Give your dreams a chance.

Here’s a list of some adventures you can have with horses. It’s by no means complete, but these are some that I’ve done:

  • Drive cattle
  • Ride at night
  • Drive a sleigh
  • Play polo
  • Go foxhunting
  • Race on the flat
  • Race over jumps
  • Swim with your horse
  • Ride in the ocean
  • Ride in a competitive trail or an endurance ride
  • Ride 100 miles in one day
  • Ride saddle seat
  • Ride bareback
  • Breed a mare and raise a foal
  • Ride in a dressage show
  • Drive a sulky
  • Drive a pair
  • Ride in an event
  • Ride in a jumper show
  • Gallop a racehorse
  • Camp overnight with your horse
  • Be a ringmaster
  • Try free jumping your horse
  • Write a book about horses
  • Manage a barn

If you feel stuck in that same old rut, year after year, and you want to break out and try something entirely different, the adventures and missions just listed are some that I have tried. A few of these were short “dabbles,” lasting only a few days or weeks, while others became so familiar as to be new learned skills.


Denny’s Tevis Cup partner Rett Butler.


There isn’t anything sacred about this list. It’s just a few of the opportunities that came my way that I decided to try. If you don’t find some of these of much interest, find some others. The idea is to have adventures, and you will decide just how far you want to go.

Not every adventure will involve riding or driving or handling an actual horse. Some people will get their horse fix through painting horses, photographing them, writing about them. These are your adventures, and you alone should determine your choices.

These are some of the things I haven’t done (yet):

  • Cutting
  • Reining
  • Team penning
  • Roping
  • Saddle bronc
  • Bareback bronc
  • Five-gaited horse
  • Round penning/natural horsemanship
  • Mongol Derby
  • Roadster pony
  • Painted horses
  • Sculpted horses
  • Braided a tail
  • Made a horse video or movie
  • Become a pedigree semi-expert about many breeds
  • Harnessed a work team
  • Plowed
  • Sugared
  • Mowed hay
  • Competed at a horse pull
  • Ridden in the Maryland Hunt Cup
  • Observed wild horses
  • Trained a donkey or a mule
  • Ridden in Africa, watching wildlife

Maybe I’ll get to them, and maybe I won’t. A few of them I know I won’t! But they’re out there.


Here’s our Rolling Ridge team at Sugarbush in Warren, Vermont, in 1965.



If the word “polo” conjures visions of thundering Thoroughbreds ridden by impossibly glorious young Argentines across sweeping green meadows while elegant spectators sip champagne in front of a line of chauffeur drivers, you never watched my polo team.

Bob Lamb ran Rolling Ridge, a girls’ summer riding camp just outside the village of Woodstock, Vermont, back in the mid-1960s. I had a summer riding job at the Mac Williamson’s Thoroughbred breeding farm next door, and when Bob was seeking recruits for a polo squad, I was first in line.

Nothing we had matched regulation—not the dimensions of our polo field, not our mallets, not the size or make of the polo balls, not the horses, and most certainly, with one exception, not the skills of the riders.

Our horses were picked from the camp horse string. Just to give you an example, one of the horses was used to pack picnic lunches when the kids were taken on long trail rides. The name of the pack horse, also a part-time polo pony, was U-Haul.

Somehow, I can’t see some six-goal player from Long Island screaming down the field on U-Haul.

Anyway, we practiced a couple of evenings each week, using a smaller version of a soccer ball. Our field was just by the Ottauquechee River, and we didn’t want the ball to go flying off downstream to wind up in the Atlantic Ocean. The ball had to be “dead” so it didn’t go very far when struck hard, not that many of us had the accuracy to do that.

There was only one other polo team in Vermont to compete against: the Sugarbush team in Warren. They had real uniforms, and their field was of regulation size, set decoratively in front of a large Swiss chalet. There was a small pond at one end of the field, which was a good thing for me one particular evening when the part draft horse, faded palomino I was riding took off with me, and the only way I got him stopped was by riding him into the pond.

A Rolling Ridge counselor from Venezuela was our only experienced player. The mission for the rest of us was to try to whack the ball somewhere in that rider’s general vicinity so that he could score our only goals.

Despite the rough-and-ready aspects of our general ineptitude, we had enough enthusiasm to counteract lack of skill, and if I had the chance, I would do it again.

