Top 5 Ranches to Visit this 4th of July

Do you ever dream of spending your holidays on horseback? Wish you could see 4th of July fireworks from an unparalleled perspective? At these ranches, you can do all that and more (horseback riding, fireworks, and concerts, oh my!). From Vermont to California, Montana to Colorado, you are bound to feel extra patriotic this Independence Day if you go for a visit—and to have a lot of fun. 

C Lazy U Ranch in Granby, Colorado 

What’s better than spending the 4th of July at C Lazy U Ranch on its 100th and America’s 243rd birthday? For their centennial celebration, C Lazy U Ranch is offering weekly firework shows, Prohibition-era cocktail making classes, high-end spirit tasting and more from June 15 through August 17, including the 4th of July. C Lazy U’s 4th of July celebration includes a parade, fireworks, and fun ranch activities such as horseback riding and fishing. C Lazy U Ranch’s luxurious accommodations and gourmet food combined with the high-energy festivities Independence Day brings will definitely make for an unforgettable vacation. 

 

The Ranch at Rock Creek in Phillipsburg, Montana

Celebrate the 4th of July at the Ranch at Rock Creek, the world’s first Forbes Travel Guide five-star ranch. The 4-day long event kicks off with a Cowboy Social Hour before Ranch athletes compete in their ranch rodeo, followed by a barbeque at the Buckle Barn. At the ranch, enjoy all-inclusive adventures, such as horseback riding, fly fishing, and a ropes course. After a day of hard work, be sure to visit Granite Spa for a relaxing treatment. The evening celebration on the 4th of July includes a country carnival, dinner at Executive Chef Drage’s Flagstone Grill, live music by shō-down, and, to top it all off, a stunning fireworks display. Head on over to the Ranch at Rock Creek for your best 4th of July yet! 

 

Rankin Ranch in Caliente, California

This 4th of July, join the 5-day long festivities at Rankin Ranch! This Independence Day celebration is unlike any other: Separating the attending families into three teams with personalized uniforms (red, white, and blue), Rankin Ranch will put on an old-fashioned Olympic Games featuring an obstacle course, potato sack race, and more! The fun continues with horseback riding, “Happy Hour” and dinner at Bill and Glenda Rankin’s home, and a 4th of July-themed children’s pageant. You are guaranteed to have a great time getting patriotic this 4th of July at Rankin Ranch!  

 

The Resort at Paws Up in Greenough, Montana 

Thinking of visiting Montana? What better time to go than the 4th of July! Surrounded by beautiful landscape, the Resort at Paws Up is the place to be this Independence Day. With an abundance of outdoor activities, live music, cocktails, lawn games, sack races, and more. Along with those experiences, Paws Up also features float-decorating contests and parades, picnics, and a great firework show. Go ahead and book a trip of a lifetime to the Resort at Paws Up this 4th of July! 

 

Mountain Top Inn & Resort in Chittenden, Vermont 

Venture over to Vermont’s Mountain Top Inn & Resort for this spectacular one-night-only event! What makes this celebration unique is the day it is being held: Monday, July 1st! Enjoy the Vermont Symphony Orchestra’s annual outdoor concert on the Mountain Top lawn. This event includes lodging, two tickets to the VSO concert, Mountain Top barbeque, and a full country breakfast the following morning. The VSO concert, starting at 7:30, is followed by a stunning firework display you don’t want to miss. You should definitely consider heading up north July 1st for this one-of-a-kind show. 

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Colorado Adventure at C Lazy U Ranch

At C Lazy U Guest Ranch in Granby, Colorado, I truly stepped out of my comfort zone: Taking a leap of faith on their challenge course, throwing hatchets, trying archery, country line dancing, and topping it all off at the nature-inspired spa with a classic massage and soak in a big copper tub. My colleague and friend Tamara Don joined me to make the adventure of a girlfriend getaway even more exciting. Most people know that you can ride horses at a dude ranch, but don’t always think about the diverse adventures that can be had in addition to saddling up.

Views of the Rockies at C Lazy U Ranch sporting Point 6 Socks.

Views of the Rockies at C Lazy U Ranch sporting Point 6 socks

After attending Denver’s Outdoor Retailer, Tamara and I hopped an Amtrak train and headed deeper into the Rocky Mountains. The scenery on the train ride was beautiful—snowcapped mountains and rushing rivers with the occasional rafter on view. We were both excited to be traveling to the ranch this summer, as C Lazy U is celebrating their 100th anniversary. When a ranch is around for 100 years, you know it’s special. C Lazy U is located in the small town of Granby, which dates back to 1904 when it was founded along the route of the Denver, Northwestern, and Pacific Railway, so a nice way to get there is by train.

Hatchet Throwing and Archery a la the “Games” TV Series

We got picked up by the ranch from the train station and immediately started our adventures at the ranch, channeling Jason Momoa from “Game of Thrones” and Jennifer Lawrence in “The Hunger Games”. You know, it feels good to throw things once in a while and sometimes that includes sharp objects. It took a bit of bouncing, but finally Tamara and I felt pretty confident in our hatchet throwing abilities. We then changed pace and went for archery.

Tamara and I channelling our inner Khal Drogo.

Tamara and I channelling our inner Khal Drogo. 

I went to summer camp, where I definitely got to try lots of different things, including archery. The bows have improved a lot since my camp days. Like anything you learned as a child, there’s some muscle memory there. I was excited when I finally hit the target. I definitely don’t want to be thrown into The Hunger Games anytime soon, but C Lazy U at least prepared me a little more.

We're all smiles after hitting the target!

We're all smiles after hitting the target!

Dude Ranch Horseback Riding

We had to giddy-up at the ranch. A wrangler from Atlanta named Halsey, who grew up competing in equestrian sports, matched us with a horse--Starbucks for Tamara and Jeff for me-- and we were off. C Lazy U has around 200 horses and a sizeable staff, so I felt like I was getting some personal attention on this riding adventures. The ranch is on over 8,500 acres and abuts public lands, so there are lots of choices for trails for riding.

Riding through beautiful C Lazy U Ranch.

Riding through beautiful C Lazy U Ranch. 

We stuck a little closer to the ranch because of potential storms, but nonetheless had a diverse ride, winding through a patch of pretty aspen trees and to spots with Rocky Mountain views; we even got a few trots into the mix. Tamara hadn’t ridden horses in quite a few years and I’m more advanced, so I took it a little easier on this ride, but enjoyed the scenery and adventure of riding in Colorado nonetheless. Who doesn’t love fresh Colorado mountain air and the smell of sage? Little wildflowers lined the ground, along with the occasional scurry of small squirrels and various birds.

Challenge Course

We opted to try C Lazy U’s challenge course. Recently, I’ve had a lot of challenges: Climbing the world’s highest artificial climbing wall in Reno, taking on the world’s highest commercial bungee at the Macao Tower, learning freestyle skiing with Olympian Jonny Moseley in Squaw Valley and more (and that’s all within a few months). At C Lazy U, I was able to try my second ever climbing wall and made it to the top. I kind of like climbing now and definitely want to do it again.

Taking a leap of faith on the challenge course.

Taking a leap of faith on the challenge course. 

Next, I tried the vertical play pen, which consists of swinging ladders and some really challenging climbing and scrambling. I made it to the top, but not without some cursing and almost giving up on two occasions. The leap of faith may have been the most trippy and difficult:  You have to climb up on a pole and then somehow stand up on top this pole (requires major balance) before you decide to try to jump and grab onto a trapeze bar. It’s not easy! I made the leap--truly ninja style--and got my hands on the bar, but I think the weight of my catapulting body brought me down. I swung in the air and twisted round and round a bit, before being belayed down.

The daunting vertical playpen.

The daunting vertical playpen. 

Finally, Tamara and I ziplined over to our cabin to finish the fun adventure.

