Find Your Lifelong Sport: Going Horseback Riding

No matter your age, equestrianism can help you gain confidence and a sense of independence.

Local rider and instructor Adrienne Dalessio. / Photograph by Steve Boyle

Horseback riding can be intimidating, but those who participate are getting an intense workout and positive brain food.

The act of pulling your heels down and stabilizing yourself by squeezing the horse with your legs is a full lower-body workout that can give you killer gains (and a tight booty). Plus, bonding with a gentle giant — including brushing one and tacking up — can be a stress reliever for all riders. That’s why there are stables specifically for the therapeutic aspects of horseback riding, like Pegasus Therapeutic Riding Academy in Northeast Philly.

Just ask Adrienne Dalessio, vice principal and athletic director for Highland Regional High School. In her experience training students at Red Sky Ranch in Jersey, Dalessio says, equestrianism helps kids “build confidence and a sense of independence” because they learn that the sport involves mutual trust between horse and rider.

And as long as you can mount a horse, you can ride — no matter what your age. According to Horse Illustrated, older equestrians benefit from being in the saddle: “Mounted exercise cuts a rider’s heart rate, improves respiration and balance, and challenges riders to multi-task as they coordinate the movement of their hands and legs, shift their weight in the saddle, and concentrate on their horses’­ reactions to their physical signals.” All of this can help later-life riders feel more physically and mentally supple out of the saddle, increasing full-body strength and brain engagement. 

To get started, Dalessio recommends finding a stable that’s compassionate and willing to work with a beginner. (Peep our list.) She says you’ll need long pants, riding boots, and a helmet approved for equestrian sports. Jeans or leggings work, but specialty paddock boots and a helmet can be purchased from an online saddlery to start. (Local tack shop Malvern Saddlery has them!)

Four places to learn horseback riding near Philadelphia

Chamounix Equestrian Center, Fairmount Park
Best for: Making riding equitable
Chamounix offers a work-to-ride program that claims to be the only one of its kind in the country. With its programs and summer camps, it’s able to teach underserved youth the art of horsemanship.

Northwestern Stables, Chestnut Hill
Best for: Group lessons
Northwestern Stables mainly focuses on lessons involving six students or fewer, so there’s a sense of small-group support.

Black Rock Stable, Gladwyne
Best for: A personalized experience
Owner and head trainer Karen Cadwalader is the only instructor at the Gladwyne horse camp, offering 30- and 60-minute private lessons Monday through Friday.

Woodedge Stables, Moorestown
Best for: Becoming show-ready
Not only is Woodedge a beautiful facility; the stable periodically hosts shows. To prep, kids can attend one of the youth summer-camp sessions, and adults can participate in clinics led by renowned riders.

Player spotlights

Katherine Goldenberg: founder of Safe Haven Equine and Safe Haven Thoroughbred Rescue; Perkasie, 67 

Katherine Goldenberg. / Photograph by Steve Boyle

“Older folks might feel the world is limiting, but when I sit on my horse, I say it’s my world and just go. I take a lot of Advil, but it’s worth it. Remember: The Queen still rides, and she’s 95!”

Gina Ward: Equestrian and horse owner; Barrington, 45

Gina Ward. / Photograph by Steve Boyle

“After getting diagnosed with leukemia, I started to do things that bring me joy, riding included. It slows the world down and gives me a chance to reflect on and tap into who I am both on and off the saddle.”

Published as part of the “Find your Lifelong Sport” package in the Be Well Philly 2022 print issue.