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Giddy up: A NYC field guide to horseback riding

Where can a novice rider and city-slicker saddle up? Jean Tang test drives two New York City-area stables.

Riding at the Bronx Equestrian Center At 5, I was plunked on a pony for a snapshot. Later, I got to ride horses in exotic places for work: a rainforest near Vancouver, along the majestic Tetons, on a beach in Fiji. But it wasn’t until a recent trip to Lanai, Hawaii, that I fell for riding for real.

It wasn’t that my horse answered to the adorable name of Bart or that we bonded on a two-hour ride through relentlessly beautiful seaside mountains. It wasn’t even the post-ride pampering that I received at the Four Seasons Lodge at Koele, where they’re launching a new Equestrian Center this Thanksgiving.

It was the simple realization that horseback riding is one of the best workouts available for your core. And your soul: It’s the high of being in the outdoors, and connecting intimately with such a large, noble animal.

Jean Tang riding horses in Jackson Hole
Jean Tang riding horses in Jackson Hole

As Betty Draper and lots of women know, when you’re riding well, even slowly on a flat trail, you’re engaging your abs and your inner thighs. “Simply shifting the hips to one side or the other with a contraction of the abdominals…signals to the horse that he should move in the opposite direction. This is the epitome of communication between horse and rider,” says Laura Thompson, a Houston-based riding instructor and writer.

Put differently: you can ride slouched on your horse like a couch potato, but it’s not terribly nice or fun for your horse. When Gabe, my guide at the Four Seasons, showed me the way, I delighted at how kindness to the horse was also better for me, physically. That’s synergy.

Now came the challenge. Back home from my fantasy vacation, I needed to find somewhere accessible and affordable to continue my new practice. Google turned up a host of NYC-area stables. I went to investigate these two:

Sunset Ride
Bronx Equestrian Center
I took the 6 train north to the end: Pelham Bay Park. Then I hailed a car for the mile drive to the stables. The hour-long trail ride cost $35. My guide Miguel appeared, leading a large and lovely white horse for me. He rode a snorty, nervous chestnut horse. We mounted at about 6, and rode into the sunset. Carts of golfers waited while we crossed to the perimeters of the golf course. In the pink light of early twilight, the city simply vanished. Towering trees replaced towering buildings. I rocked my hips to the rhythm of my steady white horse, listened to the rustle of trees. An hour later, I returned to Manhattan—refreshed, and ready for Friday night.

Jean Tang and her horse
Jean, learning to ride and guide

Morning Ride
Outdoor Bound, New York City

This full-day Outdoor Bound excursion to New Jersey came with a morning ride, lunch, and a tasting at a local winery ($168). A company van shuttled me and eight others from the Upper West Side to Echo Lake Stables, where I met Rio. He’d just finished a gig as a police horse on Boardwalk Empire. Fresh from stardom, Rio was lazy and stubborn. We began second in a line of ten, and ended up last, Rio’s belly full of grass and leaves. “They’ll take any excuse to stop,” said Valerie, our guide. But I didn’t envy Rio’s job. The New Jersey highlands are rocky and tricky. Hoofs across stone made me think of negotiating cobblestones in heels. Still, the forest—and the click of the hoofs—was hypnotizing, and the group of New Yorkers fell into silence for long stretches.
Jean Tang