Lazy U Spa

After all of that, you need a little spa time. C Lazy U’s spa is pretty unique. A series of heated tents in the round are set over and beside Willow Creek; there’s truly an inside and outside feeling. C Lazy U was actually named after the shape of Willow Creek. The tents can open up to reveal mountain and creek views. I always think the sound of rushing water is so relaxing, and as you lie down on your massage table, you can look down at the river. Part of the floor is glass, so you can see straight down.

Relaxing at Lazy U spa.

Relaxing at Lazy U spa. 

We then hopped into bubble baths in two big copper soaker tubs… divine!

Glamping, Cabin & Cuisine

We really liked our cabin accommodations, complete with a fireplace and L’Occitane products, but wanted to also experience “glamping.” It was a little chilly to spend the night, so instead, we hung out by the fire pit and checked out the Conestoga wagons, complete with beds and amazing views.

Our clamping views!

Our glamping views!

Just in time for another dinner, we returned for outdoor tapas and hit the ranch bar before a family-style meal was served. My favorite food item at the ranch for this trip was the morning avocado toast, but also really liked the taco lunch. There’s definitely enough diversity—options for those with dietary restrictions and those who like to indulge in sweets.

Fabulous avocado toast at C Lazy U Ranch.

Fabulous avocado toast at C Lazy U Ranch. 

Nights at the ranch were also really fun. From a talent show to the barn dance, we kicked up our cowgirl boots and mingled with the other guests who hailed from across the USA. We did a lot during our time at the ranch and still managed to leave off a few things, like mountain biking, Orvis-endorsed fly fishing, trap shooting, rowing boats, tennis, yoga, volleyball and more. While our visit was a busy one (because we vibe like that), many people come to just relax amid beautiful mountain scenery, take advantage of kids and teen camps, for adults only weeks or, during snowy winter, to ride horses or celebrate festive holidays. It’s a girlfriend getaway I will never forget and am already looking forward to my next Colorado ranch vacation.

Having fun at the barn with Tamara!

Having fun at the barn dance with Tamara! 

Learn more about C Lazy U Ranch on their website and on Equitrekking’s sites, including Top20Ranches and Equitrekking.com.

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Smithsonian PBS Debut: Hong Kong and Macao

On August 1st, I'll be presenting our never-before-seen Hong Kong and Macao PBS episode with Smithsonian Associates at the Ripley Center in Washington, DC. This is a ticketed event that will sell out! I really enjoy connecting with people live and getting to debut our new PBS episode at the Smithsonian is a treat. Sharing travel tips, behind the scenes footage and stories and insights from my decade on the road makes for a festive night. This is my third event at the Smithsonian to showcase new episodes. Past events included Tokyo and Brittany, France.

Portuguese influenced clothing in Macao

Portuguese influences in Macao and where to find these clothes for your "gram" photos

So what's so special about Hong Kong and Macao? A lot! This was my second time filming in Hong Kong and first time visiting or filming in Macao. You can watch the previous Hong Kong Island Hopping and Hong Kong Urban Adventures episodes on Create TV now and also Amazon Prime.  

Great hikes and guides in Hong Kong.

Great hikes and guides in Hong Kong

This time, I took travel to the limits, taking on the world's highest commercial bungee jump and filming it in 360 at the Macao Tower. I also drove a convertible over the Hong Kong–Zhuhai–Macau Bridge, the world's longest sea crossing and the longest open-sea fixed link on earth. In both Hong Kong and Macao, we explored great food and drinks, including one of my favorite meals-- hot pot-- and one of the best places for dim sum. Macao has many Portuguese influences, so I'll be sharing more about what that means for the delicious and unique foods you can try there, from Michelin star street food to meals in a European style villa.

Taking on the world's highest commercial bungee at the Macao Tower.

Taking on the world's highest commercial bungee at the Macao Tower 

Where to find the best egg tarts and food in Macao and Hong Kong.

Where to find the best egg tarts and food in Macao and Hong Kong

Plus, where to go hiking in Hong Kong, what's new in Hong Kong's Central and the best ways to travel between these two dynamic places, including ferry rides and a drive over the new Hong Kong–Zhuhai–Macau Bridge. I actually shopped for this event while in Hong Kong and Macao, so, as I do at many events, I'll do trivia and also give away fun prizes. We'll also enjoy food and drinks inspired by Hong Kong and Macao, courtesy of the Hong Kong Tourism Board and Macao Government Tourism Office. So get your red-hot tickets to this special Washington, DC event. I'll see you there!

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The Natural Connection at The Marriott Ranch

Jean French is the owner and creator of The Natural Connection INC., a program dedicated to working with and healing horses in need, then providing a loving home for them to thrive. Using a natural connection, to “read” a horse’s body language, a horse’s physical and emotional needs are assessed, studying interactions with both humans and horses. Medical needs often are addressed first, then physical and emotional, all prior to starting each horse in a lengthy yet appropriate training program. Without a doubt, The Natural Connection INC puts the horses first and travelers can experince it at Marriott Ranch in Virginia. 

Marriott Ranch natural horsemanship

Photo courtesy of Debby Thomas

Jean started English riding at the age of four overseas at any stables her parents could find. Upon landing in the United States, she rode as a hunter rider and shortly thereafter, switched to western recreational trail riding at the Marriott Ranch as a teenager. After 11 years at Marriott, she moved her horse and became a competitive team roper on the Virginia Cowboy Association Circuit, in her mid 20’s. Roping took a strain on both Jean and her horse, so she left the roping world to teach. In 2003, The Natural Connection was conceived.

Marriott Ranch natural horsemanship Virgnia

It was at the Marriott Ranch as a teenager that she had learned about rescuing horses, rehabilitation, and various training techniques, for better or for worse. She spent hours with the herd of 55+ horses, learning about their body language and how they communicated to each other. This ranch set the stage for her passion for horses to become a unique small business. From 2003 to 2017, Jean dedicated her time expanding The Natural Connection into a labor of love. The horses in need of rehabilitation and retraining also led to her program expanding to lessons and boarding. Continuing education for both herself and students was integrated as well, creating an enjoyable learning environment with guest riders and clinicians.

The Natural Connection shifted gears in 2017. Currently located in Linden, VA, Jean returned as an independent contractor to the Marriott Ranch, 17 years later. The full-time incorporated business now focuses on providing options for horses in need of retraining and sometimes rehoming. Combined with offering western trail riding to the public, servicing Northern VA, Washington D.C., the greater metropolitan area and neighboring states. The trail riding operation is one of the largest in Northern Virginia, with 34 horses and 12 staff members.

Marriott Ranch natural horsemanship Virgnia

Photo courtesy of Debby Thomas

The Natural Connection INC is proud to offer a variety of programs, including trail riding for the public, as well as programs for corporate, leadership groups and scout troops. Families and friends come from all over the nation to enjoy the peace and beauty that this property has to offer. For more information, visit the website at www.thenaturalconnectioninc.com and learn more about Marriott Ranch.

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The Hardy Quarter Horses of Namibia Breed Profile

Versatile, intelligent, and even-tempered, the American Quarter Horse is one of the world's most beloved breeds and a symbol of the American West. Globetrotting equestrian, Janine Whyte, travels to Africa to learn how a new breed, the Hardy Quarter Horse, is bringing a little bit of the Wild West to Southern Namibia 

Photos and text by Janine Whyte. 

Ranch Koiimasis

Ranch Koiimasis, where the mountains meet the Namib Desert.

When I think of cattle stations and ranches I immediately conjure up images of Stetson donned cowboys in checked shirts and leather chaps, galloping across the plains to the thundering beat of hooves, pushing cattle in a haze of dust, sweat, and grime--with lassos at the ready to rein in any beast that wanders too far from the pack. 

The American cowboy created a style and reputation all of their own. Their lifestyle is iconic and glamorized in countless books, movies, and television shows……but the rough, remote, grueling and lonely work of a cowboy was not for the faint-hearted. They needed a trusty and stalwart companion, a horse whose history is uniquely tied with that of the land they roam. Enter the distinctive silhouette of the American Quarter Horse.

