Beyond Seabiscuit: Animal-Loving Getaways

by Natasha Wolff | March 4, 2014 11:43 am

You can lead a horse to water, the saying goes—but can you make it jump in and start swimming? You can at Half Moon[1], a pedigreed, 60-year-old Jamaican hotel that has stocked its 28-stable equestrian center with horses trained to do just that. And whether you find it transcendent or merely amusing, riding a thoroughbred bareback into the surf qualifies as one of the world’s most distinctive aquatic ventures.

In fact, it’s one that’s been enjoyed by some seriously discerning travelers—from the Kennedys to British royals—for nearly three decades. The program was started by Trina DeLisser, director of the resort’s equestrian center, whose in-laws, a long-established Jamaican family, owned Half Moon’s original plot of land. “Everybody has this romantic idea of horses on the beach at sunset,” she says. “I thought: Anyone can walk along a beach! Let’s try swimming.”

The animals really are swimming, DeLisser stresses—not just walking in the shallows. It’s not an indigenous practice, per se, but it makes perfect sense in the temperate waters of Jamaica. The country’s numerous racetracks produce a steady supply of retirement-ready veterans.

Rescue horses make up about 60 percent of the roster at Half Moon, and many thoroughbreds arrive having already learned how to swim in the racetracks’ injury-rehab pools. “Like people or dogs, they’re not natural-born swimmers,” DeLisser says. “But because of the power of their legs, they’re actually very good once they’re taught.”

Half Moon’s scheduled swims are in the morning, when the water is less choppy, and for the ride back to shore, riders can slip off the horse’s back, grab its tail and be towed in. The animals, possessed of a laid-back island mentality, don’t seem to mind. – Darrell Hartman

Watch Half Moon’s swimming horses in Sea Horses, a short film by travel and wildlife website Jungles In Paris[2].


NEXT: 6 More Creature-Centric Getaways[4]


Care for Sea Turtles

The Maldives

Strike the perfect balance between self-indulgence and philanthropy at the Four Seasons hotels in Landaa Giraavaru and Kuda Hurra. Ten marine biologists assist guests in rescuing and releasing injured sea turtles, and Marine Discovery Centres educate on conservation. [6]


Dart Some Rhinos

South Africa

Don’t be alarmed by the seemingly violent sound of “darting” a rhino. It’s actually a common (and safe) technique used by researchers to monitor and track the endangered species. At AndBeyond Phinda Private Game Reserve in South Africa, adrenaline junkies are invited to participate with veterinarians and conservationists.[7]


Cuddle Lil Pandas


Luxury liner Crystal Cruises brings travelers ashore for a once-in-a-lifetime experience—cuddling baby pandas—at Chengdu’s Giant Panda Research Base. The nonprofit facility is world-renowned.[8]


Photograph by Goh Iromoto

Dog Sled with Huskies via Chopper

Ontario, Canada

Get whisked away by a private helicopter to the middle of nowhere for a dog-sledding adventure led by a senior guide and a team of six Siberian Huskies.[9]


Set Baby Turtles Free

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Participate in the release of endangered baby turtles at the lavish Capella Pegredal resort in Mexico. The hotel works with local organizations who rescue and care for hatchlings during incubation, then prepare them to be safely released.[10]


Photograph by Greg Snell

Walk Among Koalas

Kangaroo Island, Australia

South Australia’s Kangaroo Island is chock full of native wildlife (think kangaroos, seals and sea lions) but observing the local koala colonies on a guided walking tour is the area’s most endearing activity.[11]

– Lindsay Silberman



Watch: What You’ll See When You’re in Elk Territory[12]
The Mane Event: Le Saut’s Famed Jumping Competition
[13]Into the Wild, the Luxe Way[14]


  1. Half Moon:
  2. Jungles In Paris:
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  4. NEXT: 6 More Creature-Centric Getaways:
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  6. :
  12. Watch: What You’ll See When You’re in Elk Territory:
  13. The Mane Event: Le Saut’s Famed Jumping Competition
  14. Into the Wild, the Luxe Way:
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