Horses aren’t necessarily top of mind when you think Amsterdam. But here I am, in the Netherlands, walking through a European-style subdivision past rows of narrow Brownstone-style contemporary homes looking for a riding stable. Yes, a stable. In a subdivision.
I stop and ask a woman pushing a stroller along the sidewalk: “I think I’m in the wrong place,” I say, “but I’m looking for horses.”
“In there,” she says pointing to an ornate white archway wedged between two residential buildings across the street.
From the street, the give-away arched entrance blends almost seamlessly with the residential homes built next to it. But a closer look reveals a renaissance-style structure built in 1882. At the time, this location was the new rural home of a riding school with history dating back to 1744.
Clearly, the 20th century neighbour built up around it. Grandfathered into the development plan, the Hollandsche Manege has historical cred, despite changing ownership several times. But as long as it’s a riding school, the grand three-storey indoor riding arena with high ceilings, elaborate moldings, viewing balconies, 50-horse stable, tack rooms and living horse museum, remains.
Visiting is magical. And it starts with a red carpet – yes, red carpet – leading from the street-side columned archway and into the reception room/gift store of The Hollandsche Manege. This is where visitors enter before viewing a 10-minute video orienting them about the horse history they’re about to experience.
On the walk along the red carpet – the same route riders use to leave the building – a welcome barn smell wafts through the air and I realize: yes, I’m in the right place.
Currently, owned by Vincent and Justus Valk, I visited several years ago and got the grand tour from the couple’s son who trains beautiful Dutch Warm Bloods for International Eventing competitions here at the stables. He’s understandably proud of the facility – a mix of barn and castle dating back to a time when horses were housed and revered by the wealthy like classic cars might be today.
Restored in 1986 to its 19th century glory, the building is beautiful and available for event rental. Artifacts like historic saddles and white equine carvings adorn the walls. Most of the horse owners and riding students live in Amsterdam and only they can take a horse outside to nearby Vondelpark.
Down the block, Vondelpark is both dog-friendly and horse-friendly thanks to a legal clause demanded by the family who originally donated land to the city for use as a public park in 1865. Now a 47-hectre park in a city not known for green space, it’s a vortex for thousands of people daily riding bikes through the paths connecting a maze of English gardens and ponds – all built on peat slowly sinking under the weight of continued usage.
Vondelpark is geographically the lowest point in Amsterdam. It’s open to the horses boarded at The Hollandsche Manege. But the school does not offer public trail riding.
What’s a horse-loving visitor to do? Sign up for training week. Several times a year, small group lessons run every day for a week for intermediate and advanced riders led by school owners. Training week starts at 135 Euros per person.
Or get your proper lady on. Book ahead for the day and participate in High Tea combined with a riding lesson – side saddle, just like 1882.
The Hollandsche Manege owns 14 antique ladies’ saddles and groups of three or more can enjoy a lesson in unique Victorian style, plus High Tea in the stately balcony overlooking the Queenly riding arena.
(If you’re wondering if riding side-saddle is safe, or even done anymore, check out this article on Haynet – apparently, yes. It is safe and even comfortable).
Is this what I did?
I wish. I did enjoy High Tea in the historic property overlooking an almost opera house like riding arena modelled after the Vienna Riding School. But no riding. Unfortunately, the week I was visiting in Amsterdam aligned with the horses’ two-week vacation. For 14 days of the year, The Hollandsche Manege school horses head out-of-town to the country to graze and be horses.
So, the arena was vacant the day I sat down to fancy three-tiered High Tea. This week only, the arena was available for the entertainment of the family’s crazy little terriers who took full advantage of the open sandy space flanked by balconies where equine-loving Dutch royalty once sat.
Some day, I’ll be back when the horses are here.
The Hollandsche Manege Riding School is open daily from 10am to 5pm. General entrance fee is 8 Euro. High tea with a side-saddle lesson is 50 Euros per person but must be prearranged.
(Find more side-saddle fun at Downton Abbey in Nashville….)
Thinking of travelling to Amsterdam?
Check out the DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Amsterdam – one of my favourite travel guide series. (Amazon.com affiliate link)