 Although “cowboys” originated in Mexico, they played an incredibly important role during the westward expansion of the United States of America.  In the 19th century, adventuring pioneers were in desperate need of hardy, tough, and willing horses--thus the story begins. They began crossing wild mustangs and Spanish stock from the Conquistadors with the horses that belonged to the colonizers. The result was a horse that appeared to have an innate “cow sense,” making it popular with the cattlemen. 

The main duty of a ranch horse in the American West was working cattle. Even after the invention of automobiles, horses were still irreplaceable for handling livestock on the range-- the many tracks, paths, and mountain passes being inaccessible to four wheels has proven time and again the priceless value of the versatile Quarter Horse. Honoring their incredible work ethic and invaluable existence to the United States cattle industry, it was the major Texas ranches that played a significant role in the development of the modern-day American Quarter Horse.

 Working cattle is not an easy task for any horse, they must be calm and strong, fast but not hot-tempered, sure-footed and agile. The American Quarter Horse combines all these qualities and more in a unique combination of speed and strength. Defined by a heavily muscled body, powerful shoulders and hindquarters, and strong sturdy legs, they are perfectly proportioned to work cattle. With a calm and docile temperament and gentle and steady demeanor, this breed remains calm under pressure and has the perfect personality for the stressful demands of cattle work.

working cattle at ranch koiimasis

Working Cattle at Ranch Koiimasis.

Crossing oceans and continents, the American Quarter Horse's legacy and influence has spread far and wide and can be found in the most seemingly unlikely of places. Nestled deep in the heart of the Tiras Mountains of Southern Namibia, Ranch Koiimasis sprawls across 40,000 hectares of extremely diverse terrain. Rich red granite boulders and majestic craggy mountains plunge gracefully to the fringes of the sands of the Namib Desert--a veritable nature lover's paradise that does not look too from scenes of popular western movies. It is here on this intensive ranching operation that you will find herds of Hardy Quarter Horses roaming free and working cattle.

Tiras Mountains at Ranch Koiimasis

Ranch Koiimasis is nestled amongst the Tiras Mountains, the Wild West of Southern Africa.

 This part of Southern Africa has no native horse population and the true story of how horses came to be in this part of the world may never be known. However, there are a number of theories, the most likely being that their origins are linked to escaped and released South African Military Horses and Namibian Bred German Horses that were used in military campaigns during World War I. Wild and free, these horses had to adapt to life in a harsh environment of searing heat and barren land--where drought is common and one constantly prays for rain. Survival became the main impetus and, perhaps, a reversion to more primitive and natural instincts than their domesticated counterparts, made these horses strong and hardy, aiding their continuity. Often called “ghost horses,” they ran from the sight of humans, fleeing anything sensed as a predator, virtually unreachable and untrainable.

The mares of Ranch Koiimasis

Roaming free--the mares of Koiimasis.

In the beginning, these were the only horses that Wulff Izko, owner and proprietor of Ranch Koiimasis had. Born and nurtured in the rugged surroundings of the ranch made these horses ideal physically for the terrain on which they were to work. However, that survival instinct and intense wild streak made it very difficult to put miles on their backs despite the attempts of many different training methods and the invitation of some of the finest cowboys to work their magic. It was Wulff’s intense passion and relentless pursuit of his dream to create the concept of the “Wild West” Ranch in Namibia. That led him to the idea of cross-breeding the wild horse--the idea being to preserve their natural instincts, toughness, and tenacity but to dilute the wildness with a calmer, cooler temperament that would accept training and enable them to work cattle proficiently. 

Firstly, he tried introducing some Arabian blood, another breed used to the vengeful will of the desert climes, with the added characteristics of being incredibly smart, intelligent, diligent and loyal but, the result was a horse that unfortunately proved too hot of a temperament to work in a cool and calm manner with the cattle. After acres of intense research, Wulff found the ideal solution to ensure his dream became a reality. Looking West, he found the famed American Quarter Horse--the answer to his prayers. Without a moment's hesitation the first Quarter Horse Stallion, Jabaroan, was bought and a breeding program introduced to build a generation of Hardy Mountain Quarter Horses which is still being fine-tuned and in operation today some fifteen years later.

Blueprint first generation quarter horse Ranch Koiimasis

Blueprint, first generation Quarter Horse.

During my three week stint at Ranch Koiimasis, I had the opportunity to sample a wide variety of this new breed of Quarter Horse, ranging from the first generation who had only about twenty-five percent of Quarter Horse blood to the third generation that comprised almost seventy-five percent Quarter Horse. From cantering across the wide open plains of the ranch to scaling some extreme rocky mountain passes, rounding up cattle and loose horses to checking fences and water points--these horses proved versatile and hardy, retaining a large portion of their intrinsic and instinctive survival herd mentality teamed with the steadfast calm work ethic of the Quarter Horse blood that now courses through their veins.

Josh first generation Quarter Horse Ranch Koiimasis

Josh, first generation Quarter Horse.

Attila third generation Quarter Horse Ranch Koiimasis

Atilla, third generation Quarter Horse.

Ranch Koiimasis offers the adventure of living on a working ranch in the wild African bush where oryx, springbok, ostrich and mountain zebra roam and frolic alongside the more familiar sight of cattle, where the magnificent craggy peaks of the Tiras Mountains seamlessly touch the sky, where the oldest desert in the world is on your doorstep, and where you can experience the rare blend of wild and free with calm and docile atop your unique Hardy Quarter Horse.

Extreme mountain riding at Ranch Koiimasis

Extreme mountain riding on Hardy Quarter Horses.

mountain views Ranch Koiimasis

Stunning mountain views with Spaniard.

Learn more about Ranch Koiimasis Holidays and Volunteering Opportunities. Connect with them on Facebook and Instagram

About the Author: Janine Whyte (Globetrotting Cowgirl), first got bitten by the travel bug in 2007 while backpacking around the world on a sabbatical from work. In 2009, she stumbled across the world of equitourism and discovered that she could combine her two greatest passions in life--horses and travel. Since her first horseback safari in Botswana in May 2009, Janine has traveled off the beaten track and on four hooves in over 20 countries enjoying many adventures, such as traversing the mighty Andes mountain range and crossing the oldest desert in the world. You can read more about her travels and follow her adventures on her blog. Connect with her on Facebook and Instagram

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Where to Ride in 2019: Droolworthy Riding Vacations

Let's face it. There are lots of great places to horseback ride around the world, so as we look to 2019, we had a hard time picking just a few to steer you towards. So this year, we're working to inspire you with bucket list destinations and fabulous photos so you can dream, plan and learn more about where you might want to ride. From the wilds of Wyoming to the lava fields of Iceland, check out photos from amazing places to ride in the new year.

Iceland horseback riding by flowers

Riding by flowers in Iceland with Íslandshestar.

#1 The Hideout Lodge & Guest Ranch, Wyoming

Pack your bags and head West to ride with The Hideout Lodge & Guest Ranch, a popular pick for solo female travelers, as well as families. We know they hire great wranglers at The Hideout, as the lovely Anna LoPinto worked there for a while and shared her story. This close to 650,000 acre working cattle guest ranch is located Shell, WY just east of Cody and Yellowstone National Park.

Travelers get dramatic photographs at this ranch and do not ride nose-to-tail. There's much room to wander and much big sky to enjoy in this part of Wyoming. Travelers also enjoy working cattle, archery, hiking, biking, fly-fishing, trapshooting, and scenic 4x4 vehicle tours. If you've never ridden horses in Wyoming, it's a must and this ranch is a great pick.

