Horseplay Niagara Perfect for Absolute Beginners
I catch my breath as I settle in the saddle. Sunny, the horse I’ve been given to ride at Horseplay Niagara, shifts under my weight and my heart jumps into my mouth. At the moment she seems bigger than a dinosaur.
“Don’t pull the reins until I tell you, OK?” Karen, a guide in chaps and a long leather coat is giving me instructions, but what she’s telling me isn’t quite computing. I’m too terrified. A variety of scenarios that involve falling off and being stomped on by heavy hooves rush through my mind.
“Pull the reins, yes…” I mumble incoherently.
“No, I said don’t pull the reins yet,” the guide corrects firmly.
I had a bad horse experience when I was just eight-years-old. While vacationing in a village in Portugal, some kids thought it would be fun to put my sister and I on a horse and then see if they could get it to kick us off.
While we were on, someone began swatting the horse’s hindquarters with a stick, causing it to buck. Everyone was laughing, even my sister thought it was fun, but I was terrified and began to cry. Finally taken off the horse, I swore never to get on another one again.
So why am I doing this? Well, it’s time to make peace with the fear; to show it who’s the boss. But I quickly find out that it’s Sunny who is in charge. After being untied from the post, she quickly falls into a line of 15 other horses as our trail ride begins. It turns out all I had to do was relax.
“We spend a lot of time with our horses getting them ready for beginners to ride,” explains Kathy Buttigieg, the owner of Horseplay Niagara.
Originally a lesson and boarding stable, Kathy began offering recreational horse riding twelve years ago because no one else was in the area. It turns out that was the right thing to do. The horse riding took off and now that is all Horseplay Niagara offers all year long.
With about 35 horses to choose from, they can pretty much accommodate any type of rider, but they specialize in first-timers whose nerves can’t take a frisky mount.
“We teach the horses that no matter what, they are to follow along and stay with the group,” says Kathy.
That’s exactly what Sunny is doing as she turns onto the Trans Canada Trail. I don’t have too much to do. I just hold onto the reins and try to stay in the saddle with my boots in the stirrups. With a guide at the top of our line, one in the middle and one at the end, there’s no chance of getting lost in the woods. My hands relax and the colour returns to them as I begin to appreciate the scenery we’re riding through. The clop-clop of the horse’s hooves play a soothing, rhythmical song and I can imagine drifting off to sleep with the slow rocking of the ride.
Within a few minutes we arrive at a quarry where we stop to get pictures. Flying high above us is a red-tail hawk and Tony, the only male guide on this trek, tells me that garter snakes are around too.
My heart takes a leap as I recall every western I’ve seen where a horse gets spooked by a snake on the trail and makes a run for it. I express my fears to Tony who immediately calms my nerves.
“These horses are used to everything,” he says. And the horses that don’t pass all the distraction tests don’t make it out to the trail, he adds.
On our way back to Horseplay, we begin to gallop at a slow speed. No need to dig my heels into Sunny’s soft belly – she starts and stops as our front guide leads. The galloping is fun and I realize that this was a great idea. As we slow down my hand leaves the horn for the first time and I pat Sunny’s soft neck.
“Good girl, aren’t you a good girl,” I whisper.
Unfortunately though, I’m beginning to feel the effects of the saddle on my rear end. We arrive back at the ranch and my slow descent from the horse and subsequent painful gait is noticed by one of the guides.
“Take a nice warm bath tonight, you’ll feel much better tomorrow,” she promises me.
Horseplay Niagara is located 90 minutes southwest of Toronto in the town of Wainfleet. They offer a variety of riding packages. Beginners may want to take the one-hour trail ride, which costs $35 per person and can be taken by kids six and up. The Sunset Trail Ride runs for 90 minutes, costs $50 per person and is recommended for children older than nine.
Horseplay Niagara is extremely family-friendly and all trail rides include access to an outdoor playground mini-golf, a zip line and a mini climbing wall.
All riders under the age of 18 must wear a helmet. Helmets for children and adults are available at no extra cost. They are open all year long and will ride rain or snow.
For more info: horseplayniagara.com/905-834-2380
Check out this video story on Horseplay Niagara
Story and video editing: Anna Rodrigues
Images and camera: Phil Raby
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Video: Anna Rodrigues
Images : Phil Raby
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