Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Springtime Horse Ride

   On Tuesday, April 16, 1888, a reporter for the Hamilton Spectator filed a story which appeared under the following headline : “An Early Morning Ride : What a Reporter Saw and  How He Felt on Horseback.”
          In the latter part of the nineteenth century, recreational horseback riding was an exceptionally popular pastime in Hamilton, especially among the younger portion of the city's population. The reporter noted that “numerous cavalcades start off every morning for an early gallop in the suburbs.”
          At 5:30 a.m., one fine spring Sunday morning, the Spec reporter went out with his friends to hire a horse for an excursion to the outskirts of the city.
          Hamilton, the reporter felt, was particularly blessed with beautiful localities in which to visit on horseback :
          “The man who doesn't derive enjoyment from a dash along the brow of the mountain, around the end of the bay, or down among the fruit farms to the Beach on a bright, cheery morning, must have very sluggish blood in his veins.”
          As the party set out, it passed over very quiet, deserted streets. Things were so quiet that “there is not a policeman at any corner to book summonses and things if the horses should happen to take their heads a little while yet in the city.”
          In a very few minutes, the riding party was out of the urban environment and into an area where they could sense the joy and excitement of the coming spring:
          “The bird orchestra is tuning up for the concert of the day, the gaunt faded fire on the mountain side contrasted with the bright, gay green of the bursting buds and mantling fields and the cool, morning winds laden with the delicate odors of youthful vegetation blow gently through your whiskers.”
          The reporter was not an experienced rider. The horse he hired was “a tall honest equine, sufficiently sedate but with plenty of go, together with such independence of character that he scorned all guidance from his hurricane deck.”
          As the party explored the countryside, the discomfort of the ride began to set in:
          “But the trot. Ye Gods! It would make our eyeballs jingle in their sockets.”
          While the trotting pace was uncomfortable, it was tame compared to the terrors of the gallop. As the party turned east on Ida street (later known as Delaware avenue) the horses all started to speed up their pace dramatically.
          The reporter started to think that he was “riding on the breath of a Samoan cyclone … there was a mad rush of atmosphere all around him, a sensation of being hurled through space – he was sorry he came – but the gait only got more severe.”
          Finally, the horses slowed for a rest, giving the reporter a chance to take in the scenery:
          Mountain Avenue extends between two stately rows of poplars; on te right lies the mountain, and on the left a line of fine residences. The road past the Delta and along to Bartonville and Stoney Creek traverses one of the most  fruitful sections of the Niagara peninsula, following the base of the mountain all the way, while in the distance the blue waters of the lake gleam through the trees. Interesting old houses, dating back to the days of 1812 appear at intervals, and the historic battlefield of Stoney Creek, with the old cemetery on the hill, assist in lending a glamour of historic interest in the locality.”
          Turning their horses north, and then west to return to the city, the party followed the shoreline of the lake and bay. In all, the ride was about 20 miles lon, and when the party dismounted back at the stables, they all, according to the reporter, felt “like millionaires.”

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