The Hideout Lodge Wyoming riding

#2 Íslandshestar, Iceland

Riding Icelandic horses in Iceland, the land of fire and ice, is a once in a lifetime experience that we at Equitrekking have been able to enjoy a few times for you! We've got to test out the trips... right!?!?! Icelandic horses are not intimadating at all and are super fun to ride with their smooth gaits and thick manes. The landscapes in Icleand are also just magical. You'll tolt across lava fields, to waterfalls, by glaciers and may even get to herd horses on a traditional horse drive. We like Íslandshestar, too, because they offer such diverse trips year-round. Whether you want to view the Northern Lights on horseback or take the traditional Golden Circle tour, they have great choices for equestrian vacations in Iceland. 

Ishestar Iceland horseback riding

#3 Kindred Spirits, Costa Rica

Why not ride a horse on the beach in 2019 and combine it with a bit of yoga in Costa Rica. Kindred Spirits offers wellness retreats from their jungle farm in Limón on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. Founder Terry Newton created Kindred Spirits combining her love for horses and passion for learning and sharing knowledge of meditation, yoga, mindfulness and the satisfaction that horseback riding in Costa Rica's lush rainforests and beautiful beaches can bring. Their Yoga in Harmony with Horses is a popular vacation for those who want to unplug and recharge in 2019... something we all need to do more of in general.

horseback riding in costa rica

You can't get much better than riding in the ocean bareback in Costa Rica. 

#4 Mountain Lodges of Peru, Peru

Visiting Machu Picchu is a dream for many. Mountain Lodges of Peru ups that dream further by taking travelers on inn to inn treks on horseback to Machu Picchu. Travelers stay at luxury lodges along the Salkantay Trail and spend days trekking through eleven eco-zones, from high Andean passes to cloud forests. This is a riding vacation where you can truly soak in authentic local culture, visiting remote villages and trying traditional Andean food. For those who like to ride Western, you're in luck. The horses have been trained Western-style and are fitted with American endurance saddles. The trip is capped off with a visit to Machu Picchu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the middle of a tropical mountain forest.

Mountain Lodges of Peru horseback riding

Trekking up high in Peru.

#5 Rendola and Castellare di Tonda, Tuscany

If "Under the Tuscan Sun" had you dreaming of Italy, make it happen in 2019. There are two great riding operators in Tuscany that lead travelers through vineyards to castles and serve outstanding local Italian food. We like Rendola and also Castellare di Tonda Resort & Spa, both of which base you in a Tuscany Farmhouse with daily riding and also excursions to villages. With Castellare di Tonda, you'll ride Western style on Quarter horses and Paint horses and Rendola takes you out English style on various breeds including Arabs, half-thoroughbreds, one Morgan and several Sicilians. With both, the food and wine are big attractions with Rendola offering pasta, rice and meat dishes and typical Italian sweets with the olives for the olive oil picked on the premises and eggs, turkeys and ducks are all home produced. It's bellisimo!

Riding in Tuscany Italy

Riding Western style in Italy.

There are lots of other fabulous chocies for saddling up around the world in 2019. Check out more on TopRidingVacations.com, EquitrekkingTravel.com, Top20Ranches.com and in the Equitrekking Vacation Guide and enjoy.

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Horse Lover’s Vacation at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill

Equitrekking filmed an episode of their PBS series at Shaker Village back in 2013, wherein Darley rode through the village’s nature preserve and learned about the historic legacy of the Shakers and their unique and fascinating utopian lifestyle. This past October, I had the opportunity to visit Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill myself, and was astonished by the home-spun comfort, fascinating historic significance, and multitude of family-friendly activities offered at Shaker Village.

Shaker Village Percheron Pasture

The Preserve

Ben Leffew has been the Preserve Manager at Shaker Village since 2009. In 2006, he told me, the property was agricultural, but now 1,200 of the 3,000 acres of original Shaker land that have been recovered are dedicated to the conversion of farmland into a native prairie ecosystem. Ben proudly stopped us at a place where I could see the preserve, the farmland, and the criss-crossing trails – a sight that represents the entirety of Shaker Village’s efforts to create a sustainable, useful, guest-friendly place.

Controlled burns are conducted every February, along with selective spraying and mowing, to suppress invasive species such as Chinese Huckleberry and poison hemlock and provide fresh nutrients to support the thriving of the desired native plant species. Chinese Huckleberry, Ben said, is hard to get rid of, and its red berries can indeed be seen growing thick in large swaths where they appear around the preserve.

 The focus of the preserve’s wildlife conservation efforts is plants and birds, who act as indicator species and can thus help track how well the preserve staff are doing. The crew regularly catches and tags swallows and monarch butterflies, and the preserve now boasts the highest population of Bobwhite quail in the state.

As we cruised back toward the Visitor Center in the ATV, I reached my hand toward a monarch butterfly that fluttered alongside us. I was several inches shy of it, and at any rate it was probably smarter than to fly toward my hand. Ben was entertained by my attempt. “If you’d have caught that, you’d really have had something to brag about.”

Shaker Village Duck Mike Moore

Mike Moore cradles a duck at Shaker Village.

The Farm

The farm sits on only an acre and a half of land on the other end of the property. Assistant Farm Manager Mike Moore is intimately familiar with the farm’s yields as well as its regular rotations, soil quality, companion crops, natural insect repellants, compost, and animals, all of which have distinct and important jobs that keep the farm running. He and the Shaker Village agricultural team have an amazing and very self-sufficient system in place that closely emulates the sustainable farming practices perfected by the Shakers more than 150 years ago. 

lessons in sustainability Shaker Village

Learning about sustainability at Shaker Village.

The crops and animals on the farm reflect this; Mike pointed out the heirloom breeds to me, including Dorset sheep and the beautiful and personable Indian Runner Ducks, as well as the heirloom vegetables that are the result of the great care taken to preserve the genealogy of Shaker seeds. 

Shaker Village Chickens Pigs Compost

Chickens, Pigs and Compost at The Farm

The farm proudly grows nearly four tons of straight-from-the-garden produce each year, most of which ends up on guest’s plates in the restaurant at the converted Trustee’s Office. The best from each crop is selected to be sent to the kitchens, and any leftover or otherwise unsuitable produce is donated or recycled – that is, fed to the farm animals, who will use it to create compost for the following season’s crops.

The Restaurant

The Trustee’s Table is the very exclusive-sounding, invitation-only sort of title for the Inn’s dining hall. Some of the Village’s most elegant architecture is seen in this building, including the beautiful pair of spiral staircases that reach to the third floor. This building also offers a gift shop with woodcrafts, apparel, cards, kitchen brooms, a Shaker special, books, lotions, and a selection of Kentucky chocolates, sauces, and bourbon balls. I bought a beautiful, soft, and very long tartan scarf that I will cherish for a long time to come. It was drizzly and overcast while I was there, and temperatures were less than optimum.

Breakfast at the Trustee’s Table tastes as homemade as expected in a place with an on-site farm. The bacon is perfectly crisped, and the sausage is what you always hope to get but never do when you go to a restaurant. scrambled eggs, yogurt, fried potatoes, fresh fruit, and oatmeal with baked cinnamon apples straight from the orchard, and quite a few other things. Each table receives pumpkin muffins and biscuits, as well as your choice of coffee, tea, juice, and milk.

Lunch offerings include several salad options, soup, and southern staples like fried green tomatoes and country fried chicken. Dinner (reservations recommended) has a more elegant aesthetic with crab cakes, quail, and trout. I ate my breakfasts at Shaker Village, but for dinner I ferreted advice from the Village staff regarding their favorite places to eat in downtown Herrodsburg.  I can highly recommend the Kentucky Fudge Company for a fun family atmosphere in a pub-turned-café, and The Owl’s Nest for a cozy, elegant, date night vibe.

Shaker Village Stables

During my stay in Shaker Village I was also invited to experience a sunset trail ride with Gabby Kreinbrook, Equine and Stable Assistant at the Shaker Village Stable. We set out on her two chestnut geldings, who were delightfully well-behaved and the best-trained horses I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Although the day was somewhat too overcast to really see a gorgeous sunset, we were treated to a palpable change in the energy of the preserve as its inhabitants settled down for the night. We saw no fewer than 8 deer, including an impressive buck that stuck around long enough for Gabby to orchestrate an impromptu photo shoot.

