Horse-surfing in Palma Sola Bay with Great World Adventures’ BeachHorses operation. The Bradenton City Council wants to prohibit horses on the causeway. Islander Photo: Courtesy BeachHorses.com
Bradenton City Council’s move to ban horseback riding along the Palma Sola Causeway has some galloping mad and others perplexed.
Only a few causeway regulars surveyed last week endorsed the recent 4-1 council vote for city attorney Bill Lisch to draft an ordinance prohibiting horses on the causeway, a main route from Bradenton to Anna Maria Island.
Councilman Gene Gallo proposed the ban during a meeting June 22. He said horses on the causeway create a health and safety issue and that he had received complaints about horse waste on Palma Sola’s beach and in the bay.
One councilman, Bemis Smith, opposed the move with the explanation that he’s a “small government conservative.” He predicted public response would be against the ban.
The day after the vote, the proposed prohibition triggered a buzz in online forums, at city hall and especially on the causeway — an unofficial survey of beachgoers on the thin strip of shore found about nine in 10 opposed a ban.
“I think the horses on the beach give it character,” said Amelia Turner of Anna Maria. “It creates a beautiful scene. I come here about every day with my dog. I spend more time here than on the beach in Anna Maria.”
Vacationer Henry Ryman of Belleville, Ill., said, “But I was thinking it would be a fun thing for the family to try. What’s the problem? I sure don’t see logic in banning horses and allowing dogs.”
Another vacationer, Elaine Abrams of Paterson, N.J., wondered about domestic animals on the beach and in the water. “We stopped for lunch,” she said. “But I don’t think I’d go swimming in there.”
During the council meeting, public works director Claude Tankersley said that horses contribute to the fecal coliform in the Palma Sola water and that feces and urine contribute to algae growth.
The irony of that concern about animal waste didn’t escape some causeway regulars, as well as Timothy A. Mattox, CEO of Great World Adventures, which operates BeachHorses.com to provide opportunities for horseback riding on the causeway.
For about 13 hours June 14-15, an estimated 3.5 million gallons of sewage spilled into the Manatee River from a broken pipe at Bradenton’s wastewater treatment facility. Mattox said it was “almost laughable” that a city official could maintain that dumping raw sewage has “zero impact but a little horse poop in Palma Sola Bay is a health and safety issue.”
He added that his company endorsed the city’s ordinance requiring people to pick up after their animals, that the BeachHorses.com crew always cleans up after the horses. Also, he said, horses are herbivores, so their waste might be nitrogen-rich but it “dissolves quickly.”
Mattox said he was blindsided by the council vote, which he claimed was based on misinformation and incorrect assumptions.
The proposed ban would bring the BeachHorses.com business to a halt, as well as stop individual horse-owners from riding along the causeway.
“It’s the only public beach south of Jacksonville that permits horseback riding,” Mattox said. “This is not only an issue for business. The causeway is an important venue for all horse-owners throughout southern and central Florida. That little strip of sand is the only one around. There are horse-lovers throughout the state who are up in arms.”
Patrons of BeachHorses.com, from travel writers to vacationers, have posted raves about the Palma Sola experience, and local tourism officials encourage visitors to take rides. Horse-surfing on Palma Sola is the No. 1 tourist activity in Bradenton, according to TripAdvisor.com.
“It’s not just an attraction for tourists who are here,” Mattox said. “It attracts tourists who are visiting other parts of the state — Daytona, Miami, Orlando. Someone goes to maybe South Beach or Disney, but drives four hours to here to go to Palma Sola. We are putting heads in beds.… And with the horse-surfing, made this a unique destination.”