Around here, Wednesday is Pony Day.
On Pony Day, I put on my barn clothes (old flare-legged jeans I never wear anywhere, green t-shirt, Aeropostale zip-up someone once gave me, apparently believing that I was a seventeen-year-old high school student) and my Ariat paddock boots (which, in contrast, I wear all over the city) and hop on Florence, my purple bicycle, to ride over the mountain to the stables.
Riding down the hill on the other side is an exercise in faith: faith that one's vintage bicycle has modern brakes; faith that no one will decide to open the door of a parked car at just the wrong moment and flip you heels-over-head. It's a very steep hill, with a blind curve.
|The view in Prospect Park
All that should be adventure enough, but my destination lies just at the foot of the pedestrian bridge, and after I've fought with my bike lock for five minutes, it's time to actually get down to work.
Because friends, there are ponies in that there building!
I think one of the coolest things about my neighborhood is that it's a ten-minute bike-ride from a stable. I can't ask for a lot more than that. There aren't very many stables in New York City anymore, did I just get lucky? There's even a dressage arena in the corner of the park where we enter. So nearly every time I go to the park, I get to eavesdrop on a riding lesson.
(It's a real chore not to offer suggestions, too. The tragic life of an ex-riding instructor.)
|Rider and volunteers in the ring at Kensington
Then the students arrive.
GallopNYC is a therapeutic riding organization that operates out of two riding stables in New York City: one in Brooklyn, and one in Queens. Most of the students have developmental disorders. They might not speak clearly (or at all), or be obsessive about odd things and find it hard to focus, or have other symptoms that make it impossible for them to lead an independent life.
I think the only logical thing to do with someone who never gets to feel independent is to put them on a horse.
I mean, what do horses make us feel? What magical keywords show up again and again when we gush about why we ride? Here are three: Freedom, and exhilaration, and flight. Here is another: power.
|Yes, I've walked this big mama!
The biggest and brightest thing you see during a therapeutic riding lesson is the smile on the rider's face.
The second brightest thing is the smiles on the volunteers' faces. We get an almost unfair amount of pleasure out of this work. Oh hi, I groom horses, hold them for a boy while he and his instructor saddle them up, and then walk and trot the horse around the ring while he practices posting and two-point and throws beanbags hilariously all over the arena. I know, I know, I'm a hero.
Or I am just having a really great time?
The only thing better than waltzing around the tiny arena at Kensington is walking a tacked horse down the street and around an elaborate traffic circle at the southwest corner of Prospect Park (on a marked horse-and-rider lane, mind you) and into the trees of the park. There, a beautiful meadow called Bowling Green has been set aside for GallopNYC. This is a real treat, because with all the space, riders get to trot more than a tiny circle, and I have found that my riders really like to trot.
No matter how worn out and grouchy and behind-deadline I am (and I am usually all three of those things) after two hours at the stable, I'm completely revived. There's so much energy, and enthusiasm, and excitement crammed into those two hours. There's so much happiness and accomplishment.
I used to think that therapeutic riding required skills I didn't have. It turns out I couldn't have been more wrong. No, I'm not in anyway educated or certified in working with developmental disabilities. But I can walk a horse. And, believe it or not, not everyone can do that!
GallopNYC has a great Facebook page, by the way, full of horsey content. Give them a "like!"