Sarah Mohler Shaker Village

The author, Sarah Mohler, at Shaker Village.

The Village does not rent horses, but guests traveling with their own horses may ride them on the preserve’s trails (for a fee of $10 per day.) 14 distinct trails through the preserve are listed on the Village’s website, most of which are loops, and 33 of the 37 miles of trails allow horses. Trailer parking and boarding ($10 per night for a paddock, $30 for a stall,) and turnout are also available. 

Shaker Village’s website is light on horse info, but Gabby explained that the horses the farm does own earn their keep, as all of the animals at Shaker Village do, by working. The two Shire sisters, Sadie and Roz, provide the horsepower for the wagon rides and the farm’s plows, as do the great Russian Percherons, and they all spend a great deal of time at pasture as well.

Shaker Village horses

Sadie and Roz.

Shaker Village Activities

Upon check-in, guests receive a folder stuffed with maps, wedding and catering info, menus, pamphlets, flyers for activities, and an annual almanac that details the daily and signature events guests can enjoy. In the time that I was there, I explored more than half a dozen buildings, including a private tour of the Center Family Dwelling which was under construction, learned about the darker side of Shaker life on a spirit stroll, took a carriage ride and a hay ride, watched the farm’s ducks on their daily parade, listened to traditional Shaker music, toured the preserve and the farm, and, of course, bought some souvenirs.

As I looked over the almanac back in my room, I realized that I couldn’t possibly see or do everything they had to offer during a 2-day visit. There are harvests, tours, tastings, concerts, demonstrations of Shaker customs and artifacts, trail runs, and a riverboat ride on the Kentucky River.

Shaker Village Spacious Room

The Inn has 72 guest rooms, suites and private cottages in 13 historic buildings.

Fortunately, there’s a flyer in my guest folder detailing the benefits of buying a seasonal pass, and even if I were to only return once in the next year, the pass would easily pay for itself. And I will have to return, because my apple butter is almost gone.

Shaker Village is located in a cradle of the long and winding Rt 68 in Herrodsburg, Kentucky, near the Kentucky River. For reservations or to explore their extensive website, visit shakervillageky.org.

Read about Darley’s visit to Shaker Village and Janet Eaton’s “50 State Trail Riding Project” article.

About the author: Sarah Mohler is a Cleveland-based editorial intern for Equitrekking. She has worked in hippotherapy and boarding facilities in Ohio, a horse rescue in Maryland, and a trail riding business in the Colorado Rockies, and holds a bachelor’s degree in Equine Facility Management from Lake Erie College.  She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in Creative Writing from the NEOMFA program at Kent State University, and hopes to write her thesis on the evolution of man’s relationship with horses.  When not writing, reading, annotating, teaching, workshopping, or grading papers, she enjoys going for walks, eating sushi, and snuggling under a soft blanket with her boyfriend.

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Cincinnati’s Bed and Breakfast with Horses

Ride and Rest at First Farm Inn in Ohio.

Visitors to the Bluegrass State interested in equestrian culture are known to flock toward Louisville and Lexington, the respective homes of Thoroughbred breeding and racing. However, some of the friendliest, coziest, and most interesting places can be found far from these commercial capitals, among the gentle hills the state is known for. In Kentucky’s northwest corner sits First Farm Inn, a relaxing bed and breakfast that offers a vintage, homey charm to horsemen and non-horsemen alike, as well as being a haven for animal lovers. Cats abound and Odo the old herding dog loves attention.

First Farm Inn horseback riding

First Farm Inn is located on 21 acres in western Boone County, Kentucky. Owner Jen Warner purchased the property for the express purpose of creating a vintage B&B experience for visitors to the area. Jen wanted her then-toddling child to grow up on a farm, and also harbored a dream of running her own B&B. She has now been doing so for 20 years. In those 20 years she has hosted honeymoons, business trips, family vacations, and girlfriend getaways, and can talk at length about all the interesting people that have spent a night, or several, at the inn. Her B&B has also been a finalist for the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business “SUCCESS” Award five times.

If you schedule a horseback ride, you can expect an experience that includes prepping your horse – guests groom and tack their own horses while Jen freely answers any questions they have about her horses, or horses in general. For horse enthusiasts that have not yet taken the plunge that is horse ownership, Jen encourages all of your questions about buying, riding, and caring for a horse. If you’re an equestrian yourself, you can swap stories instead.

First Farm Inn B&B

You then enjoy a short centered riding lesson in the fenced outdoor arena, focused on posture, balance, speed, turning, stopping and, perhaps the biggest challenge, sitting through your horse’s trot in a way that keeps your seat incredibly secure while also putting minimal strain on your horse’s back. Jen explains the physicality of riding as well as why centered riding is effective with regard to both human and horse physiology. She also invites you to silence her if she talks too much.

After this you take to the trails, hills, meadows and ponds that take up much of First Farm Inn’s property. Trotting through a field in flower, with the blue sky above and the sun lighting up the grass under you, is a singular pleasure. Just be sure you catch your horse before he catches a mouthful of grass! At various points in the ride you can Jen loves taking pictures of her riders enjoying themselves, and before returning, she offers to take pictures of them in front of the barn, both as guest keepsakes and to share on social media.

Six horses currently call First Farm Inn home, from the 1,400 lb Paint Draft Bode to the compact bay Mustang Koda, so rides go out with Jen in the lead and a maximum of 5 guests. Riders as young as five years are welcome, as long as they can follow directions well. You don’t have to stay overnight at the B&B to take a trail ride, however, and guests are welcome to bring their own horses as well. Spacious overnight stabling in the barn can be included in your reservation for an additional $25 (no stallions please.)

Both of the guest rooms at the farm have en-suite bathrooms, complete with towels, shampoos, body washes, and various other necessary sundries, in case you find your suitcase coming up short. My room also came equipped with even more essentials – 3 glass jars filled with candy, pretzels, and chocolate-drizzled shortbread cookies. Informational binders provide a history of the rooms and their furniture, which reflects the house’s original time period as much as possible. The Treetops room, on the second floor, offers a view of the barn, while the first floor’s 1870s room looks out into the front yard.

First Farm Inn horseback riding

Breakfasts at the inn are homemade, served family-style, and, in my experience, downright decadent. There were four kinds of sweet bread, fresh fruit, coffee, tea, ice water, cider, and a variety of juice and milk options. For those of us who prefer our coffee white, there was a generously-sized bottle of French Vanilla creamer. Light from the chandelier overhead shone on the silverware and soft music played from some hidden speaker. A mouthwatering array of main course options are listed in the informational binder provided at check-in and include breakfast casserole, biscuits and gravy, and seven-grain pancakes. The Caramel Walnut French Toast served with sausage or bacon is highly recommended, being as warm and delicious as it sounds.

Eating breakfast with strangers is casual and relaxed. There was a delightful couple visiting from Indiana when I was there. Jen is happy to share the history of the house, as well as the artwork, furniture, and the musical instruments that make up much of the interior décor. Prints of Jen’s watercolor paintings, which can be seen in the shared spaces on the first floor, are available for purchase, as well as maple and walnut jewelry, a quaint cookbook of recipes offered by family and former guests, and handmade soaps.

First Farm Inn B&B

Ensuring that guests have a complete and full northeastern Kentucky experience is a top priority at First Farm Inn. Guests are provided with a surplus of pamphlets and extensive, specially made lists of things to do in and around Cincinnati. If you prefer specific recommendations or a particular type of diversion, Jen is more than happy to offer information, advice, and personal reviews of local restaurants, historic sites, family activities, and entertainment.  The inn is situated in an area that is comfortably remote but also a reasonable drive from civilization. 15 minutes from Burlington, downtown Petersburg, and Lawrenceburg, Indiana, and 20 minutes from downtown Cincinnati (assuming you avoid rush hour.) 