Driving a Pair

I drove a pair of ponies before I ever drove a single. When we moved to Massachusetts in 1950, from New Hampshire, there was a big red shed on the lane up to Stoneleigh Prospect Hill School, and within the shed was an old four-wheeled horse-drawn vehicle that my father called a “Democrat.” The front two wheels were on a swivel, so that they turned independently from the rear wheels. There was enough room in front for two, and enough room for two or three in the back seat.

Three local boys, Paul Barrett, Jack Baker, and I, had all bought ponies from Louis Goodyear down in nearby Sunderland, and for whatever reason, we decided to teach Scout and Chief how to drive as a pair.

Now, remember, we were about 10 or 11. We knew nothing, as in zero, about anything pertaining to driving ponies. I don’t even remember where we got the harness, or how we learned to put it on the pair, or what adult helped us. It might have been my father, or the Stoneleigh farm manager, Francis Kinsman, but I think maybe we just hitched them up, got in, and drove away.

It’s a darn lucky thing, looking back, that Louis Goodyear was a highly responsible horse dealer. He had a saying, “kid-broke horse,” which meant gentle and pretty tolerant, and he wouldn’t sell a youngster a pony that he didn’t think would tolerate mistakes.

In those pre-Interstate 91 days, the Stoneleigh campus had well over 100 acres of land, with a huge hay meadow, trails through the woods, and access to more riding land to the north of the school. Once we got used to driving our little team, we wanted to have outlaws attack the stagecoach. Why wouldn’t we? We were young boys. We had an old Army ammunition box, and we painted some rocks with gold spray paint to make a gold-filled strongbox. One kid would drive the stagecoach, another kid had a real (but unloaded) 12-gauge shotgun, and a few more of us would tie bandanas across our faces and chase the stage.

One fateful day, when Jack Baker and I were outlaws, we spooked the team pulling the wagon into a runaway. The trail split right and left, with a few trees in the middle. Paul steered left, the ponies ran right, and the whole rig ran into the trees.

Harness shredded, the cart capsized, little kids, guns, strongbox, gold scattered, the ponies ran off, unhurt. Jack and I saw the wreck, spun our ponies, and with no thought about whether the other kids were alive (they were), we galloped away so that we could have an excuse when it came time to lie to our parents.

Now, as I said, we were 11-, 12-year-old human males, nothing dumber than which exists. So, don’t turn your pair-driving venture into a runaway stagecoach. And maybe learn how to drive a pair from someone who knows how.

Or you can try it our way and see what happens.

Ride on the Beach and in the Ocean

The only time that I’ve ever done this was at Crane’s Beach, in Ipswich, Massachusetts, way back in 1975 or 1976, when I was training at the old USET Three-Day Team headquarters in South Hamilton.

Jack Le Goff believed in the therapeutic benefits of cold salt water, and once in a while, he’d have the farm manager Patrick Lynch drive the big USET van over to the beach at the times of the year when horses were allowed.

I’ve seen lots of photos of horses galloping on beaches, down where the sand is hard at the tide line, but Jack was a little too cautious to have us do that, because of all the flotsam that beaches collect—worst of all, glass bottles and planks with nails. So first, we walked and trotted about a mile or so to check the general footing, after which we’d turn and canter back in sets of two or three.

The thing that spooked Victor Dakin was being attacked by breaking waves. As each wave crashed, and the line of water would roll onto the beach, Victor would shy, spin, or back pedal to escape. He wasn’t afraid of the water, I think. It was the movement that he didn’t like. Once I got him to follow Mary Anne Tauskey’s tough little horse Marcus Aurelius and got him to actually go into the ocean, he settled down and splashed along quite happily.

Years earlier, I’d been in a boat off the Connecticut shore and seen the kids actually swimming their horses in the surf. They’d gallop down the beach into the water, riding bareback in bathing suits, timing it just right to run head on into cresting and crashing waves. It was obvious that the horses were used to doing it, because they had no fear or hesitation.

And who hasn’t watched those scenes from The Black Stallion movie, after the shipwreck, when the Black Stallion swims to the island, towing little Alec Ramsey to safety?

So, if you live near an ocean, go ride in it. I still haven’t swum a horse in an ocean, but at least I had the chance to wade in light surf, and to gallop along a shoreline.

Order your copy of Denny Emerson’s “Begin and Begin Again” from Trafalgar Square Books here.