A Spring Day in the Saddle

Why horseback riding not only promotes physical exercise but is good for your mental health, too.

The weather is warm, the sun streams across my face as I drive down the back roads of Warwick and East Greenwich. I’m out of the office for the morning, but I am taking my work outside in the fresh spring air to C and L Stables. I reach Goddard Park, hook a left at the first entrance and continue straight until I pull into the barn’s dirt parking lot. 

A small black and white cat runs past my feet, the horses in paddocks graze on hay; their ears perk up as I swiftly walk by. I make my way to the barn. A young girl named Berkeley and her mom, Cheryl, are signing waivers, and a woman with long blonde hair greets me by the large sliding-barn doors. Lee Phillips, owner of the stable, has had her own horses since she was four years old and has been offering trail rides, lessons and a summer camp at her barn for the past fifteen years.

Berkeley on Bubba.

She leads a big, beautiful horse out of the stable and tightens his saddle and reins to a comfortable fit. Berkeley adjusts her helmet and hoists herself up on the horse. She’s a bit timid as she has never ridden before. “This is Bubbalicious,” says Lee. “But we call him Bubba. He’s lazy and likes to eat everything in sight.” The stable accommodates all riders, advanced to first-timers, including children seven and older like Berkeley. And me? Well I’ve ridden here and there on my cousin’s horses but haven’t found myself in a saddle in a long time.

 

Editor Sam Labrecque on Gypsy.

After instructions and safety guidelines, Berkeley, her mom and their guide trot away on their horses and make their way to the water for about an hour-long beach ride. I chat with Lee about C and L Stables as she walks with me past the stalls, where horses with their own unique markings and personalities occupy each one. “We have twenty-nine horses here,” says Lee. “And riding them is totally relaxing and beneficial. It’s calisthenics when you ride because you soften your core and utilize your stirrups for that physical aspect, but when you get out there, well, it’s good for your soul and your body. The horses are gentle and easy to ride.”

I finish exploring the barn, petting the horses and taking their pictures when Greg Northup greets me in the shade. I’m wearing jeans, boots and a flannel (I underestimate how warm this mid-May day would be), and am grateful to step out of the sun for a moment. “I can take you on a trail ride if you want,” says Greg. I’m hesitant, as it has been awhile since I have last ridden a horse, but agree to go. Greg gets on the back of Sage, myself on Gypsy.

On a trail ride with Greg Northup.

He leads me through a wooded trail of the seventeen available miles behind the barn. The leafy-green trees are a sure sign that summer is approaching. I feel my body slowly release tension, I breathe in the fresh air and a sense of relaxation washes over me. We ride on a trail overlooking the water, Greg turns towards me and comments on why being around the horses is such a de-stressor.  “Sometimes if I have a bad day or just don’t feel great, I grab my grooming box, get Sage and bring him to the paddock and I brush him out. By the time I’m done I forget about anything that might be bothering me.” I pat Gypsy by her mane and we continue on our ride. “I think it’s the trust,” says Greg. “You learn to trust one another, then you put time into them and then you put miles on them, just like we are doing right now. It truly doesn’t get much more peaceful and more relaxing than this.”

We make our way back to the stable, thirty minutes flies by and feels like five. Although my time with the horses is over, a sense of calmness has washed over me. A friend of mine who is a therapeutic riding instructor once told me why she loved being around the horses so much. “It can have many physical benefits such as increasing balance, body awareness, strength and motor skills, but the mental benefits of horseback riding are also a heavy influencer,” she says. “They range from improving cognitive processing to decreasing anxiety; the horses can be sensitive to human emotions, which brings an awareness of any anxiety, stress or negativity someone may be feeling.”

So, I guess the bottom line is that being around these large, beautiful creatures helps you to simply just let it go. Any stress or anxiety that you may feel can be drowned out by a simple ride in the saddle.

C and L Stables offers many programs including trail, beach and bayside rides, summer camp, riding lessons, pony rides and more. For more information or to schedule a ride, call 886-5246 or visit them online.

 

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