Whether you're a bareback champion or a wishful greenhorn, the Skyline Equestrian Center and Ranch in the Oakland Hills is the perfect place for learning the basics of horseback riding. Starting at $40, group and individual lessons cover English-style riding, as well as tacking, grooming, and handling. More advanced equestrians learn how to take on dressage and some jumping techniques. 5750 Redwood Road, Oakland, 510-336-0850, skyline-ranch.com


A 15-minute drive south of SF brings you to Mar Vista Stables, where you can take your boarded (or rented) steed up and down the sand dunes and through low tide. Perched on a picturesque bluff of Thorton Beach, the livery offers hour-long guided rides for $40. The 3-mile trail takes you through blooming succulents before getting down to the surf, where you can sometimes see dolphins swimming. Mar Vista is cash-only and has about 20 horses on hand, so don't worry about a reservation unless you have more than five in your party. Private lessons are also available for beginner, intermediate, and advanced riders. 2152 Skyline Blvd., Daly City, 650-991-4224, marvistastable.com

The Western-style Miwok Livery leads daily trail rides through the Marin Headlands. For $75 an hour, you can wind through the hills of Golden Gate National Recreation Area and catch glimpses of the ocean, Mount Tamalpais, and San Francisco's skyline. Make a reservation at least a week in advance, and if it's open, stop at the farm stand on your way up Tennessee Valley Road for delicious fruit and some carrots to feed your horse. 701 Tennessee Valley Road, Mill Valley, 415-383-8048, miwokstables.com


If you're more of a ringer than a rider, check out Stern Grove's horseshoe throwing pits. Well-maintained and not too crowded, the eight courts are home to casual Friday evening games. Other times, the SF Horseshoe Pitching Club (sfhorseshoepitching.com) hosts tournaments here and at Golden Gate Park's 16 pits. Farther west into the park, patrolling officers mount their horses at the red Golden Gate Park Police Stables. Visit any 9 a.m.–2 p.m. to pet and feed the equine force. Stern Grove Court, Sloat Boulevard and 19th Avenue; Golden Gate Park Court, Fulton and Stanyan streets; Police Stables, James W. Bloesch Road and 36th Avenue, 415-752-6255

Scratch your gambling itch with a few well-placed bets at Golden Gate Fields in Berkeley. The weekend races vary in size and prestige, and Sunday sees $1 admission, beer, hot dogs, and more. 1100 Eastshore Highway, Berkeley, 510-559-7300, goldengatefields.com Back in SF, catch the ponies at La Rocca's Corner Tavern. The Russian Hill watering hole shows daily races from around the country, so you can wage some friendly bets in front of the sports bar's flat screens. 957 Columbus Ave. (at Taylor), 415-674-1266
For a taste of the wild West, head to Cow Palace Oct. 14, 15, 21, and 22 for the Grand National Rodeo. There'll be bucking broncos, cowboys, horse and livestock shows, and all the barbeque you can eat. 2600 Geneva Ave. (at Carter), 415-404-4100, cowpalace.com On Oct. 8, the Wine Country Polo Club in Santa Rosa hosts the annual Polo in the Park match, benefiting the James S. Brady Therapeutic Riding Program of the Bay Area. 560 White Oak Drive, Santa Rosa, 707-538-7656, sfpolointhepark.com