Your little adventurer dreams of blazing through the Wild West — or at least hanging out with Woody from “Toy Story.” Clearly, it’s time for a horseback ride. Put on your favorite pair of faded blues and head to a ranch nearby. Even though we Chicagoans are city slickers, there are several area places where people of all ages can learn the ropes and ride off into the sunset. Read on and giddayup.
Forest View Farms
The gist: Known for its fall festival and haunted hayrides, this farm dates back to 1950. With a heated arena and indoor barn, two outdoor arenas and the Cook County Forest Preserve in its midst, there’s ample space for riding. Adding to the fun is a petting farm and ponies for parties.
The ride: One of the few farms that offers a combined lesson and trail ride, Forest View also has a mom-and-me class for 3, 4 and 5 year olds, a pony class for junior riders, and a variety of beginner and intermediate options. Teaching everything from posting trot and diagonals to basic jumping, the farm encourages trying out both Western and English styles to find your best fit.
The horses: Mount a variety of breeds, including Thoroughbreds and Geldings. The farm will assess your level and pair you up accordingly.
16717 S. Lockwood Ave.
Tinley Park, IL
Hours: Monday to Friday, 9:00 am to dusk; Saturday & Sunday, 8:00 am to dusk.
Double J Riding Club
The gist: Located just 20 minutes outside of Chicago, this ranch sits in a pretty slice of the countryside. Husband and wife Cindy and Dave Johnson, who started the ranch in 1998, offer traditional rides, three top-tier trainers, both English and Western saddles, and for the more daring riders, dressage and jumping.
The ride: With lessons and activities of all sorts and sizes — from group, semi-private and private to holiday, school and summer camps — your young rider will beg for a pair of chaps in no time. Additional perks include tutelage for kids as young as 4, indoor and outdoor arenas, and even a mom-and-tot program.
The horses: Saddle up with a mix of Arabians, Welsh ponies, Quarter horses and Morab geldings, along with a Bay Thoroughbred and a Paint/Draft Cross.
10545 74th St.
Hours: Monday through Saturday, from 9:00 am until evening. Sundays are based on availability.
Freedom Woods Equestrian Center
The gist: Tucked in the Cook County Forest Preserve, this 30-year-old institution caters to both the naturist and showstopper with spacious indoor and outdoor arenas, a warm barn and boarding stalls. While trails are limited to private owners, you are welcome to take a lesson. Go for a walk or have a picnic afterward to absorb the area’s beauty.
The ride: Primarily offering beginning and intermediate English saddle lessons, Freedom Woods also has a hunter jumper barn, which caters to the hunt seat, dressage and jumping enthusiasts. Group, semi-private and private lessons start for kids ages 5 and up. Another option is sibling lessons featuring one trainer per child.
The horses: You’ll be trotting in no time atop one of 25 Thoroughbreds, Warmbloods, Paint horses and Friesians.
9501 N. Austin Ave.
Morton Grove, IL
Hours: Monday through Friday, 9:00 am to 9:00 pm, and Saturday and Sunday, from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm.
The gist: Further afield in Michigan near the lakeshore, this 320-acre ranch and Superior Whitetail Deer Farm is worth the drive. Jeff Bays — a third-generation horse rancher — co-started the ranch in 1949 and continues to operate the facility. His focus is family-friendly activities like sleigh, carriage and tractor rides, plus trail excursions and lessons.
The ride: The full-service ranch is a major tourist draw (it’s located 10 minutes from Lake Michigan’s beaches). Book a private or group lesson in an outdoor corral, or rope your family together for their popular trail ride. Trot alongside swamps, woods, rivers and fields. Lessons start as early as age 3 and no previous experience is necessary.
The horses: With more than 70 horses to choose from, including Shetland ponies, large Belgium Draft horses, Paint horses, Appaloosa and Quarter horses, you’ll certainly find your match.
4345 S. 44th Ave.
New Era, MI
Hours: May-December open Monday through Saturday, 9:00 am to 5:00 pm; Sundays, 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm. Closed January-March. Open by appointment only in April.
Where is your favorite place to horseback ride? Let us know in the Comments section below.
— Taryn Bickleyx
Photos: Courtesy of Forest View Farms, Double J Riding Club, Freedom Woods Equestrian Center and Rainbow Ranch