When you think of Brooklyn, horseback riding is probably not the first thing that comes to mind.
I grew up fifty miles from the city in a small town on Long Island in an area zoned for horses; the lady down the street kept two on her property that I spent countless hours gazing at with awe and envy. I started riding lessons at the age of nine and kept at it through college, participating in my school’s IHSA team. But after graduation, I moved to Brooklyn and didn’t take a lesson for nearly ten years.
About three years ago, I made the decision to return to riding. Life without horses just wasn’t right for me and I had to find a way to make it work.
While there are plenty of options for horseback riding not far outside the five boroughs—on Long Island, in Westchester, and in New Jersey—there are, unsurprisingly, only a few choices within New York City. Like me, most residents do not own a car and must rely on public transportation. Two of the three remaining options (since the Central Park stables closed their doors in 2007 after nearly a century) are in the borough of Brooklyn.
51 Caton Place
Brooklyn, NY 11218
For those looking for an urban riding experience, Kensington Stables is the place to go. Kensington, one of the most diverse residential areas in Brooklyn, houses a barn that is the last remaining vestige of a riding academy that was built in 1917. Nestled on a corner among rising condos, the barn continues to be a historical holdout in a neighborhood that has undergone much development in recent years.
Walking over the pedestrian footbridge that spans Ocean Parkway, you begin to pick up the warm scent of horses. At first it’s quite incongruent, surrounded as you are by the cold concrete of the city. But once you enter the barn at Kensington Stables and feel the familiar presence of horses, it’s like the city drops away for a moment and you experience the cozy feeling of all barns, everywhere.
The barn offers trail rides that are unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced. You mount outside the barn and head out for a trail ride through Prospect Park—Brooklyn’s counterpart to Central Park, built in the 1860s by the same landscape architects, Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux, who created Manhattan’s oasis. But before you can enter the leafy peace of the park, you must first ride through the Ocean Parkway traffic circle, a multi-lane intersection of several main thoroughfares that thrums with city traffic. Luckily, the horses are pros at handling all the hooplah; they barely twitch an ear at the sirens going by. There are also the helpful guides—on horseback and on foot—ready to step in and calm the horses if one of them becomes startled.
Horses navigating the Ocean Parkway traffic circle
Once past the traffic circle, you enter Prospect Park, with its tree-lined trails, gently rolling meadows, and a lovely lake. Late fall is an especially good time to go for a ride here to see the trees changing colors, with the added bonus of the park being especially quiet.
Kensington also offers flat lessons (no jumping) in various locations throughout Prospect Park as well as in their (very small) indoor arena within the barn. They are also home to GallopNYC (http://gallopnyc.org), a therapeutic riding program that helps children and adults with disabilities.
Trail riding in the fall, Prospect Park
Jamaica Bay Riding Academy
7000 Shore Parkway
Brooklyn, NY 11234
If you’d like a break from the city, head out to Jamaica Bay Riding Academy. It is located within the Gateway National Wildlife Preserve, a 400-acre park encompassing woodland trails with three miles of beachfront riding trails set aside specifically for horseback riding. A family-owned business operating since 1972, this barn has a friendly staff and welcoming atmosphere.
Trail rides in the summertime are beautiful, especially on the wetland trails that lead out to the beach. The trails wind through marsh vegetation, the cattails grown high above your head even on horseback. They sway in the wind and make a reassuring rustling sound that is the essence of a lazy summer afternoon. You come out onto the bay beach and ride around its curve, making horseshoe prints in the wet sand right next to quite large horseshoe crabs washed up on the shore. The combination of two of my favorite scents–the salty tang of the water cutting through and mixing with the warm muskiness of sweat and horse–is wonderful to bask in. The sun warms your back and the beach breeze cools the sweaty tendrils of hair around your neck.
Trail riding on the beach in the Gateway National Recreation Area
Jamaica Bay also provides riding lessons for riders of all levels. With large outdoor rings as well as a pretty sizeable indoor arena, it’s possible to ride there year-round. They also have a heated/air-conditioned indoor lounge (and snack shop) with windows overlooking the indoor arena and a full tack and apparel shop. They are a full-service boarding facility, they host shows, run a summer camp, and are also home to a therapeutic riding program.
While it’s certainly not common—people will probably say, “You’re doing what? Where??” when you tell them a horseback ride is in your weekend plans—there is access to riding in Brooklyn. With these two barns, you have the opportunity to see some of New York’s beauty on horseback, whether it be in a vibrant city park or in the peaceful refuge of the shore.
This is a guest post by Jessica Filippi of Urban Equestrian. For where to go on a horseback riding vacation follow @Nancydbrown @ridinghorseback on Twitter or @jessflip