For years, Jamaica has been one of the leading islands in the Caribbean for equestrian activities. Trina DeLisser, Director of the Equestrian Centre at the Half Moon Hotel in Montego Bay, is Jamaica’s leading horse trainer and the mastermind behind the island’s transcendent equestrian activity of swimming horses. Culture Trip had the chance to talk to her about Jamaica’s equestrian activities, training the horses to take the sea and more.
How long have you been a horse trainer?
I’ve ridden horses all my life; starting from when I was an infant. I would go riding in the afternoons after school in the hills just outside of Kingston Jamaica, with my father, who was a polo player. I began teaching at 14 years old and I’ve been riding and training horses for over 40 years.
Are there any equestrian traditions in Jamaica?
Being a British colony, our equestrian heritage is strong. We have had horse racing, polo, dressage and jumping activities on the island from before independence, and these are all still actively taking place in Jamaica.
How did the idea of swimming horses come about?
My family has always had an interest in equestrian activities (my in-laws also owned Half Moon’s original plot of land). Everybody had this romantic idea of horses on the beach at sunset, so I thought, “Anyone can walk along a beach – let’s try swimming!”
Horses are not natural swimmers, so how did you get them used to it?
Yes, horses, like humans, are not natural swimmers but some enjoy the water and their powerful legs make them good at it. Getting the horses to transition from a pool, which is a controlled environment, to the sea is one of the most difficult things. It’s at that point that we find out which horses enjoy swimming and which don’t.
What methods do you use to train the horses to swim?
Many of the horses we train are rescued from the race track. They can already swim, as they use swimming as physical therapy and fitness. The other horses, we teach to swim by letting them first have fun in the water and then following an experienced swimmer to learn the technique. We then introduce a rider on their backs while swimming. The whole process can take up to three months.
People may be concerned about their safety while doing this type of activity. What safety measures are put in place?
Safety is very important here at Half Moon Equestrian Centre. The guests are booked on the different rides that suit their experience level. While riding, all guests must wear helmets and are supervised and instructed by the gentlemen we have working with us. In the water, everyone must wear a lifebelt. Additionally, only people who are experienced swimmers can do the ‘Turf and Surf’ ride. The guides who are with the guests during this entire experience are also experienced themselves.
What other activities are provided at the Half Moon Equestrian Centre?
We have a full range of riding activities: the Pony Park, beginner lessons, experienced lessons and beach rides, and the swim rides. Please see our website for all the details.