Growing up in the city there weren't really too many opportunities to be out in the countryside and even fewer opportunities to be around big animals like cows or horses. I can count on one hand (maybe two) the number of times that I've been in contact with something larger than a big dog (like when I milked the cows, for example).
Nature growing up in Philadelphia was "going down the park". The park in this case was the nearby Pennypack Park where we'd fish, build forts, break stuff, light fires(!!!), and even build BMX tracks (remember those days, Dave T.?) - you know - boy stuff. There was even a place where you could rent/ride horses by the hour, which my dad took me and my sister to at least once. I remember that day, which must have been like 30 years ago, very well.
Flash forward to this year when I was thinking about Christmas gifts for my six nieces and nephews. I really didn't want to just go out and buy "stuff" that they wouldn't remember eight minutes after opening. Nope, it had to be something different - something memorable. That's when I remembered going horseback riding with my dad and decided to try to take everyone this year. It took me two days to find a place, coordinate schedules, and make a reservation and off we went last Saturday.
My sister's three oldest (my brother-in-law should buy boyfriend-deterrent shotgun now!):
The closest stable I could find with availability is on the Pennsylvania/Delaware border just over an hour (via car) from my dad's place. The only issue was that the two youngest (a two and a three year old) couldn't ride with us. After talking it over with my sister and sister-in-law, we decided that it was okay and that we'd go only with the four oldest (ages four to nine).
My sister's second oldest on Freddy the horse:
Our reservation was for 2pm and we got there a bit early so that we could hang out and check out the horses before our ride. We ended up being four kids and two adults and we did a trail ride for about 45 minutes. The trail ran (literally) right along the Mason-Dixon Line, or also known as the border between North and South, and, now, just Pennsylvania and Delaware:
We weren't sure if the kids would be afraid or something. Each one had their own guide and they all ended up doing well. I was happy that we had no problems at all and the kids really seemed to enjoy it.
My sister's number three:
The biggest surprise of the day was my sister-in-law's riding ability. I had no idea that she had done quite a bit of it in the past (and even had the boots, jacket, and all!). Doesn't she look like a pro here?
I was a little concerned about the reservations as the stable I chose seemed a bit flaky. I originally called them and left a message with what I wanted. They called back and asked me to confirm the wrong time and wrong number of people. I corrected them and all was good. My sister-in-law then decided she wanted to ride as well so I called them back to request the change. They, once again, had the wrong time and wrong number of people (but different than the first time). The day before our ride, someone called and left a message confirming our ride for the next day and, again, had a new time and a new, seemingly random, number of people. I called back once more and gave them the "new" information. It all ended up going well though. The people at the stable were super nice and accommodating.
My sister-in-law and her oldest:
My sister walked with us (and took all these photos) while we rode just in case one of the kids got scared and didn't want to ride or something. During the ride, my sister kept saying to me that my horse was huge. I hadn't noticed when we were mounting up or riding. It wasn't until I got home and saw the group photo below that I realized what she was talking about.
One other semi-related story. After I graduated from grad school in Los Angeles, I went to work for a bicycle-helmet manufacturer. While I was there, we started developing and selling horse-riding helmets. They were basically bicycle helmets with horse-helmet styling, except with grossly inflated prices and super-high margins (got to love horse folks and their money)! At the time, we weren't sure if they'd ever sell because those same rich horse folks tended to be (very) conservative and the helmets' styling was different. It's been almost 20 years and those same exact helmets we developed are now the standard. It was cool to see my nieces and nephew wearing something that I helped develop. By the way, I didn't get to use one of the helmets I worked on as they didn't have one in jumbo-head size.
Ride 'em, cowboy:
I had an awesome time. Everyone really enjoyed it and I loved having the extended time with the kids. I hope that it's something that they'll (also) remember in 30 years. The only problem now is how I'll top it next year! Skydiving, anyone? Do they allow three-year-olds? We could do a formation!
Thanks to my sister for taking the photos!