Bird Watch

Horse Power

Saddling up is in.

Americans are back in the saddle--literally. With a boost from Hollywood (and some of its biggest stars), horseback riding is enjoying surprising popularity among a growing number of city slickers. Stressed-out overachievers, in particular, seem to be tapping into horse power.

"It's a really relaxing thing," says Patti Colbert, executive director of Bertram, Texas-based Horse Industry Alliance (HIA), referring to riding's therapeutic appeal. "The horse is an incredible vehicle to assist [people] in figuring out their problems."

Combine this with the glamorous image of, say, movie star Robert Redford astride a horse in this year's feature film "The Horse Whisperer," and you've got the makings of a trend in full gallop. "Riding lessons, dude ranches [and other staples of Western culture] are experiencing a whole lot of growth right now," observes Colbert. "The heritage of the horse brings out the cowboy wanna-be in a lot of folks."

And not just affluent people, either. Though traditionally an activity for the well-to-do, equestrianship--at least the late-1990s variety--is far more egalitarian in nature. Sure, a lot of city slickers would be hard pressed to purchase (and stable) horses of their own, but riding lessons come fairly cheap. Even the sedentary can saddle up--by collecting model horses, that is. Notes Colbert, "The sales of those things are going through the roof."

According to HIA estimates, roughly one-third of all U.S. households either already ride horses or are interested in doing so. "If folks can just get out and smell the atmosphere, they seem to kind of fall into it," raves Colbert. Alas, few make it look as good as Redford does.

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This article was originally published in the October 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Bird Watch.

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