Don’t let his name fool you. Zesty is a good boy. Stubborn and a little bit lazy at times — much like his rider last Thursday — but very well-behaved.
He didn’t flinch when I climbed onto his back. He walked nice and slow when I asked him to and jogged a bit faster when I told him to “trot on.” He didn’t even mind a few little kicks to the gut to get him moving the few times he stopped.
As someone whose experience on horseback is merely a two-minute jaunt at a birthday party two decades ago, I found Zesty a perfect partner to learn to ride with.
And whether you’re an accomplished equestrian or a beginner like myself, you too can take Zesty for a spin down at Sunrise Stables, located at 80-98 Linden Blvd. in Lindenwood.
The stable has been owned and operated since last November by GallopNYC, an organization that mostly provides therapeutic horse rides to children and adults with emotional, mental or physical disabilities — but also lessons and jaunts for any other individual who wants one.
Zesty is one of 18 specially trained horses on site, most of whom are still physically able to offer rides.
On an average day, GallopNYC Marketing and Communications Director Amanda Gallo — who is also a certified instructor — said about three-quarters of the stable’s visitors come for therapeutic trips.
“Usually I teach therapeutic lessons in the morning or afternoon and then sometimes I’ll teach a recreational lesson or two after that,” Gallo said. “It depends on how many people sign up per day.”
Many of GallopNYC’s customers are children who have issues communicating or socializing with others. But the calming nature of a horseback ride allows them to open up over the course of the 10-week program, Gallo said.
“A lot of our riders lack socialization skills and some are nonverbal, so we’ll use the horse as an incentive to get them to verbalize. Like we won’t let the horse walk until they say, ‘Walk on,’” she said. “A lot of them will play games with their side walkers, like a ball toss, so that way they are socializing."
“Recently, we had one kid who said their first sentence on the horse,” she added.
Gallo herself owned and jumped horses as a child but then pursued a career in the fashion industry. She started volunteering at Sunrise Stables in January and quickly took a liking to not only the horses but the children riding them. She now works at the Lindenwood location full-time.
GallopNYC also has a facility in Forest Hills that offers similar programming.
“It really is awesome to watch,” she said of how the children she instructs takes to the horses. “This is better than fashion.”
Lessons for people who aren’t disabled but have little to no riding experience include learning how to balance properly in the saddle, how to steer and how to make the horse walk and trot -— while an instructor or a side walker holds the animal.
“You’ll get abs from doing this,” Gallo said. “It’s a good workout, especially once you get past the walking stage.”
Those stable visitors who have more of a developed background can take a horse for a canter — a type of trot that’s slightly slower than a gallop — without an instructor and practice specific riding maneuvers like navigating around obstacles.
“A lot of people still don’t know about this yet,” Gallo said of GallopNYC’s programming for able-bodied riders. “A lot of people don’t realize that you can actually take nontherapeutic lessons here.”
The side walker for my lesson was Merryl Scott, a Sunrise Stables volunteer who has spent four years working at the location.
The Manhattan resident said caring for the horses and helping those taking lessons is harder than it looks, but she doesn’t see it as work at all.
“I let them drag me in four years ago and now I’m hooked,” Scott said with a laugh. “I just love being here. It’s like home.”
Log onto gallopnyc.org for more information or to book a private lesson — $50 for 30 minutes or $80 for an hour. Or better yet, visit Sunrise Stables’ open house on Sunday, Sept. 10 from 4 to 6 p.m. to meet the staff, tour the location and even ride a horse. To reserve a spot at the event, email email@example.com.