Giddy-Up, Dude!

What could be more beautiful, more thrilling to watch than a horse, mane and tail flying, as it races along a Vineyard beach? Add a surfer, towed by the horse, and you get the new sport of, well, horse surfing. This spectacular event takes place in early fall on the edge of Sengekontacket Pond.

The Vineyard is one of the few American sites for horse surfing, brought here by Vineyard Haven horse professional and massage therapist Annie Parsons. Integral to the process: Bucky, her ten-year-old Yorkshire Dale pony, a rare breed from the north of England, but in Bucky’s case born and bred on-Island. (Parsons, on the other hand, was born in England.) Surfers are launched from their seat on a truck inner tube with their feet on a wakeboard, as Bucky, with Parsons riding, lifts surfer and board onto the water, towing them with a waterski rope. Horse and surfer can reach speeds of twenty-five miles per hour.

Training a horse to pull a surfer can be tricky. Parsons began at Stoney Hill Road in West Tisbury, where she taught Bucky to pull a bag full of plastic bottles and cans. To make sure he wouldn’t freak out, she first pulled the bag in front of Bucky. Then she touched him with it. “Horses need their confidence built,” she said. “We humans go for the goal, but horses come around it sideways.”

The next step was to get Bucky used to cantering by the water. At first he was afraid, but Parsons had a friend ride with her so Bucky would have a companion horse. “You try to make it fun every step of the way,” Parsons said, and compares it to teaching a horse to pull a cart. It took Bucky less than a month.

Turns out you can wakeboard with a 1 HP motor. As long as that H in question is a pony named Bucky.
Tova Katzman

Finding board surfers adventurous enough to try the new sport followed. A fellow from Florida was game to try. Oak Bluffs teenager Makenzy Luce was also up for the task. “Anything to do with water is my daughter,” said her mother Betsy Luce, who was there to cheer her on.

Bucky towed the man from Florida first, then Luce, at a fast clip along the water’s edge. Both were up and surfing in no time, tailing Bucky as he raced along the beach near Little Bridge in Oak Bluffs. They described the experience as exhilarating.

The horse terminology involved is colorful. Parsons uses slobber straps – small pieces of leather – to add weight and balance on the reins. Because it rusts easily, a sweet iron bit encourages the horse to accept the bit. A flank strap goes around the horse’s hindquarters to secure the saddle and help the animal pull from its hind legs.

“Fall is the ideal time,” said Parsons. “The crowds are gone, the water’s still warm, and the beaches are clear.” On some sunny Sunday morning, don’t be surprised to see Parsons, Bucky, and Luce or another adventurous surfer speeding along the edge of the pond off Beach Road.

What’s next for Parsons and Bucky? Mounted archery at the Martha’s Vineyard Community Horse Center this fall – but that’s another story.