At the Riding Academy at the Horse Palace, girls in velvet helmets guide their horses with gentle purpose around a pavilion surrounded by stables. The air smells sweet and earthy, and the only sounds are whirring fans and hooves on soft, packed ground.

When this is your office, your co-workers can weigh 1500 pounds, and a stressful day is when the donkey escapes and runs backstage at the Franz Ferdinand concert happening across the Exhibition grounds. We got to hang out with two of the ladies who make the Horse Palace trot along smoothly, Director of Operations and Head Instructor Meagan Maloney and instructor Christine Curtin. They also took us for a ride, and we guarantee, they make it look easier than it is. But they also make it easy to learn.

Curtin and Maloney have both been riding since they were young, but for new riders, they recommend the group intro courses offered by the Horse Palace. The courses last eight weeks, with five riders in a group working with one instructor. While you can also learn the basics in private lessons, Maloney says the camaraderie of working with a group and progressing together is great for first time riders, who often might not know what to expect. “You have to be ready to get sweaty, and be sore. People don’t realize how much of a workout it is,” Maloney says. “You’re always working your core and your lower body. I have not figured out ways to work my thighs in the same way that riding can.”

In addition to being a great workout, Curtin says it’s the constant challenge that keeps riders coming back. “It’s a sport where you can be continuously learning,” she says. “Even if you’re at the top of your discipline, you can change to another discipline and still challenge yourself.”

For riders old and new, the Horse Palace offers some serious benefits—and charming quirks—in comparison to its northern neighbours. They understand work schedules, and offer late night classes that are accessible from transit. As well, the pavilion is climate controlled, so the squeamish needn’t worry. Curtin says that, compared to some other places she’s worked, she really respects the focus on safety offered at the Riding Academy.

But even in a climate-controlled environment in the big city, these are still animals they’re dealing with, here. In addition to sending their miniature pony to the Strombo show, and transporting their goat to a Bay Street office to hang out as a part of a charity fundraiser all day, there have been some unexpected livestock excursions. “The donkey went to the Franz Ferdinand concert. That was pretty amazing,” says Maloney. “She found the only open door to the back stage, and this line of people, no one tried to help, they just pointed and hollered. So we chased the donkey, she was jumping over wires and going under lights.” Luckily, they managed to wrangle her home safely. All in a day’s work for these urban equestrians.

Lessons and intro programs at the Riding Academy fill up fast—call today to sign for September courses: 416-599-4044

~ Haley Cullingham

Photos by Becca Lemire (Click to Enlarge)