Saturday, April 28, 2007

West Side's Tale of Whoa

When I read on last week that Claremont Riding Academy was closing, I had not previously known it existed. A newcomer to the city, I had not yet taken the time - amidst the apartment hunting, job searching, acclimating and settling - to research one of my favorite pastimes: horseback riding.

Located in a national historical site built in 1892 on the Upper West Side, the riding academy is the oldest continuously operated stable in the country. Not only have they taught horseback riding lessons to hundreds, riders who prove competent enough to ride solo could "rent a horse" for an hour and hit the six miles of bridal paths in Central Park. However, the site on West 89th Street has long been coveted by developers.

The New York Post's article "West Side's Tale of Whoa" was a small glimpse into this heartbreaking tragedy entitled with a clever play on words, but it was more than just a woeful moment to witness the end of grand horseman tradition in a beautiful historic neighborhood that is quickly being overrun by condos, coffee shop chains and wireless communications retailers.

After my one-hour ride in Central Park, I returned to the stable and waited afterward to show my support during a scheduled press conference, in which district officials, neighbors, parents and horsemen - young and old alike - challenged the victimization of a 115-year-old tradition in the face of land-development adversity.

Though I remained an observer in the background, I more than empathized with the pain of the stable's staff and regular riders. As a former horseman myself, who began riding at age 7, took English riding lessons until high school and then worked as a trail guide at a stable in the mountains of Western North Carolina throughout college, I know the strength of the bonds formed between horse and rider and the joy that comes from varieties of personal interaction with these highly-intelligent animals.

I hope my first ride in Central Park will not be my last, but I was lucky to have the chance to take a small memory of Claremont Riding Academy with me and add it to my tales of becoming a New Yorker.

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