Fun Miami Day Trips: Horseback riding at Bar-B-Ranch in Davie
“There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”
Winston Churchill was on to something when he penned those lines so long ago. There’s nothing as soothing to the soul as the relaxingly rhythmic plodding of a horseback ride in the country. Most visitors to the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area—and residents alike—busy themselves so much with sunning, swimming, sailing and clubbing, they never dream that the best of the west is only a hoofbeat away—in Davie.
With its weekly rodeos, cowpoke personality, and sprawling palm nurseries, offbeat Davie makes a quirky contrast to the urban sophistication of the surrounding area, a fading reminder of a simpler South Florida of not so long ago. And, when in Davie, there’s no better way to experience its leisurely pleasures than riding high in the saddle at the Bar-B-Ranch (3500 Peaceful Ridge Rd., (954) 424-1060).
The Bar-B-Ranch, family owned and operated for over 30 years, is the largest and most experienced business of its kind in South Florida. With an inventory of approximately 35 horses, it occupies a 25 acre spread along the Davie Trail system, adjacent to Flamingo Gardens Park. In addition to their hour and hour and a half trail rides, they also offer a summer day camp, riding lessons, horse rentals, and an equine therapy program called “Healing Hooves”, run by licensed psychologist Terri Jennings, which provides valuable help to mentally and physically-challenged children and adults.
One piece of advice, though: Enjoy it while you can! The rural landscape is rapidly changing, as mini-malls and subdivisions invade the landscape. Ranches like the Bar-B are becoming the last of a dying breed.
“Over-development is our greatest threat,” says Jason Hurley, who, with his brother Sam, took the reins from their mother Susan several years ago. “I remember when Flamingo Road was so small, two dump trucks couldn’t pass each other, and now it’s a six-lane highway!”
Fortunately, however, the Hurley brothers can thank their lucky horseshoes for one thing: their location. Just a short ride away is Robbins Lodge Park, a 160-acre wilderness preserve packed with green fields, meandering trails, and one of the last remaining tropical hardwood forests in South Florida. No matter how far the new construction takes over the neighboring pastureland, Robbins Lodge will forever be off limits.
Another threat that once loomed over the horse-riding world was the rising expense of liability insurance. Man vs. beast, after all, can be the impetus for many a costly lawsuit. However, in 1993, the state of Florida passed the Equine Activity Statute, which limits the liability of horse owners in case of injury or death caused by their animals. This law kept many such businesses from extinction. Certain city municipalities, such as North Miami, require insurance coverage; Davie, however, does not. Therefore, before you try out any of your Lone Ranger moves, just remember that you do so at your own risk!
RESERVING YOUR HORSEBACK RIDE
To arrange your trail ride, simply phone the ranch a day or so ahead and tell them you’d like to set up an appointment. No appointments are needed on weekends. They offer various morning and afternoon excursions. No credit card numbers or deposits are necessary; in fact, no credit cards are accepted. Simply give them your name and number and the preferred time of your ride. We opted for the hour and a half morning session, priced at $45 per person. Helmets, optional for riders over 18 years of age, are available for rental at an additional $5 each.
Helpful hint: the early bird gets the worm! They tend to fill up during the afternoons and weekends. Summers are also busy because of the day camp. But when we reserved our spot for 9:30 the following (Friday) morning, we were the only ones on the schedule, which naturally made for a much more fun and personalized experience. Morning rides are also cooler, and allow you to escape the daily afternoon downpours so common in South Florida during the hotter months.
DIRECTIONS TO THE BAR-B-RANCH IN DAVIE
The journey from Miami Beach takes about 45 minutes. We allowed ourselves an hour, just to be safe. Fortunately, the traffic on the I-95 was all heading southbound, which made getting there a breeze. From the 95 North, we merged north unto the Florida Turnpike ($1 toll) for a few more miles, and then took the Griffin Road exit, heading west (you can also take the Griffin Road exit from the 95, but the Turnpike route is shorter). After a few miles on Griffin Road, you turn right on Flamingo Rd for a short while, until you see the Flamingo Gardens entrance on your right. Immediately afterwards, take a right on 36th Court, following it to the end, where you make a left unto Peaceful Ridge Rd, a glorified cow-path. The ranch is the first driveway on your right.
SADDLING UP YOUR HORSE
After we arrived, we were asked about our level of riding expertise. I’d ridden extensively as a child, so I listed myself as an intermediate level rider. My friend Dave was a greenhorn, so he listed himself as a beginner. We signed the form and were then matched up with our horses. I got Red River; he was nicely mannered with a little spunk. Dave was paired with Dakota, a gentle mare who enjoyed having Zen moments along the trail as she stopped to eat the daisies.