First Farm Inn is located just south of I-275, a cartwheel away from the Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana borders. To reserve a room, a ride, or both, visit firstfarminn.com or call Jen Warner at 859-586-0199.

About the author: Sarah Mohler is a Cleveland-based editorial intern for Equitrekking. She has worked in hippotherapy and boarding facilities in Ohio, a horse rescue in Maryland, and a trail riding business in the Colorado Rockies, and holds a bachelor’s degree in Equine Facility Management from Lake Erie College.  She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in Creative Writing from the NEOMFA program at Kent State University, and hopes to write her thesis on the evolution of man’s relationship with horses. When not writing, reading, annotating, teaching, workshopping, or grading papers, she enjoys going for walks, eating sushi, and snuggling under a soft blanket with her boyfriend.

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Race the Wild Coast-Part 3

By Katy Willings. Read Part 2 & Part 3 of this series. 

Equestrian adventurer and endurance rider, Katy Willings shares the lessons learned during Race the Wild Coast, a 350-kilometer horseback riding endurance race along the eastern seaboard of South Africa, from Port Edward to Kei Mouth.

Take in beauty wherever you see it. It’s oddly consoling

“Hey look!  Whales breaching!”

Riding with Courtney was a gift in so many ways.  A beautiful rider,  thoroughly prepared and fit, but above all, just a sunny and positive disposition.  Our second horses carried or accompanied us over, under and through some of the toughest terrain of the entire event.  There were ascents which we hiked, mouths agape and throats on fire, able to reach out and touch the ground in front of us without leaning forward, such as the incline, and of course, what goes up, must come down.  There were stony, rocky, slippery muddy descents which left us skiiing, reaching out for any hand or foothold to help us, the horses waiting at the end of 30 foot of leading rein for us to vacate the very limited landing options before making their own way down. 

day one race the wild coast south africa

An example of the beautiful country and terrain we were riding in. Photo courtesy Daniela Zondagh.

 I would frequently hear a deep groan from my horse and the scrabbling of hooves, followed by a heartbeat’s silence as he jumped and then see a hoof land right next to my gloved and trembling hand, and feel true wonder and gratitude that the horse was so careful as to avoid trampling me.  The efforts they made to descend safely and efficiently, and consider their human team-mates was humbling. 

dangerous terrain race the wild coast

Despite the difficult terrain, our horses always did their best to keep their human teammates safe. Photo courtesy Daniela Zondagh. 

Internally, I was suffering a lot, at times, feeling blisters develop on my feet and ankles, hyperventilating from the excruciating jolt to my arm every time I mounted or dismounted, encumbered by backpack and cursing my unorthodox physical preparation for the event.  I bet no-one else was finding it this tiring. And just when the defeatism might have started to settle, we came round a blustery headland, hugging a vertiginous cliff that put us right out over the Indian Ocean, where there were several whales down in the surf. Courtney pointed them out to us, beaming.  These moments of levity and sublime natural beauty reminded us how ridiculously lucky we were to be in this awful, awful situation.  Oh, poor me, leading this fabulous horse across this wild paradise. 

Prepare for success on the ground and it will follow in the saddle.

What you did in the downtime was mission critical, always.  It would be hard to identify on the race who the ‘best’ rider was, so much of what we were doing bore little resemblance to riding.  Horsemanship was certainly involved, but really, with all the other aspects of the event smacking you round the chops on a near constant basis, riding was the least of our concerns.  The best legs I had were always the ones preceded by a Formula One standard pit stop.  I had a list of things I had to get right before getting back in the saddle, and nothing could interrupt this.  The list grew as the race wore on and my own deterioration started to affect things. 

makin grey horse race the wild coast

Makin, the little grey engine that could. He never stopped trying. Photo courtesy Katy Willings. 

At Kob Inn, just 50 km from the finish line, 40 minutes was enough time to re-shoe Makin, my final horse, who had thrown a front shoe for the second time.  Pelo the farrier did not have a great deal of hoof left to work with and deftly re-shaped the foot to take two corner toe clips, like a hind shoe, to give me a better chance of hanging on to it for the homeward leg.  While Makin stood patiently on three legs, I fed him from a bucket, watered him, rubbed his hamstrings and cleaned his girth and back, all with my tights around my ankles.  This was because a saddle sore on my thigh which had begun to nag the previous afternoon was now a site so painful it made sitting in the saddle at a trot, our go-to pace, unbearable.  It needed dressing. 

 I also needed feeding and watering and could have done with a pee, too, but there were limits. I knew as soon as I levered back into the saddle, I’d regret not making the dressing the priority.  Two other riders and Ian and Katja from the Rockethorse crew, all attended me, bringing me ointments and bandages, food, water, and just carrying on as if it were the most normal thing in the world.  Enjoy the photo!

pit stop at kob race the wild coast

A legendary pit stop at Kob. Photo courtesy Katja Joachim. 

The luckier riders (or those who had field tested their kit and were not subject to the same misfortunes I was suffering), probably completed their ‘pit stop’ duties in ten minutes, not 30.  They may have actually had some downtime. However, I was always running hard to stand still, just trying to keep up and outrun my own little issues. 

Observe the Law of Tyson.  “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”

What I mean by this one is that success on this race is a dynamic thing.  Plans and ambitions have their place, but more crucial is the ability to set your plans aside and make new ones, fast.  And be ready to revise them too.  I love the AERC motto, “to complete is to win”, and think this event, and certainly, my particular experience of it, embodies that motto neatly.  There were a couple of pinch points in the race where I could have sling-shotted back up the order and aimed for a different kind of success.  Our little pod of four riders crept up to eight or nine over the second day, as other riders had issues with their horses and dropped off the back of the leading pack.  We hung together loosely and navigated the vet checks within a few minutes of each other, but Courtney, Cat and I felt like a team within the team; we’d hold each other’s horses and bring each other food or water.  

On Day Three we had an exciting tactical victory; having overnighted a full 20 km stage behind the leaders, we set off at 4.45 AM, to ride in the dawn light, what they had ridden in the dark 12 hours earlier.  We did suspect that we would close the gap, but we did more than that and actually arrived at Hululeka at 6:00 AM, and passed the vet at 6.03 AM.  We’d be riding out again at 6.43 AM, smack in the middle of the leading pack and within ten minutes of the race leader.

However, those we slingshotted past did not give up their lead easily! Within 20 minutes,  two and three riders had caught up and galloped past us. Our entire group turned into a racing pack, barely taking a pull up and down serious country and down very narrow tracks.  There was a bit of brinkmanship going on and Cat, Courtney, and I all felt we didn’t want to be in and amongst that salmon run. Kwacha my horse was incredibly capable but very lit up by the racing and getting silly.  At one point I lost him while trying to remount after a hiking section, and he galloped for the hills and caught up with the rest of the herd.

makin

Makin. Photo courtesy Katy Willings. 

It took me a long time to run over to him and remount, and I saw Cat was also crusted in mud, she had also taken a tumble in the melee.  A lack of strength to fight with our mounts and peel them off the back of the group meant we continued to race as a herd into the next vet check, in the heat of the day.  Everyone was scrabbling for washing water to cool the horses, this the first time in the race that the sun had broken through, or that we had come in to a vet check with any degree of speed (Kwacha had more or less flown down the beach, with my efforts to anchor him falling on deaf ears).  A lot of the riders took the full 20 minutes to return their horses to a resting heart rate of 64.  I knew Kwacha was uncommonly fit and though he was hot, I presented him at 13 minutes.  He was 64 on the nose.  Phew! Courtney’s little stallion was five or six minutes behind us.

