I swim on horses. That’s the name of the tour I had signed up for, but I assumed it was a normal horse ride with some rivers that had to be crossed, as could happen on any horseback ride in Costa Rica. However, I never expected that I would have to be completely submerged with the animal, literally swimming with him.
The trip, beyond being a tourist attraction, is an experience of a lifetime, to the point of feeling at one with the horse, as if we were of the same body.
The Sapoa River runs through the mountains of La Cruz in Guanacaste, near Colonia Bolaños. The river is famous for its size and because it flows into the San Juan Lake. A pool is formed in thisvery river of a size that I have rarely seen, about 150 meters long and 50 meters wide, with a depth of three meters.
The pool is surrounded by trees and conveys a sense of unexplainable peace. On some of the tree trunks, marks can be seen in the wood that chronicle the passage of the Indigenous chorotegas, relate the guides, Jonathan Corrales— known as Chama— and Jorge Reyes. These marks are a type of carved symmetrical lines that run from the top of the tree to the bottom, in other words, the site itself is mystical.
Knowing the beauty of the place, Maurice Chartier, owner of the tour operator Salve Terra, the company that gives this tour, thought itmight be the ideal place for carrying out the project he has had in mind since childhood.
“Some of my mom’s stories stayed with me about when she went swimming with horses with her grandparents in Greece, Alajuela. She always told me stories about the horse rides,” recalls Chartier.
Having found the ideal location, the businessmanlooked for a horse tamer so the animals would gradually become familiar with the pool, although he was surprised to notice that many seemed to be like ducks in the water.
After six months of training, Salve Terra initiated with this new tourist experience, with excursions that cannot exceed groups of eight people.
To swim with the horse, I had to position my body horizontally over the horse’s back and hold on only to its mane.
The Tourist Route
The tour consists of an initial ride through a tropical dry forest in La Cruz, which takes about 45 minutes, although a portion of the view is ofthe volcanic mountain range of Guanacaste, which merits a stop to take a few pictures .
After the heat of the ride, the pool appears, immediately inviting you to plunge in for a dip with the swimming horse.
The rules are important: wear a life vest, only hold onto the horse by its mane, always follow the instructions of the guide, who goes next to you, and enjoy the adventure.
The horse only swims 50 meters and then it is time for the return trip. So as not to tire the animal, Salve Terra alternates horses so none of the animals swim a distance of more than 100 meters.
The magical moment happens in the water. At first, I felt that it was not a good idea, fearing that the horse would go crazy in the pool, but at the same time I figured you can’t fall in the water.
What you do is simple. You lie down completely on the horse and only hold ontohis hair and hetakes care of the rest. It is skin to skin, breath for breath. It feels like you are hugging the horse while he protects you.
When my head goes under the water, I can see perfectly as the horse’s hooves swim without touching the ground, while the animal’s breathing quickens. The horse reallyis swimming.
The water is pure, fresh and invites you to stay. The horse, on the other hand, is already out and waiting in the sun to dry while Chama and Jorge saddle him again. Reluctantly, I get out of the pool, and while we eat fresh fruit and some cookies, I realize that, for a few minutes, life felt more intense and primordial. However, we take the path back now, but with a new story to tell.