Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Hanging up my Riding Hat
Claremont Riding Academy in Manhattan closed this spring after 115 years in operation. Yes, a horseback riding stable in Manhattan. My favorite city noise was the clop, clop of horse hooves over honking traffic.
New York City was an odd place to be a child who loved animals and nature. I got my country fix at sleepaway camp where I was introduced to riding. In middle school I started taking the bus on my own to Claremont on the Upper Westside. Riding relieved the social and academic pressures of school.
In high school, I’d wake up at the crack of dawn on Saturdays for combined training classes. Jumping three-foot fences, I had to navigate around eight poles that supported the low ceiling. The small arena was on the ground floor, and the horses lived upstairs and in the basement, going up and down by steep wooden ramps. From the sidewalk, the stable looked like any other building in the city, but it sure smelled different.
To unwind, I’d ride up Amsterdam Avenue to West 90th street to Central Park. Back then, only horses were allowed on the bridle paths. Still there were always loose dogs and curious childrens. When the path was clear, I’d canter around the cherry lined reservoir. I preferred the young horses that ran fast and were unpredictable. The thrill kept me out of worse trouble in the city.
Once a year there was a mock hunt in Central Park. Close to forty riders in their hunting finest would trot down the bridle path to Tavern on the Green. Paul Novograd, who inherited the business from his father, wore his pinks as the red jacket of the hunt master is called. Waiters came outside with hot drinks for the riders (the stirrup cup) and carrots for the horses served on silver platters. Much more civilized than terrorizing a fox, although I’m sure the hunt surprised more than a few New Yorkers.
At the end of high school, I bid goodbye to Claremont and joined the equestrian team at college. No one believed I could have learned to ride in New York City until they saw me make every tight turn on the jumping course.
Since college, I’ve ridden very little. Just the thought of picking it up again makes me sore! Still, hearing about Claremont closing made me teary. It was like reading the last page of a good book.