Urban Cowboy: NYC Horseback Riding

On Horseback in the Big Town
  |  Gorp.com

There are at least 8 million stories in the big city, and some of them involve horses. Even the most well-informed New Yorkers might not know that there are public stables and horse trails in each of the Apple's five boroughs. And seeing the city's parks, streets, and people from the saddle gives locals and tourists alike a refreshingly odd perspective on the original Concrete Jungle.

As an avid rider, I'm always looking for ways to get out on the trail and exercise skills I've acquired in the ring during weekly lessons. Typically I look beyond city borders, but now and again over the years I've heard rumors of venues closer to home: Brooklyn, the Bronx, Central Park. Not as exotic, perhaps, as cantering on Costa Rican beaches or plunging into St. Maarten's surf, but certainly more convenient. So I set out to explore the local riding scene.

Turns out that riding terrain in the city is surprisingly diverse. Sure, you get plenty of concrete beach, but there are places in Brooklyn and on Staten Island where you can enjoy sand, sun (if you're lucky), and surf. There are also woods, wetlands, and parks, along with streams to ford and brush to break through.

Regardless of locale, trail riding can sometimes consist of bored, elderly horses walking in a line, nose-to-tail, at a velocity my instructor describes as a "dead-camel walk." Not so in the Big Apple—I found that the horses in city stables live up to New York's high-energy vibe. In the Bronx and Queens, my horses were enthusiastic and ready to run for most of an hour's ride; I got occasional canters out of my stately Manhattan and Staten Island steeds; and my Brooklyn mount gave me a hard, fast trot.

Among the biggest surprises were the horses' housing. Manhattan's Claremont Stable is a converted five-story firehouse. The horses live upstairs; the hay is stored on the top floors, hoisted in through the windows by an apparatus called a hay elevator. In Queens, the barn is a cinder-block building that looks like it would be more appropriate for gas hogs than hay burners. Part of the Brooklyn facility appears to be converted shipping containers from the nearby waterfront. Only in New York, right?

Throughout my five-borough adventure I found unexpected pleasures in the terrain, horses, riding companions, and sheer fun of it all. I've come away from it convinced that there's no place like home.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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