One of the reasons so many of us travel is to experience new things and make memories.
However, you don’t always need a plane ticket to an exotic land or a cross-country road trip to have these kinds of moments. Sometimes great experiences are formed in your own backyard (or about an hour and a half from it).
Last Sunday, I had my first horseback riding experience at Juckas Stables in Pine Bush. With more than 100 acres trailing throughout the Hudson Valley, the family-owned operated business is ran by 81-year-old Karen Juckas.
“My family was amazed that I ended up in this business,” said Juckas. “I took eight [horseback riding] lessons when I was younger and I hated it.”
The way Juckas interacts with these animals is incredible; how she knows all of their distinct personalities and how the animals listen to her every command. Which is why I did not question her judgement when she put me on my horse for the day, Cream.
As you may have guessed, Cream is an ivory colored mare. Juckas helped me on using a stepping stool, then gave me a crash course on how to steer Cream: gently pull the reins to the left to go left, to the right to steer her right, and keep the right hand balled around the reins and to the right side of the back of her neck to stay straight.
Juckas, a school teacher for 35 years and single mother of two, oversees a total of 29 horses. How does Juckas, a 4-foot-something 81-year old, manage this? It’s all in her voice.
“You have to have a good voice. I’m like a sergeant sometimes. I go outside in the morning and I just yell, ‘HORSES,’ and they all come running to the stable,” said Juckas. “Then I close the doors or else they would all run in and they line up for me and I call them in by name. One-by-one.”
Although Juckas Stables was established in 1965, it wasn’t until 1979 that Juckas decided it was time to her to buy her own place and in 1980 that the stables made this Pine Bush location their home.
“Before 1980 I had about five different farms. I would rent a farm and be there for two years and make trails and fix things up and then I would sell it. It was terrible,” said Juckas. “I looked and looked and looked and the taxes were outrageously expensive and I needed at least 100 acres.”
When a friend finally called Juckas saying she had found her the “perfect place,” they arrived here to find that there was nothing but woods-and potential. Juckas bought the land and had the barn built by “four guys from Ohio,” from Morton Buildings.
“I designed it,” said Juckas. “It’s a terrible design.”
Despite her “terrible design,” the stable grounds were breathtaking. Cream and I, along with my best friend and her horse, Spirit (whose name suited her all too well), another rider and our guide for the day rode through trees and abundant woods, past the green swamp, and trotted through the lush meadows where we spotted a fawn resting under a tree.
Other than the rush of adrenaline I had from fearing that Cream was going to throw me off of her while we trotted, it was one of the most serene and magical moments of my life. Looking up to the bright blue sky and smelling the fresh air of the country side while on top of my horse, I knew that this was one of the greatest memories I’d ever have.