I could ride back out into the salmon run, get overtaken again by the faster riding Americans, Julie and Melissa, and the speed merchant Mohammed from UAE--and deal with my lit-up horse.  Or, I could hang back and let them go, possibly never to be seen again, and continue to ride my own race with Courtney and Cat.  If you had asked me a week pre-race what I would have done, I would have said “join the race.  You just earned that success, so go and capitalize on it”.  But after a fair few punches to the face, my plans needed adjusting.  I knew I would not win this race; too unfit, too horse-centric, too many mistakes.  I would not risk the horse for my placing, and I would not ride off without the ladies who were propping me up on an almost continuous basis.

At the final horse change, 25 km later, my final horse choice reflected that same decision, which could now not be undone.  I chose a horse that looked older, wiser, more independent, less flashy than the glorious Kwacha and enigmatic Zerango.  Makin was totally white and long in the tooth, a teenager I assumed.  Not too tall, for easy mounting and dismounting.  Alert but not daft.  Not a big mover (this in itself would help me I assumed, now that saddle soreness was emerging).  He was the right partner for the remainder of my race; one that would just let me ride him, not fight to hold him. 

Our double shoe-loss cost us another hour and more of race time vs the leaders.  He was footsore almost immediately and we had 8 km of sharp stony tracks to hike to get to a vet and the farrier, which was a painstaking walk in the heat of the afternoon.  I sent Cat and Courtney on without me and continued solo, running out of water at some point, and, worse, feeling the elastic ‘ping’ of my sports bra as the front zip apparently gave way.  I stood at the side of a dusty road laughing for a while about that one.  Of all the things that would be race ending, breaking my sports bra was a good one.  Well played, Mike Tyson, well played.  

Unable to access my underwear on the march I just walked on gloomily and added it to the list of “things I will deal with if we ever make it to the next vet check”.  We did, and I did, and after some motivational talks with Wiesman (the horse was perfectly sound, he’d perk up after a feed and with his trainers back on) and Australian vet Cozy (you can ride on with Julie from here, you are not that far behind, and you have a lot of folks rooting for you at home.  Here, let me stick a vet wrap on that thigh), we trucked on again.  

That night, as I joined the rest of the pack at The Haven, Cat and Courtney told me they would wait to ride out with me the following morning, giving up a 20-minute lead.  This, for me, is the stuff of true adventure--we pool our resources, equine and human, and keep each other going.  And we roll with the punches.  They took many more punches for being in proximity to me…

Take home a better version of yourself.

This event is a wonderful test of human and horse.  It’s a conduit to much larger things, and about so much more than riding and traveling, or even the Wild Coast.  I was turned inwards for so much of this race, bent to the task of carrying on, that the beauty, fun, and glamour of it were only showing up in memory weeks later. 

the finish line race the wild coast

The finish line. Photo courtesy Ian Haggerty. 

The fun was definitely there though.  Riding away from our first re-shoeing, with Julie for the company, Makin refreshed and back on form, Barry flew overhead in the backup helicopter.  It’s shadow danced across us on the beach we were cantering down, waves crashing to our left, blue skies overhead.  Our horses had something of a ‘moment’ - they feigned fear at the helicopter and started to gallop, flat out, down the beach.  Makin, the horse I had considered the most business-like and steady of the set available--was the fastest thing I had ridden. He was absolutely lightning.  Julie and I looked at each other as if to say “should we try and slow them down?” but we had kilometers of beach ahead, 20 km more in which to settle them down, so we let them run.  

I had tears rolling down my cheeks--possibly from the wind, but also as an emotional response to such a massive rush of adrenaline and wellbeing--of that sense of time and place and “don’t ever forget this moment”.  I won’t.

About the Author: Katy Willings was the Mongol Derby Chief from 2011-2018 and erstwhile Chief of Adventures at The Adventurists.  Based in Bristol, UK, she was a junior international dressage rider in her teens.  She rode in the inaugural Mongol Derby, the world's longest horse race, in 2009, sparking a later endurance riding career which saw her compete up to 120 km internationally, and became a full-time Adventurist in 2010, working on the Derby, and later the Ice Run, Icarus Trophy, and Monkey Run.  In the course of producing high profile events for the Adventurists, she has ridden vintage Russian motorcycles in sub-zero temperatures, wrangled with customs in far-flung places, managed local and international teams to deliver logistically complex and culturally significant goods and services--and even learned to fly a paramotor.  Kind of.  She finally did her motorcycle test in May 2018 and took to the open road, legally, this summer. She has worked with horses in Europe, led horse treks and safaris in Mongolia and Malawi, and men and machines in Morocco, Siberia, and Sierra Leone.  She has had as much adventure putting on the adventures, as the participants have had taking part.  Oftentimes, a great deal more.  She laughs in the face of people doing only two things at once.  

She runs beautiful riding adventures in Mongolia, her spiritual home, from her bespoke offering, Morindoo Tours. Follow along with her adventures on Instagram and Twitter. 

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Race the Wild Coast 2018-Part 2

By Katy Willings. Read Part 1 & Part 3 of this series. 

Equestrian adventurer and endurance rider, Katy Willings shares her wild ride with Race the Wild Coast, a 350-kilometer endurance race on horseback along the eastern seaboard of South Africa, from Port Edward to Kei Mouth.

Swim training and horse orientation

During the briefings, we drew for our first horses.  I drew the exotic-sounding Zerango and during a lull in briefings, all the riders dashed outside to see which horse in the paddock had their number on. Mine, when I found him, wasn’t in the paddock at all, but a corral all of his own--a stallion!  He looked pretty unimpressed with the human he had drawn, and in fact, Wiesman, who owned and prepared all of the horses for this adventure, had to persuade him to stand still and be caught so I could get a hand to him.  So that was a good start.  

zerango race the wild coast swim training

Zerango, the beautiful Joker. Photo courtesy Ian Haggerty. 

Civilities aside, it was clear that he was a superb horse; big fronted, uphill, alert, muscular, covered in the scuffs and scrapes that proper stallions tend to be.  Wiesman himself had ridden a 50 km race on the horse a couple of weeks earlier.  “He’s a character, but he’s worth it”.  My experience with the very wild horses of Mongolia (I rode the inaugural Mongol Derby in 2009 and have organized all the subsequent ones for The Adventurists), had taught me not to seek affection or approval from horses, especially on a first meeting.  Simply co-exist and get your point across quietly and clearly--and establish a way of working together.  Hopefully, bonds of loyalty and warmth can follow.  He was not my pet, but my team-mate.  I immediately saw his independence as a strength; he had much more idea about how to navigate this crazy race than I did, and I would be trusting his opinion about what was safe far more than my own.

The first ride involved a rude awakening almost immediately, as we rode off at five-minute intervals to a lagoon for a practice paddle.  After 50 meters we turned into the dense forest, and what looked to me like an impassable trail.  “You must decide whether to ride or get off”, Barry had said, somewhat enigmatically.  Was this a test?  Had I failed it already? Well no-one else had turned back, so I slipped Zerango some rein and nudged him forwards, upwards, and sideways, simultaneously; basically he had to decide for himself how to ascend a twisty, rock-strewn, creeper threaded cliff, in the half-light, with his rider ducked low to get under a series of boughs that could wipe you clean off the horse, muttering things like “ooh, careful there, well done, that’s good, you clever thing, whoops there, duck again”.  

Again, I imagine he felt some relief that none of his herd mates were in earshot while his rider 'grew a pair' and got her eye in for what would become our absolute bread and butter over the next 72 hours.  Coming up for air and daylight at the top of the ridge, then riding down to the water’s edge, I felt a genuine elation and wellspring of appreciation for the horse and what he could do.  At that point I had no idea that this really was the elementary class for Racing the Wild Coast, and am so glad I kept my “well crumbs, that was pretty crazy!” comments to myself on catching up with my fellow competitors on the shore.  It got so, so much tougher.

swim training race the wild coast

Zerango enjoying a good roll, regardless of his rider. Photo courtesy Ian Haggerty. 

