A Secret Beach Picnic Ride

A man dressed in black clothes and a brown cowboy hat has me stand at the top of a two-step mount situated along the edge of a riding ring. CJ eases Buckles into position and says, “Get on quick now!”

I do as I’m told and lift my left leg over the horse’s back and settle into the saddle.

I’ve just watched a video on how to steer, and while the others mount their horses, I take Buckles for a spin.

CJM Country Stables sits on a wide patch of hard, red dirt that overlooks Maha’ulepu Beach. There are 300 horses at the stable, and the arena is home for the All Girl Rodeo and the Koloa Plantation Days Rodeo.

CJM stands for Come Join Me, and the ranch offers two daily guided horseback rides. My husband, Dan, and I have opted for the Secret Beach Picnic Ride. The trail is a 7.5-mile loop, which takes us upcountry and down into the bay.

Buckles knows his job well and he’s easy to steer. I line him up behind a honeymooning couple and the Rayment family from Australia. Dan falls in behind me as CJ leads us into the 1,700-acre Maha’ulepu Wilderness Area.

“Alooooha!,” CJ shouts. “When I says aloha, I want you to answer with an aloha! I can’t see all of you, so this is me checking to see if every-one’s OK. If you run into trouble, yell aloha!”

Seth Collins, newly married and riding Chicken Man, is in front of me. His wife, Lydia, and her horse Diamond are just ahead of him. Buckles knows this route well, and when Chicken Man stops, so does he. We wind our way up a sandy path, through windswept iron-wood trees and into the foothills.

Despite the frequent reminders from CJ to “Stay aware!” and “Keep on your toes or your legs will hurt,” I’m able to relax and enjoy the view. To my left, scrub brush and ironwood. To my right, the Pacific Ocean crashes against the sand-colored cliffs.

We ride down the valley into a sandy clearing and cross a stream that spills into the ocean. Walking along the beach, we quickly begin climbing along a rocky patch and stop for lunch.

CJ helps 12-year-old Georgia Rayment dismount Quick and Easy. Next, Georgia’s 9-year-old sister Olivia gets off Flash. Once the kids and their folks, James and Virginia, are on the sand, all four scurry down to Maha’ulepu Bay while CJ prepares lunch.

Sitting at picnic tables under a makeshift shelter, we grab a bag of chips, a cup of POG juice and a plastic-wrapped sub made by Koloa Deli. Thick slices of Boar’s Head turkey and provolone cheese sit naked on a soft, fresh-baked roll. CJ sets out sliced tomatoes, crisp lettuce, pickles, onions, pickled peperoncini peppers, black olives and packets of mustard and mayonnaise.

Back on Buckles, I join the group as we make our way to the top of a gently sloping hill.

At the summit, we see Koloa Mill, Hawaii’s oldest sugar mill. The verdant valley that stretches out before us used to be filled with sugar cane.

We trailblaze to a rocky dirt road and as we round the bend, whales jump in the distance. Crossing a small estuary, we stop along the sandy beach.

“We’re going to walk in the ocean, so stay close!” CJ yells.

The sharp tang of salt-water pierces my nose as we walk through knee-deep water. Blunt curves of lava and sea cliffs have been sharpened into lacy patterns by wind and water, their edges sharp as broken glass.

Riding back to the stable, my knees begin to cramp. I remember what CJ told me and remove my feet from the stirrups. I bend my knees and flex my ankles. Horse hooves slap the hard-packed road and make a staccato sound. Thanks to Buckles, I feel like a regular cowgirl.

CJM Country Stables, Koloa

742-6096 cjmstables.com

Marta Lane is a Kaua’i-based food writer. For more information, visit TastingKauai.com.