Jason Hurley instructed us briefly on the basics of horse operation. At the Bar-B, they teach a process called Natural Horsemanship, which has been described as “the art of working, training and riding with horses is a manner which works with the horse’s behavior, instincts and personality in an easy and kind manner.”
GOING ON A HORSEBACK RIDE - HI-YO, SILVER! AWAY!
Once Jason had finished his brief lesson, we mounted our steeds and headed out with our guide, Cathy. Along the way, she told us that she’d first fallen in love with horses as a child. Growing up in Davie, she began riding at the Bar-B-Ranch as a teen, before becoming an employee about six years ago. She wouldn’t trade her life in Davie for anything.
“Davie is a perfect place,” she told us, as we followed behind her on the horse path, along a canal. Just behind it loomed a dense palm forest, while, to our right, we could see the outer perimeter of Flamingo Gardens. Jesus lizards, so named because of their predilection for running on water, scurried across our sandy path.
“It’s a country town, but still big enough that there’s always something going on.”
A few twists and turns later, our path soon deposited us into a lush tropical forest, which provided a much-needed respite from the summer South Florida sun.
Palm trees, ferns, meandering, ivy-covered oaks, and wild tropical foliage sprung up all around us as we wound our way deeper and deeper into its interior. Cathy stayed ahead, dutifully clearing the spiderwebs blocking our route. She explained that these were the greatest annoyances of the early morning ride.
As we ventured past the colorful tropical plants, listening to the jungle warble of the local birds, it felt like we were in a South American rainforest. The preconceptions I had of South Florida as a purely swampy, shadeless landscape began to vanish. The terrain here was high and sandy, our pathway surrounded by sturdy trees that don’t fare so well in marshier conditions.
Later, we crossed a footbridge and the forest path grew wider. Below it, a canal stretched back a seeming eternity, catching the glow of the sun. The water was clear enough that you could see fish swimming around beneath the surface.
Coconuts floated in its stillness, resembling small turtles.
“Are there gators in there?” I asked.
Cathy replied that they were rare in this area: the locals make such a fuss about them, whenever they do appear, they’re removed just a few hours later.
Moments later, crossing under a blooming Poinciana tree, we emerged into a large pasture, bordered by a picturesque white fence. Here, Cathy asked us if we were comfortable going a little faster. We both agreed and, after gently pressing our legs into our horses, they began to trot. Already, this was shaping up to be more exciting than our previous horseback riding experience at a ranch outside Gainesville, where we never made it into third gear. Trotting can be a bouncy experience. Cathy told us leaning back helped absorb the bounce, whereas leaning forward is horse talk for going faster.
We crossed the field, continuing along the path where we encountered a cow pasture. Longhorn cattle and their offspring gazed curiously our way as a lone donkey began to bray a morning salutation. We soon passed a newly constructed barn, part of a neighboring farm. Palm trees rose up in the distance, giving the scene a dissonant feel.
“That looks weird, seeing palm trees growing next to a barn,” I remarked. Since Cathy had been a lifelong West Broward County resident, I don’t believe she appreciated my sense of incongruity. Nonetheless, having grown up on a Louisiana farm, seeming light years away, I was used to pines and deciduous trees; this experience was like Bonanza meets Gilligan’s Island!
Occasionally fellow riders would pass us by. A woman in a cowboy hat, whom we’d seen earlier at the ranch, was giving lessons to a riding student, another woman, who, clad in a helmet, was nervously clinging to her saddle.
In the distance, suburban housing was springing up like wild mushrooms where grassy pastures had been just a year before. I visualized sitting down with my grandkids one day and saying, “I remember when this was all farmland!”
Eventually we emerged into another field—or was it the same one? And this time, Cathy asked us if we’d like to try a canter. The canter, though faster than the trot, was a smoother, more relaxing experience.
All too soon, the ranch came into view once more, and while time here seemed to pass at a slower pace, I was surprised by how quickly it had gone by!
We made our good-byes to Dakota and Red River, who contentedly returned to the stable, where they rejoined their horsey friends. Thanking our hosts for the wonderful experience, we prepared to make our own return to glittery rush of so-called civilization.
Dave had a glimmer in his eye. “Next time I’m riding Red River,” he said.
As the ranch grew smaller in my rearview mirror, I knew this would have to become a habit.
You Deserve More Than an Ordinary Vacation.
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