortunate as they couldn't reach the one water trough. As the men brought out the tacked horses to the tourists I really contemplated NOT riding...it was the one thing I really had wanted to do but seeing horses with open wounds on the skin under their girths and 100+ lbs underweight was a bit jarring. Few had actual blankets/pads most were outfitted with squares of foam under their ancients saddles and nylon halters with bits attached. Still after speaking with a few of the men and telling them that I had riding experience they quickly got a horse that was not in the pen but in a backyard stable saddled up. He looked pretty good physically-looked about 4 -6 years old but was fairly jumpy and my fiance was quick to point out that I'd pay for asking too many questions and that I was going to get knocked on my [--]. I asked the men if they were putting me on a horse that was going to hurt me and was there anything I should know and they laughed and spoke in Spanish saying, "probably".
So, I was up for anything (I'm a pretty confident rider) and we had extreme sports traveler's insurance (haha...no, really!) so they took pics of all the couples and we headed out- paying people to the left and hotel freebies to the right! Sigh, yeah they lie to you at the hotel- it's an hour horse walk down the beach for the freebie but they downplay it to get more cash out of you.
The truth- I wish that we'd been able to casually stroll down the beach and walk/run as we wanted (my fiance had never been on a horse before- same with many of the other tourists in our group)...but the guys who rode at the front and back were determined to run us/our horses up the beach and back so that they could be done with us. HINT- SPEAK SPANISH TO THEM RIGHT AWAY!!! Tell them NOT to touch/hit your horse IN SPANISH!!! They are BIG on riding up behind people and whacking their horses with hands/sticks to get them running- especially if you'd prefer not to! This is REALLY DANGEROUS! Especially considering that about 10 minutes in to the ride I saw that my fiance's girth was dangling free- I yelled to the man beside him to grab his horse and he did and fixed the girth, tragedy averted- CHECK YOUR OWN TACK!!!
The horses did run (wouldn't you to avoid getting whacked??!!) whether their riders wanted to or not...for me this was actually a lot of fun (yeah, I'm probably going to [--]:( It was a pretty dangerous set up though for inexperienced riders as the horses all bottlenecked in places and some, like mine, were quite a handful and he seemed most intent on riding up alongside others and tried to bite them. Sigh. Most were pretty friendly horses, though and seemed pretty rider friendly. It was the caretakers who actually took the ride to the dangerous level. Unfortunate because the one that I ended up engaging in conversation (in Spanish) was actually very nice- his young son was on the ride with us! What a little go-getter!
So, in summary, if you can get over the poorly kept horses and are a pretty good rider (or are brave!) it is an amazing thing to run along the beach, I have to admit. They also have a photographer riding a motorcycle and stopping to take pics of you in the water, running down the beach, etc to sell you for $30 bucks on a CD at the hotel the next day. Upon our return to the stables the caretakers/men were very concerned with whether or not we had a good time/a good ride. We told them yes, that their customer service was great- though I added that they really shouldn't be hitting anyone's horse unless they ASK for help! While we didn't go again during our weeklong stay out of conscience it was the experience of a lifetime.
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