by Nancy E. Hassel, ThisFurryLife.com
Did you ever want to try something new? Hopefully the answer to that is yes! I have been horseback riding since I was 6 years old, learned how on a pony while visiting family in Denmark, and that was it I was hooked. Took some riding lessons, but really learning how to ride with my Uncle Bryon who was a lifelong equine expert. For many years we would go out of Brookhaven County Park, and he happened to know the owners of the barn, so we were able to go without guides. He taught me so much about horses and how to handle them, and I always loved a horse that was a challenge, vs. the boring follow the leader trail ride. Often we would invite friends and family to come along on a ride – and for whatever reason whenever anyone came – some sort of disaster ensued. Whether it was my brother loosing his wallet along the ride, my cousins girlfriend’s horse getting spooked and taking off back to the barn or someone getting thrown off – something always happened when more people came with us. Looking back, since no one ever got hurt – it is quite comical to reminisce about. My cousin Laura, my Uncle’s daughter, did not take to horses the way I did, and one of those rides all we heard during the cantor was her screaming in fear. It was hilarious, we laughed so hard on that ride and for many years it made for some really funny holiday laughter when we would talk about it. I can still hear it to this day! Haha sorry Laura, still funny!
I continued the tradition by taking my niece horse back riding, (who was also just as obsessed with horses as I was as a kid), took her for her first lesson and ride years ago when she was 8 years old. Complete with her bike helmet and a huge draft horse, (slow poke easy rider), they gave her we went on an hour and half ride, she didn’t say a word, taking it all in. She loved it. Every year after that we went on different rides in different places on Long Island and Connecticut. My niece is a natural rider, takes to horses very easily, like she goes all the time. So she was intrigued when I told her about how a friend and I went horse back riding on Clydesdales recently in New Jersey. Clydesdales!
When I heard about this place in Long Valley, New Jersey, I definitely wanted to go. I have seen Clydesdales as draft horses, pulling the Budweiser carriage when I was a kid, so I was excited, and honestly a little nervous – even being an experience rider. Those horses are H U G E! Have you seen them? But I still wanted to go – in my mind I was thinking they would be similar to riding a draft mix horse who is powerful, but not too fast, and usually the most gentle and calm. Two years ago I took my niece riding near her college in Connecticut and the horse they gave me was a draft mix, so not huge but very agile, and loved to run, almost hard to keep her under me when she was running.
To my surprise the Clydesdale ride was so different. The gate was different and for whatever reason I thought they would be slow, (I don’t know why I thought this), but their gate was a steady pace, felt a bit quicker than a regular Quarter horse. It’s kind of like driving your regular car and then driving a mack truck. I would definitely say that riding a Clydesdale is not for the faint of heart or for an inexperienced rider. While it is only a trail ride, in a beautiful location, these horses are very big and if you fall off – it’s a long fall to the ground.
Speaking of falling off, I did not fall off, but because of a mix up in our reservations, the barn didn’t have enough Clydesdales to ride, and one of the riders in our group was offered a draft horse that was mixed with a Friesian horse. The horse was beautiful and almost as big, albeit a bit wider than the Clydesdale, and not the best apparently on trail rides. We were not even 5 minutes into the ride and the horse got spooked by a person speeding towards us on a bicycle (really dude?), and the horse took off through a mud field, the rider nearly in slow motion slid off the side of the horse and bounced in the mud, popped up and was ok. All of our horses took off, but the guides were able to slow them down quickly and stop, and my horse Gypsy was the matriarch of the barn, at 12 years old, immediately came to a stop when I pulled back on the reins.
It was a little scary, and the rider was ok, shaken, but ok and opted not to continue. I felt bad, but we moved
forward and went on our hour ride.
My horse at one point on the way back got a bit spooked by a bunch of noisy kids nearby, (I can totally relate!), and honestly I thought I was going to get tossed. She wanted to run, and was moving back and forth and not calming down, holding her back was nearly impossible. I told the guide with us, “Gypsy wants to go!” and the guide grabbed her and Gypsy calmed right down. (Have you ever been in a store and a bunch of kids are crying, screaming and carrying on? I run to the other side of the store or leave, so I don’t blame Gypsy!) Gypsy was an incredible horse to ride, she would look back if a bicycle was coming up from behind us, and I would tell the guide (I was last in the line), and she was very sweet and responsive. I have been on plenty of horses in my lifetime that have been spooked or just didn’t feel like going that day and tried to run back to the barn with me on them. I have never been scared on a horse and while I absolutely loved this experience and am glad I went I think I will stick with regular sized horses from now on!
But if you are so inclined to ride on a Clydesdale, a piece of advice, ask them if you can go on a private ride, with no more than you and a friend and the guides. A once in a lifetime experience for me.