Horsing around

Time Out Amsterdam, December 2009


Benjamin Roberts conquers his (unanticipated) fears by getting on a horse at the Hollands Manege.
No need to ask directions to the Hollandsche Manege, the horse stable in the middle of posh Amsterdam-Zuid. The sweet scent of equestrian life serves as its olfactory signpost. For the nasally challenged, two large lanterns on the Vondelstraat beckon visitors to the oldest riding school in the Netherlands, where they can learn the ancient sport of horseback riding.
It’s not a pursuit that’s gushed about in the tech-minded fitness mags, but horseback riding is a great exercise for the muscles in the dorsal and abdominal areas, and causes less stress to the knees and lower body parts than comparable forms of exercise like walking and swimming. An hour riding can burn about 300 calories, but most riders are in it for the sheer thrill of gaining control of a big beast between their legs.
My body was burning calories at the mere thought of mounting a stallion, and not in Equus-style anticipation. Apparently, I’ve got some unresolved issues that haven’t yet come up with my therapist: namely the fear of flying off and ending up like Superman (well, Christopher Reeve, anyway).  But when a tame 18-year old mare resembling Black Beauty appeared before me, my angst quickly settled.
Fellow rider, Sanne Locher confided that she had a similar fear of horses. As a child she’d been thrown many times.  Nowadays, the 24-year starts her weekends on Friday night partying at the Manege with an hour of horsing around before she and her friends from the Amsterdam Student Equestrian Club head off to less smellier pastures.
In the ornate 19th-century foyer overlooking the riding area below, Valeska Groenestein, behind the bar, shyly confesses that for her, ‘mastering control over a 600 kilo animal is an enormous adrenaline kick.’
She shares a passion for riding with the other employees and volunteers who take care of the 45 breath-taking Arabian, Lipizzaner, and Gelderland horses in the stable (there’s no ole nags here!).
Unlike 40 years ago, riding horses is by no means an elitist sport. Every evening after 7 pm, the Manege offers private and group lessons for all ages. And the rates are reasonable too (5 lessons for € 103). Each week some 850 participants pass through the stables to learn the basics of horseback riding to more advanced courses.
Of course you can’t get there until you can first mount a horse. Luckily for this beginner, the trainers understand that not everyone is immediately comfortable around a 600-kilo beast. They guided me through a half-hour or basic walking and trotting until I felt comfortable and confident with my stallion.
De Hollandsche Manege, Vondelstraat 140  (618 0942/dehollandschemanege.nl)
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