Urban Cowboy: NYC Horseback Riding
There's country music blaring from the SUV parked in front of the barn, and the guys hanging around outside are attired in chaps, boots, and spurs. Stanley, Idaho? NopeQueens, New York. With these signals confronting me, my choice of riding English or Western in Queens' Forest Park was a no-brainer.
The stable's usual park guide was busy giving lessons when I arrived one early summer afternoon. Since I'm not familiar with the park's trails, I could wait around till she was free, or I could ride with the cowboys hanging out front. She assured me that with my intermediate experience level, I'd have no trouble keeping up with them. She knew them well; one even owned his own horse and had stabled it there for years. Again, a no-brainer. I took off with the guys, following them down the narrow Forest Hills streets to the park.
Once we reached the park, the city seemed far away. Deep in the trees, the only sounds were the creaking of the leather saddles, the jingling of the metal decorating the horses' elaborate tack, the muffled sound of hooves on the densely mulched trails. We passed a handful of people on foot; otherwise, we had the park to ourselves.
Forest Park has the most beautifully groomed paths I encountered in New York: smooth, wide, with no overhanging foliage to get in the way. That turned out to be a real plus once we started moving. I got the picture quickly: Whenever one of the guys said, "How about trotting a little?" the horses were going to get a chance to stretch out and show what they could do. And they could do quite a bit. Our hour-long ride consisted of running and walking: quick gallops along the shady, treelined paths, followed by slow walks so the horses could cool downand my heart rate could return to normal.
Actually, it was a lot of fun. Though we were covering a lot of ground very fast, I only felt anxious when my horse moved into the lead. I was having a great time, till it entered my mind that since I didn't know the trail, there could be a tree down, a sharp turn, who knows what, ahead of us. I reined in, let the cowboys lead the way, and shifted back into fun mode.
During one of our walks, we did encounter a trail blocked by a fallen tree. I started walking my horse over it. Once he had two feet on the far side, he decided he'd rather back up. The guide at the barn had warned me that we might have some disagreements and insisted I take a crop, just in case. This was the only time I had to use it, and with a little persuasion I got him all the way across the tree.
Once I dismounted back at the barn, I walked the horse up and down the street to further cool him. While walking, one of the cowboys confided he'd been worried when I first rode out with themworried that they'd be stuck having a sedate walk in the park, escorting a timid rider. But, he assured me, I was welcome to come back and ride with him anytime. Not a bad invitation.
D.D. Stables, 88-11 70th Road, Forest Hills; (718) 263-3500. Guided rides cost $25 per hour, English or Western. Riders familiar with Forest Park trails can go without guides, but trails are unmarked, so be honest about how well you know the trails. Ditto, riding experience; if you say you're a good rider, you'll get a spirited horse. If you inflate your abilities, you may end up with a horse you can't handle. From Manhattan: Take the Queens Midtown Tunnel to the Route 495, the Long Island Expressway; take exit 22 to the Van Wyck Expressway south; take exit 6 (Jamaica Avenue); head east on Jamaica Avenue, then bear right onto Metropolitan Avenue; make a left onto 70th Road. The stable is on the right, near the end of the road.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication