Worthwhile Hobbies I Picked Up in 2012

by Laura Yan

My favorite things I purchased this year weren’t possessions but new hobbies — costly, yet worthwhile.

Horseback riding

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.

I signed up for a month of introductory lessons with the Women’s World of Boxing, and soon found myself ill-equipped for exercise. I bought a pair of Asics sneakers from Amazon ($33), four pairs of socks ($8), and a pair of workout leggings ($24). At a boxing shop on the Lower East Side, I got my own hand wraps ($5) and a pair of cartoonish looking red leather boxing gloves ($50). On Saturday mornings, I put on my gym clothes (which still felt like a costume) and went into a sweaty, dingy gym where I learned how to punch.

Teresa, or T, as she preferred to be called, was a short, fierce and enthusiastic trainer. She liked to tell the story of her start in boxing, how she trained her trainer how to teach her. Punch like a man, punch hard, punch like me, he told her. But she wanted to learn the how and the why, the technique. It was a repeating motif throughout her classes. She told stories of women who came from other gyms, surprised by how she taught.

Slow down, don’t punch so hard, she told me a few times. Though it was easier to ignore it and to punch recklessly. I held my fists the wrong way and forgot to keep my hands up. But I loved the snap of the glove against the heavy, swinging bag. And I loved the new energy in my step.

My enthusiasm for boxing might have faded (the $160 a month price tag still seemed high) if I hadn’t discovered a Gilt City offer that changed everything. $98 got me a three-month membership to a boutique West Village gym (originally, $300). I didn’t work or live near the West Village, but the promise of weekly boxing classes and the cost made it impossible to pass up. Three months turned me from exercise-avoidant to enthusiastic about my evening classes, where I laughed and punched and sweated in equal amounts. I gained the first hint of arm muscles.

The gym ran a successful campaign. When my discounted membership ran out, I renewed it at the regular price ($125). I still fantasize about sparring with the boy who initiated me, and throwing a hard right hook to crack his jaw.

Total costs: About $500

Laura Yan is a writer in New York City. She tweets.

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