Brooklyn Ponies

It’s funny how you don’t smell horses in the countryside. You smell pigs, and cows, and chickens, and you react the same way you might when you drive past the county land-fill or a dead skunk: “Phew! What is that STINK!” accompanied with your finger pressing as hard as it can against the window button, turning off the air conditioning as quickly as possible, anything to keep that stench out

But horse barns don’t stink, unless the stalls aren’t being kept up properly, and then it’s usually the ammonia that you notice, not the manure.

I’m sad to say it’s quite different in the city. New York City is a place of many odors, few of them nice (although hidden candy factories in unassuming warehouses are a source of surprise and delight), and when you come to one of those pockets where horses have been squirreled away, the aroma of horse is unmistakable.

The corner at Kensington Stables. From Sugarpond's flickr

Thursday, I took the subway down a few stops, got out, and followed my nose. (That’s not entirely true – but at one point I was feeling a bit lost, looked down a corner, sniffed, and nodded. Manure this-a-way!)

My destination was Kensington Stables, one of the last NYC hold-outs of the old urban livery stable. Wedged into a nondescript block of rowhouses and rising condos (it will be interesting to see how the new condo-dwellers take to the poop-smell), the little brick stable provides trail rides and riding lessons to city folk and country ex-pats alike, and also hosts a therapeutic riding program.

The latter is why I was making the trip. I was heading for GallopNYC’s orientation session.

I can’t really chat about the people that will be riding there. That’s confidential. Suffice it to say that if you can get involved with therapeutic riding, you absolutely should, because it is amazing. But I can tell you lovely pony stories. And yes, there were ponies!

Presenting me with a pony to lead and horsepeople to talk to was heavenly. I’m nine months into my horse-drought, and frankly, I’ve been itching to touch a horse. I’ve been gazing at the soulful beast on that WarHorse poster at the train station and feeling my eyes prick a little. Faced with a gorgeous small pony, dark bay with a wide, intelligent face, I melted.

Kiss kiss. Aren’t you lovely! Ruffle forelock. You’re a sweet boy! Rub ears. Such a lovely pooooooooony!


This pony was extraordinary in his ability to manipulate his leader and assess the gathering for potential treats. At one point, a group of twelve were standing in a half-circle around the pony. He managed to lean out, ears pricked, upper lip outstretched, and inspect every single person in that half circle for any carrots they might be hiding on their person. His little shuffle as he shifted from person to person was nearly imperceptible to his handler (not me at this point, thankfully!) and she really didn’t seem to notice that she was the one being slowly, slowly, slowly led in circles. Or, if she did, she didn’t really mind.

He’s that cute a pony.

I rode home on the subway swapping horse stories with an event rider from Lower Manhattan (delightful!) and once home realized that I smelled like horse. This was a novelty at first… but it got on my nerves after a while and I had to scrub myself from head to toe and find a place to stash my barn jeans and shirt so that it wouldn’t contaminate the rest of the laundry pile – a real challenge in an apartment this size!

I remember a time, not so long ago, when I washed my saddle pads in the same washing machine as the rest of my clothes and thought nothing of running errands in town in my barn clothes. Funny, how horses just don’t smell in the country!



Filed under Urban Horses

7 responses to “Brooklyn Ponies

  1. I am in a constant state of paranoia about the barn smell of most of my footwear. I vow I wont, but inevitably do, wear new shoes into a stall. Back in the day Ferragamos and Bally pumps were fair game.

  2. So that is why my boyfriend always complains that I stink…. because I don’t smell it on myself!

  3. I visited a therapeutic riding program just south, I mean like 2 miles, from my new work-shop! I need more hours in the day first, but once I’m settled in other ways, they will be hearing from me again, for sure. Canadian Association for the Riding for the Disabled, or CARD. They are a worthy cause, indeed.

    I donated a bunch of old horse VHS tapes (with DVD copies) for them to sell and make some money with. I smelled the horses that day, but haven’t seen one yet. Soon, I tell myself. Soon. People that are with them everyday take it so for granted.. I would have saved that smell for another day:)

    I read it! I want more. You have a review, on my bloggle. Thanks again, Nat, it totally made my weekend!

  4. I’ve ridden there! I live in Manhattan too, and am also faced with the endless challenges inherent in finding urban places to ride that I can access on public transportation. I took refresher lessons at Kensington for a summer prior to my horseback trek through Spain. While I of course think it’s great that there are horses in the City, it is unfortunately a tenement style of life for them – we humans who choose to dwell here can acclimate to our cramped, studio-sized quarters, but I am not completely comfortable that we also ask horses to do so. It’s life for them though, and they seemed generally well cared for, tiny stalls notwithstanding. I do hope you get a chance to ride in Kensington’s tiny outdoor “arena” in Prospect Park – it’s hilarious to watch the expressions of stupefied roller bladers, runners and stroller moms who are agape to see a real live horse traipsing around through their gentrified Brooklyn wonderland.

    • I do love going down and watching the riding lessons there. Sometimes I have to leave, because I want to shout instructions. I love teaching.

      I think it’s important that we keep horses in the city, and while standing stalls aren’t ideal, we have to find ways to give city kids (and grown-ups like us) access to horses. I have been on hundred acre farms that kept horses in standing stalls, and of course show horses across the country – and racehorses – are kept inside for fear that they’ll damage themselves. You’re right, it’s a life.

      Keep in touch, we should get together sometime!

  5. Thanks for giving your time to GallopNYC Natalie and for writing about it so beautifully. Alicia Kershaw, GallopNYC ED

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