Connecticut- UCONN Trail Ride

For a girl raised in Connecticut, UConn offers an equestrian oasis.

By Michele Tchernotzkas

When most people think of the University of Connecticut the first thing that comes to mind is basketball. With the UConn campus located in rural Storrs, CT one's options are limited to pretty much being a basketball fan or being a basketball fan. For a girl raised in Connecticut, however, UConn offers an equestrian oasis.

Large cow pastures, numerous barns consisting of chickens, cattle, and horses; and corn fields that thrive in the thick New England soil, provide a picturesque landscape for this agricultural college. This area, known as "Horse Barn Hill," provides a beautiful canvas for a rider and her horse.

For those of us who are not division one athletes, spending all of our free time training with teams and coaches, we must find other activities to occupy our time on campus. For me this task was easy. I have always loved riding horses. Since the age of seven when I was riding around a make-shift ring learning to jump over long planks of wood supported by egg crates, I knew that I had found my passion.

As I tack up Traveler for the trail ride with my group, I breathe in the brisk March air and carefully adjust my helmet. I have heard legendary stories about trail riding with our instructor, Janice. I walk Traveler outside and mount him as I wait for the rest of the group. It is the nicest day the frigid Northeast has seen in a while and signs of spring are slowly emerging.

When the group is all set, we head out across the road, past the beef cattle pastures and the turnout for mares and their newly born foals. Traveler's ears are perky and pin straight forward, as he listens to the many unfamiliar sounds around him. As we walk deeper into the woods, I hear a rustling in the grass around me. I bend over to see a large dark snake slithering through the tall grass. At first Traveler is startled but I calm him down with a little "whoa boy" and a couple quick pats on his shoulder.

As we continue our ride, I start thinking about how lucky I am to be outside and riding through the beautiful Connecticut wilderness. It is my time away from the hustle and bustle of college life, a sort of catharsis for both my horse and me to enjoy. We take it slow down a steep rocky hill. At the bottom, Traveler and I take off down the narrow path, jumping over several fallen trees and splashing through little streams until we reach a clearing.

My instructor halts the group to warn us of the impending event. She says that the horses will get very quick through the approaching corns fields but to just lean forward, grab mane and let them do their thing. The little smirk on her face leads me to believe I am in for quite the ride. I get into position trotting up a little with Traveler, leaning forward, grabbing mane and then with a little reluctance, I let go of my inhibitions and just let him go. Traveler immediately breaks into a gallop, racing and racing, the other horses at my side, neck and neck.

Mud flings in my face from the horses hooves in front of me. The thrill is invigorating. My body is numb from the excitement running through my veins. At the end of the corn field, Traveler slows down to a nice gentle jog as I circle him a couple times to regain control. Pretty soon we are back to a walk, but the tears streaming down my face are evidence of the thrill, speed and excitement that I have just experienced. Everyone in the group is smiling from ear to ear. "That was amazing." I hear one girl shout.

Next we walk down a steep hill back to the barn. We are still in shock from the ride we just survived.
What seemed like a relaxing trail ride turned out to be an unforgettable escape. I dismounted and still felt a little wobbly in my legs. My hands shook, as I and gave Traveler a big pat on the neck. I trusted him with my life and he sure did not let me down.

I thought about that ride for the rest of the day and even back in my dorm room later that night. I was caught in a daydream from the afternoon, reliving the stunning landscape and the excitement of the ride. Then I thought about college life in rural Connecticut and only wished that those students who complained of having nothing to do around here could merely get a glimpse of what I experience every time I get on the back of a horse. I shook my head and got back to work.