This post originally appeared on The Billfold.
My favorite things I purchased this year weren’t possessions but new hobbies—costly, yet worthwhile.
It began with a trail ride. It’d been on my to-do list for a long time, and one day, I finally took the long trip uptown to the stable in Pelham Bay Park. It was a hectic day at the barn. Loud, excited kids climbed onto the backs of a line of dusty looking horses. I pictured a quiet, solitary ride through the thick woods. And I was determined to get it—I found the loophole by asking for a two-hour trail ride, for $60 (a bargain, in horse world).
My guide was a melancholic, old cowboy and country singer from Florida. Orville wore full-on riding chaps, and his slow speech had all the charm of a world I couldn’t believe existed. I rode a white horse named Sugar who was anything but sweet. Sugar lagged behind the Orville’s horse, sometimes stopping completely, and ignored my weak kicks until she decided to trot and catch up. The ride was supposed to be relaxing, but I spent the two hours struggling, and mostly failing, to show Sugar who was boss.
My inner thighs burned for the next three days. I grimaced every time I sat down or stood up. I decided that next time the battle between me and a stubborn horse would not be so easily lost.
So came the string of riding lessons, spread across different barns in New York and New Jersey. The cheapest of them cost $65 an hour. The people at the barns spoke of halters and bits and bridles and gaits as if in a foreign language. I felt lost and confused in a world that was unlike anything I knew.
One weekend, on a friend’s recommendation, I went to an adult riding camp in Vermont. The tuition was $500 (discounted from $750), and a roundtrip Greyhound ticket cost $100. We stayed in cabins with windows propped open with wooden sticks, where swishing flies gathered. In the evenings, the temperature plummeted to the depth of New York winter. When I looked up, the sky was dazzling and full of stars.
Each day began with mucking the stalls (I shoveled and pushed a cart full of horse poop across a damp path formed by horse poop). Then I scraped the hooves of and brushed and saddled an old pony named Chester. Chester had a gait similar to a horse, and he was the perfect size for me. When I asked Chester to trot, he trotted. In just a few days, we were trotting over ground poles, through complicated courses of twists and turns, and instead of nervous and frightened, I felt exhilarated.
Total costs: About $1,000
When I told my parents of my budding interest in boxing, they laughed. It was an unlikely hobby for a girl who detested sports and violence. I learned the basics by accident at a party, where a boy who had recently picked up the sweet science was enthusiastic to spar. He modeled the jab, the cross, the hook, while I tried to mimic the graceful turns of his muscled body, laughing. I was sweating within a few minutes and my arms ached. The boy said I was a surprisingly fast learner with a fighting spirit. He was right.