By Annabelle Villanueva
Honking at carriages on Michigan Avenue and wagering at off-track betting parlors are the closest most city folk come to bonding with horses. Yet the summer’s filled with options for equine fanciers in the great outdoors, especially if they’re game for trekking past the 312/773 area codes to one of several stables and trail rides listed in the Yellow Pages. Another notable alternative is at the Oak Brook Polo Grounds (31st Street, a quarter-mile west of York Road, Oakbrook, 630.990.2394), where weekly national and international polo tournaments are contested on Sundays from June 8 to September 14; admission is $8 and kids get in free. This year’s highlights include the June 22 and 29 “Diamond Jubilee Cup” celebrating the Oak Brook Polo Club’s 75th year, and the season’s international opener between Jamaica and the USA .(“It’s always fun when the Jamaicans come to town,” says polo director Karen Martino.) Spectators whipped up in a polo frenzy can head to the Naperville Polo Club (23700 119th Street, Plainfield, 815.436.9500) for individual lessons.
As for Chicago proper, the only riding stable within city limits is Old Town’s The Noble Horse (1410 North Orleans, 773.266.7878), homebase for those carriage horses trotting around downtown. Plus, the stable offers lessons in Western saddle riding, English-style dressage and jumping in beginner to advanced levels, as well as boarding for horse owners. Private lessons start at $25 per half-hour and group lessons cost $24 an hour, but children may join a special student work program, where they toil in the stables in exchange for $4.25 -per-hour wages that go toward riding lessons. The Noble Horse also periodically rotates sending its horses out to Old Triumph Ranch in Will County, which offers a bed-and-breakfast and guest house packages with trail and hay rides.
Hay rides are also the rage at Forest View Farms (5300 West 167th, Tinley Park 708.560.0306), where lessons cost only $12.50 for a one-hour group session, and weekend trail rides run $12 per person. Children and others fond of diminutive equines can hop onto a pony for five bucks at the farm or rent the animals—and entire petting zoos of ponies, calves and a llama—for parties at their homes.
For those seeking the ultimate legal human/horse commitment, Forest View Farms offers steeds on sale for anywhere between $2,000-$10,000, with some horses already trained for show; owners also can hook up their frisky fillies with the farm’s two stud stallions. Oakbrook Farms (1201 35th, Oak Brook 630.323.0956) and Happy Trails, Inc. (Route 12, Wauconda, 847.526.0055) occasionally vend quarter horses and other trail horses at a few thousand dollars to riders who frequent their stables.
Lookie-loos should check out the season at Arlington International Racecourse (2200 West Euclid Ave., Arlington Heights, 847.255.4300) which runs until October 12. Harness racing at Sportsman’s Park (3301 South Laramie, Cicero, 773.242.1121) continues until October 12 as well. Hit a few trifectas and you could be hobnobbing with those polo-playing millionaires in no time.