Pandemic inspires suburbanites to discover benefits of horseback riding
June Pedersen usually sees two or three new riders a month seeking beginner lessons at Castle Ridge Keep Horse Facility for an activity whose popularity has faded in recent years -- horseback riding.
In the past five months, since the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, that trend is reversing. A lot.
Pedersen is welcoming three or four new people each week now, making her one of the few business owners these days who can say their new clients have quadrupled.
"People are tired of being inside," the Crystal Lake stable owner said. "They're tired of being sequestered and socially distanced and they want to get out and do something."
It's adults. It's children. It's adults and children together.
"I can't even get an adult in a lesson right now," said Pat Doyle, who owns Fitzjoy Farm in Palos Park. "We're adding more (kids) camps -- they keep coming back for more."
Suburban residents are rediscovering the surprisingly large number of stables throughout the area, many of which offer lessons for beginners.
Where to start?
In most cases, instructors will have a minimum age for riders and the littlest ones can expect to be led around on the horse by an adult. It is all about teaching them how to sit in the saddle, maintain balance and -- this is important -- learn how to steer and stop an animal that can weigh 1,000 pounds and has its own opinions.
Learning the basics of caring for a horse provides children, as well as adults, something other than the current stress of the world to focus on -- even if just for an hour. But there are other benefits, as well.
"The biggest thing I say to all riders: Riding is a total body sport, it stretches muscles, strengthens core, and there's an emotional release after riding. I don't think there's anything else that does all of those things," said Lauren Schlesselman of Journey Hill Farm in Barrington.
Her stable even offers a mommy-and-me-style class; it's a Pony Pal camp for toddlers and their moms. Her 2½-year-old son, James, has been riding for a year -- with exceptional supervision and lots of helping hands, of course, she said.
Lesson barns have had to adapt to COVID-19 restrictions along with other businesses. For the most part, though, they permit riders to go maskless if they want during riding time. Horseback riders are almost always at least 6 feet apart -- if not more. Masks generally need to go back on in an indoor arena -- and when in the barn aisles, owners said.
In addition, large group lessons are off the table for now. Riders can expect to receive private or semiprivate instruction to make sure social distancing levels are maintained.
Horseback riding is providing the stress relief and relaxation that many people are looking for right now.
"I'm finding a lot of angry people. At the store they're frustrated, angry, zero patience," Pedersen said. "Horses force you to be a better human: you have to have patience, you have to use your head. If you are mean to a horse, they won't be your friend.
"They allow us to ride and work with them, not because we force them. If you have a horse that's your friend it's on a mutual term. There's a lot of healing involved with horses."
Suburban horse stables
As all lesson barns have COVID-19 measures in place, call before you visit so you are prepared. Some facilities only train experienced riders. Others specialize in beginners. Minimum ages differ. It is best to visit websites, check Facebook pages and then call to make sure it is the right facility for you.
• Beau Cheval Stable, (630) 292-0135, English, Hunter/Jumper, Minimum age: 6. www.facebook.com/beaucheval.farm
• Journey Hill Farm, (773) 799-7021, English, Hunter/Jumper, Mother/Child Camp. Min. age: 2. www.facebook.com/JourneyHillFarm/
• Sunset Hill Farm, (630) 649-2198, Western, English, Min. age 5. sunsethillfarm.wixsite.com/sunset-hill-farm
• Jaynesway Farms, (630) 483-1827, English, Hunter/Jumper, English on the Flat, Western, Min. age: 5. www.jayneswayfarms.com
• Wild Ran Riding, (708) 280-0486, Western, Barrel Racing, Min. age: 5. www.facebook.com/pg/Wild-Ran-Riding-102538311091521/about/?ref=page_internal
• Sunset Knoll Riding Academy, (630) 327-3290, Beginner to advanced saddleseat, Hunter on the flat, Western Pleasure, Basic Dressage, Min. age: 4. www.facebook.com/SunsetKnollRidingAcademy/
• Windridge Farm, (630) 842-5545 English, Hunter/Jumper, Min. age: 7. www.windridgefarmllc.com/lessons
• Double J Riding Club, (708) 528-4674, English, Dressage, Jumping, Western, Homeschool Classes, Camps, Min. age: 4. doublejridingclub.com/riding-lessons/
• Hannaberry Farms, (773) 875-1118, English, Dressage, Eventing, Min. age: 6. www.hannaberryfarm.com/lessons
• Castle Ridge Keep Horse Facility, (815) 405-9424, English, Hunter/Jumper, Dressage, Western Pleasure, Driving, Eventing, Min. age: 3. castleridgekeep.com
