Excitement was high on Mother’s Day weekend last month as my family gathered round the TV to cheer on our favourite picks during the Kentucky Derby. It was an unusual setting for us – while we’re certainly sports fans, it’s typically a hockey or baseball game consuming our attention. But the horses and their riders were fascinating to watch, with coats gleaming and muscles straining as man and beast crossed the finish line.
There’s something empowering about riding atop a 1000-pound animal; and the only way to truly experience it is to try it yourself. Fortunately, there are many opportunities to do exactly that in the areas surrounding Newmarket, Aurora and Oak Ridges. “[Horse riding] is absolutely huge here,” says Jan Humphrey, owner of Briarwood Farms in King City.
Briarwood Farms takes in riders of all skill levels, offering private and semi-private lessons for both children and adults. “My youngest rider is about five, and the oldest is 83,” says Humphrey. “I have bucket list ladies who come during the day – it’s just something they’ve always wanted to do.” Briarwood Farms has a Pony Club as well, which focuses on disciplines such as Dressage, Jumping and Rally. The daily summer camps are small and personal, with a maximum of 10 kids, who learn everything from horsemanship to riding.
The Newmarket/Aurora area is also home to the Royal Canadian Riding Academy (RCRA), which is located off Davis Drive in Cedar Valley. The riding school offers Learn To Ride lessons for all ages, from tiny tots to adults. The school also accommodates intermediate and advanced riding. It’s mostly English-based, with Hunter/Jumper programs too. While Hunters are judged on performance and soundness, Jumper competitions involve various obstacles. “We’re a large facility, and we host shows here regularly,” says Shirin Ganji, office manager at the RCRA. The shows are free and open to the public.
If you’re looking for something a little more south, Deerfield Farm is located in the forested area of Whitchurch-Stouffville. Now operating in its 30th year, Deerfield Farm focuses on English-riding and offers programs for all ages and skill sets. “There was a time when it was really the avid horse person that was your student base; now, it’s the recreational/active-for-life kind of student that is becoming more prevalent,” says Grant Field, owner of Deerfield Farm. Beginners become familiar with the sport through an introductory lesson inside the arena, where they have the opportunity to get comfortable with the horses. “Our focus is to give people the opportunity to educate themselves as good horse people,” says Field. Saturday morning lessons are held year round, but can also accommodate specialized packages for groups and families.
There’s certainly no shortage of options, whether you’re looking to try out the sport for the first time, or if you’re an experienced rider keen to participate in local shows. The summer months present the perfect opportunity to hop in the saddle and go. Or if you prefer the spectator side of the sport, why not check out a show?
7 Benefits of Horseback Riding:
1) Constant movements and adjusting your body to the changing gait of the horse strengthen your core, balance and posture.
2) Mastering the art of controlling your horse improves coordination.
3) Guiding the horse improves spatial awareness.
4) It’s social! Meet new people and make new friends as you interact with the guides, people at the stables, and those you meet during your rides.
5)Self-confidence increases when you increase your horsemanship skills.
6)Children and adults can gain a sense of responsibility by taking care of an animal and ensuring its wellbeing.
7) It’s been known that spending time in nature and also petting an animal can reduce blood pressure and induce a positive mood, which in turn promotes relaxation. Try it!
Briarwood Farms, King City
Royal Canadian Riding Academy, Cedar Valley
Deerfield Farm, Stouffville
By Charlotte Ottaway