Last week, the Recreation and Park Department kicked off a pilot program offering guided horseback tours through Golden Gate Park. While equine occupation of the park dates back to the 1890s, there has been little opportunity in the recent past for the public to hop on a majestic beast and amble along the equestrian trails that still exist today.
“Experiencing our parks from horseback is a different and fun way to get out and play,” says Phil Ginsburg, Rec and Park’s general manager. “We’re excited to share a part of Camp Mather with our park visitors by giving them a horseback riding experience in San Francisco parks.”
Guided tours are offered from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week, weather permitting. In Golden Gate Park, prices start at $40 per person for a 30-minute tour, and go up to $80 if you’re looking to be in the saddle for 90 minutes. In McLaren, 30-minute tours start at $35, and 90-minute rides will run you $75. All rides are guided by a wrangler from Pot A Gold (the company Rec and Park has contracted to provide the tours), and helmets are provided. Revenue generated from the rides goes toward Rec and Park’s operations and recreation programming.
The horses include draft horses, quarter horses and American paints, and they’re stabled at Bercut Equitation Field in Golden Gate Park. There are about 15 in all, ranging in age from about five to 20 years old. According to Pot A Gold manager Jim Peterman, an on-site security guard monitors the horses at night.
Peterman points out that since Pot A Gold breeds all the horses, they’re able to provide ones with the agreeable temperament needed to work with everyday people.
“This isn’t our first rodeo,” he tells SF Weekly. “We’ll hit the ground with some of the safest horses in this business, and I can say that confidently. We’ll have some negativity, which you always do. … There will be some people who think that horses just shouldn’t be there, but they’ll be in the minority.”
Folks ages five and up can mosey on down to Bercut Equitation Field (located at Chain of Lakes Drive East near JFK Drive) and sign up for a ride. After filling out some waivers, they’ll get paired up with one of the horses and sent off on a guided tour.
“You get a much greater view being on top of the horse, and you are connecting with an animal,” says Pot A Gold wrangler Andreina Ruiz, who has been riding horses since she was three years old. Her peaceful countenance as she sits atop a shiny, mocha-colored quarter horse named “Chubby” speaks to her love of her profession. “Taking care of the guests is my job, being with the horse is my hobby. It’s good for the soul,” she says.
Ruiz says she and her fellow wranglers work to keep the horses on the graveled trails at all times, and aim to minimize the impact the horses have on the park’s ecosystem. These efforts include keeping the snack-crazy horses from munching on the grass that lines the trail — and, of course, “scooping” the trails in between rides so there isn’t horse poop all over the place.
Rec and Park is gathering feedback on the program through its website during the pilot program, which ends May 20. One potential problem is the price tag — which is undeniably steep — so it remains to be seen whether or not the city bet on the wrong horse.