If you want to explore some of Long Island's nicest parks and natural settings, you could take a car or go on foot. Then again, why not consider taking in the sites from a unique vantage point - like, say, astride a gentle trail horse?
Several local and state parks have miles of bridle trails and, for a fee, provide guided horseback rides for children and adults through some of the Island's most picturesque and bucolic settings.
The following locales - spread from western Nassau to eastern Suffolk - will appeal to novices and advanced riders alike.
Hempstead Lake State Park Trail rides operated by Lakewood Stables, 633 Eagle Ave., West Hempstead.
Phone: 516-486-9673 Web: thelakewoodstables.com Hours: 9 a.m.-7 p.m., except Sundays, when the last ride leaves at 5. Cost: $40 a person
Novice and experienced riders ages 13 and older can saddle up one of three ponies or more than 30 horses for a one-hour walk, trot or canter along nine miles of bridle paths in the 775-acre park, overlooking three lakes and an 18-hole golf course. Trail rides are first-come, first-served with the last ride going out one hour before sunset. Groups of five or more should call ahead and make a reservation. The stable also offers lessons ($40 for half an hour), a therapeutic riding program for children with special needs and 15-minute pony rides.
Belmont Lake State Park Trails operated by Babylon Riding Center, 1500 Peconic Ave., North Babylon.
Phone: 631-587-7778 Web: babylonridingcenter.com Hours: 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday through Friday; 9 a.m.-5 p.m. weekends Cost: $45 a person
Guided and private trail rides through about five miles of bridle paths are arranged by appointment. To ensure they're comfortable, riders get a 15-minute mini-lesson in the ring before hitting the trail. One or more instructors will accompany groups of up to four people. Riders must be at least 12 years old to be permitted on the trail.
Deep Hollow Ranch Theodore Roosevelt County Park, Montauk Hwy., Montauk
Phone: 631-668-2744 Web: deephollowranch.com Hours: 9 a.m.-6:30 p.m. by appointment Cost: $35-$75 (cash only)
Real cowboys and cowgirls working on Deep Hollow Ranch - the oldest working cattle ranch in the country - act as guides for 1 1/2-hour trail rides for small groups (up to eight riders). Riders can take the winding trails through the countryside and past rolling hills inside the 4,000-acre Theodore Roosevelt County Park or along pristine sandy beaches on the shore of Block Island Sound. Families with young children can request shorter rides.
Sunset Rides Bethpage Park Stables, 499 Winding Rd., Old Bethpage
Phone: 516-531-8007 Hours: By appointment Cost: $45 a person
Nothing spells romance like a horseback ride at sunset. Bethpage Park Stables runs guided one-hour sunset rides through the trails at Bethpage State Park. Designed for groups of two to six people (ages 12 and older), it's a chance to unwind and see nature at an idyllic pace.
More horseback riding spots
Bethpage Stables in Old Bethpage has 20 horses and three lighted rings. It offers trail rides, boarding, summer camp, pony rides and pony parties.
Lakeside Riding Academy in West Hempstead features more than 20 horses, a lighted ring, and trails in Hempstead Lake State Park.
Babylon Riding Center is located in Belmont Lake State Park in North Babylon. The center has 45 horses and a 12,000-square foot indoor riding arena, and also has access to a 5 1/2 mile bridle path in the state park.
Hillcrest Sport Stable , on Middle Road in Riverhead, offers easy access from both the North and South forks. On the grounds of a former duck farm, the facility was redesigned as an equestrian center in 1988.
Sweet Hills Equestrian Center on Sweet Hollow Road in Huntington, located in West Hills County Park. Affordable private lessons and trails in the county park make this riding center a sure bet.