• Dream Riders, (815) 788-1020, English, Western, Bareback, Therapeutic Riding. Min. age: 5. www.dreamriderstlc.com
• Bull Run Equestrian Center, (630) 365-1376, English, Hunter/Jumper, Min. age: 7. www.facebook.com/BullRunEquestrianCenter/
• Campton Hills Equestrian Center, (630) 417-9667, English, Hunter/Jumper, Min. age: 5. www.camptonhillsequestrian.com
• Dunham Woods, (847) 628-6339, English Hunter/Jumper, Equitation, Min. age: 8. www.dunhamwoodsfarm.com/
• Shorewood Acres, (847) 344-8373, Western, English, Min. age: 8. shorewoodacres.com
• Top Line Equestrian, (847) 464-4095, English, Hunter/Jumper, Horsemanship, Min. age: 5. topline-equestrian.com
• Tower Hill Stables, (847) 464-1616, English, Hunter/Jumper, Western, Dressage, Equitation, Gaited, Min. age: N/A. www.towerhillstables.net
• Cripple Creek Ranch, (815) 943-4513, Western, Barrel Racing, Poles, Competitive Trail, Western Dressage, Roping, Working Equitation, Cow and Cowgirl Challenges, Min. age: N/A. www.ccrequinecenter.com
Creekside Farm (located at Indian Creek Farm), (847) 331-4765, Hunter/Jumper, lessons. rideatcreeksidefarm.com
• Timmermann's Ranch, (847) 526-8066, Western, English flat work, Drill Teams, Barrel Racing. Min. age: 6. timmermannsranch.com
• Millennium Farm, (847) 833-4953, English Hunter/Jumper, Min. age: 5. www.millenniumfarmltd.com
• Kopping Farms, (630) 257-7271, AQHA/APHA All Around, Hunter/Jumper, Trail Rides, Equestrian Therapy, Min. age: N/A. facebook.com/KoppingFarms
• The Legacy Ranch, (630) 601-8920, Traditional English/Western riding lessons, Corporate Team Building, Min. age: 6. www.thelegacyranch.org
• Over the Top Equine, (630) 853-4280, Hunter/Jumper, Dressage, Min. age: 5. www.overthetopequine.com
• Yakle Acres, (815) 739-4643, Western, English, Hunter/Jumper, Dressage, Min. age: 3. www.yakleacres.com
• Equestrian Events Stable, (630) 639-1093, Dressage, English, Hunter/Jumper, Working Equitation, Min. age: 3. equestrianeventstables.com
• County Line Farm, (815) 354-3488, Western, English, Min. age: 3. www.facebook.com/CountyLineFarmLLC/
• Edgewater Equestrian, (815) 508-3650, English, Hunter/Jumper, Min. age: 4. www.facebook.com/edgewatereq/
• Glory Bound Rescue Ranch, (815) 388-2594, Horse/Animal Lover Classes, English, Western, Min. age: 8. www.gloryboundrr.org/
• Rockin Horse Farm, (815) 345-7302, English, Western, Horse care, Tacking, Min. age: 4. www.facebook.com/rockinhorsefarm1/
• Easy Ridin' (815) 901-4086, Western, Ranch, Min. age. 3. easyridin.com
• Ever After Equestrian, (815) 693-8617, English, Hunter/Jumper, Min. age: 5. www.everafterequestrian.com
• Glen Grove Equestrian Center, (847) 966-8032, English, Hunter/Jumper, Dressage, Pony Lessons, Min. age: N/A. www.glengroveequine.com/
• Trillion Equestrian, (630) 800-8422, Western, English, Hunter/Jumper, Dressage, Equitation, Min. age: N/A. www.trillionequestrian.com
• Camelot Farm, (630) 551-0145, English, Hunter/Jumper, Min. age: 6. www.camelotfarm.org
• Palatine Stables, (847) 359-0009, English, Hunter/Jumper, Horsemanship, Min. age: 4. www.palatinestables.org/contact
• Fitzjoy Farm, (708) 361-7977, English and Western, Min. age. 7. www.fitzjoyfarm.com
• Soaring Eagle Stables, (630) 392-1395, Western, English, Min. age: 8. www.soaringeaglestables.com
• Running Junction Stables, (815) 575-4945, Western Performance: Rodeo, Drill Team, Barrel Racing, Min. age: 5. www.facebook.com/groups/939569846516587/
• Heavenly Horses, (847) 867-6656, English, Hunter/Jumper, Western Pleasure. Min. age: 5. heavenlyhorses.biz
• Meadowsweet Ranch, (815) 675-1177, English, Western, Horsemanship, Min. age: 4. meadowsweetranch.com
• Rip O Wind Farm, (847) 629-7507, English, Western, Min. age: 5. ripowindfarm.com
• Baythorne Farm, (630) 466-1599, English, Dressage, Eventing Min. age: N/A. facebook.com/BaythorneFarm
• Northstar Farm, (630) 448-2619, Western, English, Hunter/Jumper/Dressage, Min. age: N/A. northstarhorsefarm.com
• Willow Creek Farm, (630) 688-2113, Specializing in AQHA All-Around Events, English Hunter/Jumper and Flat, Western Showmanship, Horsemanship and Trail, Min. age: 5. facebook.com/groups/1541685945993592/
• Forest View Farms, (708) 560-0306, English, Hunter/Jumper, Dressage, Western, Working Equitation, Driving, Trail Rides, Pony Lessons, Min. age: 5. www.fvfarms.com
• Foxcreek Stables, (312) 203-7241, English, Western, Jumping, Camps, Min. age: 6. dlehnig.wixsite.com/foxcreekstables
• Poets Hill Farm, (847) 715-8439, English, Hunter/Jumper, Dressage, Min. age: 5. poetshillfarm.weebly.com
• Wedgewood Riding Center, (847) 526-8610, English, Western, Jumping, Team Roping, Trail Rides, Min. age: N/A.
• Wayne Equestrian Center, (630) 797-5910, English, Hunter/Jumper, Min. age: 5. www.wayneequestriancenter.com
• Victorious Farms, (815) 245-0242, English, Hunter/Jumper, Min. age: 5. www.victoriousfarm.net