Bwog giddies up
Written by Bwog Staff
New daily editor Alexandra Muhler tells us what’s what when it comes to horsemanship in the City.
After a year in New York, I’m used to being cut off in crosswalks by aggressive drivers. But there’s still a thrill in feeling the whoosh of a passing car while crossing the street on a horse. And you can feel just that at D & D Stables in Queens, where you can canter through Forest Park, a charming, chipmunk-filled woodland just a few terrifying, car-filled blocks from the stables.
I found D & D Stables with a friend who, like me, had spent a summer working on a dude ranch in Wyoming, where wranglers taught us to ride. Perhaps taught is too strong a word. At most, the wranglers muttered a few commands in indecipherable South Dakotan (something about one leg on each side of the horse), and left us to lope freely across the countryside. We went helmetless, because apparently lawsuits don’t exist in Wyoming.
When Bill, our guide in Forest Park, remarked how nice it was to ride with two people who actually knew what they were doing, my friend and I stared at each other in utter confusion. Too intimidated to ask questions of stoic Wyoming cowboys, she and I must have pulled off something like proficient horseback riding – or at least we must have achieved the appearance of it by internalizing our neurotic coastal gibbering. Our seemingly mellow outlook must have been a comfort to Bill, an awkward but likeable man who for decades has worked at the stables on Sundays as a respite from a series of thankless cubicle jobs. He offers life advice along with riding tips – namely, don’t major in English unless you want to end up like him, living on Staten Island and working as a proxy server.
The life lessons are one way of getting your money’s worth on the ride. Thirty-five dollars will get you an hour on a horse, a guide (who will, more practically, show you where you’re allowed to lope – or canter, as it’s called east of the Mississippi) and a helmet (mandatory if you’re under 21) that smells like dank straw but looks like an accessory for trench warfare.
The trip takes about an hour from Columbia: just take the 1 to Times Square, then the R to Forest Hills. From the station, walk down 71st Avenue through a cozy neighborhood of imitation Swiss chalets, turn right on Sibylla Avenue, then left on 70th Road, which is not to be confused with the adjacent 70th Avenue or 70th Drive – Queens is screwy like that.
The best riding times are before noon – show up at 1 on a weekend and you’re likely to have to wait around the horse-shitty street in front of the barn with the stables’ angry, 80-year-old German owner. The scene is fine to observe – there are 3-year-old birthday girls riding up and down the block on ponies, and, in a never-in-Wyoming sight, Chinese and (subcontinental) Indian wranglers lolling around. When a horse finally becomes available, you may end up on a huge group ride with a gaggle of Slovakian tourists, on which you’ll receive no chance to canter, because the tourists haven’t got the sense to lie about how experienced they are on horseback. You may end up with several teenage girls as your guides, who will address you with a surliness born of the ennui that comes with being paid to ride beautiful horses through a bucolic forest. You’ll be better off with Bill, and will have more fun if you don’t let on that you can’t ride. Of course, you may be a scion of the Westchester gentility and be well acquainted with the thin English-style saddle, but if you’ve never been on a horse before, request a Western saddle and lie that you learned to ride on your grandpa’s ranch, or something. The guide rides in front, so stay quiet and they won’t notice you jangling around violently as you trot. Once you break into a smooth lope, though, you’ll feel all Western and untamable, as if you’re soaked in some atavistic sublime. That is, until you slow down and leave the park. Then it’s back to the terrifying crosswalk, to another jarring New York City street scene.