Our first swim was more of a wade, and so on training Day Two, we were instructed to be saddled and mounted at 6:00 am to ride out as a pack for a proper swim session, supervised by the brilliant crew riders who had been prepping the horses for many weeks for the event. As we arrived at the beach for a quick briefing as a herd, Zerango stretched down to scratch his nose.  And then continued on to have a proper roll, causing me to leap acrobatically out the side door before he rolled on me.  Well played, horse.  We were definitely the jokers in the pack, for better or worse.

Wiesman brought one of the greener spare horses along and rode him on a halter with a rein around the horse’s chest for steering, a memorable lesson in how unnecessary and surplus all of that tack is if you are genuinely gifted as a rider.  He rode it into the crashing waves without ceremony or hesitation, as the Rocketeers were busy persuading their mounts to get a single hoof wet and cope with the extraordinary dizzying sensation of riding a straight line along a lapping tidal beach.  

race the wild coast zerango

Zerango. Photo courtesy Ian Haggerty. 

We cantered through the surf as a pack and it was here that my horse showed me what he could do.  He was beautifully balanced, fantastically independent, happy to go at his own pace, and could out-trot most of the other horses at a canter--the most fabulous horse to sit on.  All was forgiven.  We had to cross a river to get home again, so the group gingerly pushed off from the far bank with Barry’s instructions ringing in our ears.  Get the horse to swim a couple of strokes before slipping off to the side and hooking the right arm over the saddle to keep you together.  You might need to steer, they may want to turn, but in general, stay off the bridle so that their head stays up and out of the water.  Their nostrils are at the bottom, don’t forget...

What he didn’t brief us on was what happens as they exit the water.  What happened to me had a huge bearing on the rest of my race.  Zerango swam confidently, and was on his feet swiftly, as I was still waterborne and hanging off his bridle and the pommel of the saddle.  He started to tow me ashore, pulling me further off my feet and putting more pressure on his head as I fought to hold on to him (don’t ever let this horse go, had been the advice of NC--who had done his training rides).  He literally heaved me ashore like a deep sea fish, hanging on to him with one arm.  I thought he had pulled my shoulder clean out of its socket.  Well, he didn’t, but there were a distinct ripping sound and sensation, and a burning, shooting pain running up and down my arm as soon as the initial adrenaline rush wore off and we were back to base camp. 

zerango shoulder energy

Katy getting her shoulder pulled out of its socket. Ouch! Photo courtesy Ian Haggerty.  

So that was quite enough training!

Patched up and ready for battle - don’t look like shark bait

We had the rest of the day, and all night, to make final preparations, and in my case, stew over whether I was even fit to start.  In a competition like this, showing the damage to your compatriots and rivals makes you a liability.  With the best will in the world, no one will want to ride with the sick one, it’s like swimming in shark infested waters with a bloodied steak tied round your neck.  You don’t want to be the slowest, and you sure as hell don’t want to be stuck nannying them. So, I spent most of that day on my own, and politely out of reach of the field except at the veterinary and technical briefings--just monitoring my own pain and seeing what a series of anti-inflammatories did.  A limited amount.  

hiking to the start line

The start of Race the Wild Coast. Photo courtesy Katy Willings. 

We officially vetted the horses in at around 4:00 PM, their numbers spray-painted onto their quarters and a nice first trot up before we all got too wet and dirty.  I mentioned to a couple of the crew, Alex, and Nicola, about the shoulder and how I had done it in swim training.  These two ladies saved me that evening.  Alex, a fellow Mongol Derby veteran, and fellow “push through the pain” kind of girl, and a world class horsewoman in her own right, taped my shoulder with the skill of someone who has a lot of practice artificially supporting major joints.  This allowed me a much greater range of motion with confidence - the tape would take some of the strain at the limit.  

Meanwhile, Nicky and I discussed swim tactics.  If the same thing happened again, I’d be toast, and we had no less than 32 rivers to cross in order to finish the race.  Many of these would be a swim.  Rather than sliding off to the side and having to get to my feet at all, Nicky told me to try swimming directly above the horse and wriggling back onto the saddle just as he started to walk, rather than swim.  Effectively, let the horse catch you again before exiting the water.  We had no opportunity to practice this, but it sounded simple enough.  Lastly, she slipped me a more ‘traditional’ form of pain relief and told me to turn in and sleep on it.  I devoured the hash cake with the relief of someone who knows that their mum was not watching and hunkered down in the sleeping bag. 

hike to start race the wild coast

The hike to the starting line. Photo courtesy Ian Haggerty. 

I don’t know for sure but as we hiked up to the start line 12 hours later, I think we looked, to the rest of the field at least, like contenders, not shark bait.  We very quickly had far more important things to think about.

And we’re off!

Day One: Control your kit, control your fear.  The horses will help

The first day involved 75 km broken into two stages.  Everyone had to get to the compulsory overnight stop, so the spread of the field would be controlled only by our departure times the following morning, for our third and final stage with our first horses. 

The reality was a lot less tidy than this.  For most of the day, the overnight stop felt like another planet, a whole dimension away. There seemed to be no end to the hazards in between.  It was genuine shellshock to be out and racing across terrain so rugged and remote, and 75 km meant very little indeed, almost immediately.  Within 5 km of the start, I'd already had my cantle bag, containing my sleeping bag, work itself loose and bounce around intolerably on Zerango’s bottom, forcing me to dismount and try and re-secure it to the back of the saddle while the rest of the field streamed past us.  A couple of incredibly generous riders, Chetta and Courtney, offered to wait with me, and Chetta even gave me a bungee cord to help secure the bag.  I could tell that it would be an involved procedure to re-fit the saddle bag and decided to hold it for now and perhaps re-fit it at the first vet check. After all, we had mainly beach to navigate for the next 20 km. Easy! 

As I levered back into the saddle, we saw another rider, Melissa, hit the ground.  Her horse then streamed past.  She was bleeding from the face and had also hurt her wrist badly in the fall, but was determined to ride on, and we helped her catch her horse and remount.  From there we continued that day as a team of four, out the back but decidedly safe there and determined to work as a team to overcome any other ensuing dramas.  I hadn’t committed pre-race to ride with anyone, and I hadn’t ruled it out either, but these two episodes in quick succession made me want to join forces.  It seemed likely on this event that everyone would need a rescue at some stage.

day one race the wild coast

Day One of Race the Wild Coast. Photo courtesy Katy Willings. 

The great stretch of beach we finally emerged onto after the treacherous tangle of the forest gave us a great opportunity to get some speed up, see what our mounts could do, and what their strengths were. Before the first big swim, we agreed to all get off and make any kit adjustments, take a pee, or take any painkillers, as required.  Having cantered down the beach holding my cantle bag like it was a picnic basket, I took the opportunity to reattach it with Zerango parked next to a nice tall rock to give me some leverage.  We were back within sight of the leading pack at this point but decided to keep our pod of four and stay out of the salmon run up front; both Melissa and I were slow to mount and dismount, for good reason, and we couldn’t risk further rough and tumble type injuries. 

However, plenty of 'rough and tumble' was available without reference to other horses and riders. We frequently descended treacherous cliffs to get down to the beaches.  The rivers were also a big challenge.  Even on the flats, the heavy rain on the first two days of the race meant that there was very little easy going; tracks were hopelessly slippery, the light was extremely poor, and sand was as likely to be sucking and draining.  This meant we were traveling a good deal slower than the riders had in 2016, especially on Day One.  Having launched the race at 10:00 AM, we only left the first vet check at around 3.30 PM, with less than three hours of daylight remaining.  Little did we know, and little did the organizers intend, but we’d be doing half this leg in the dark. 

The first vet check was a rude awakening in how quickly 40 minutes disappears.  Wiesman and other crew were there and they took the lead on feeding and watering the horses. My boy needed his own pen again, which made my job a little harder - other riders could take it in turns watching the horses while others fetched water, made running repairs, got food, checked the route for the next leg, etc.  Wiesman was generous in babysitting my horse awhile so I could sort my saddle bag, once and for all.  I think I rammed a cereal bar down but that really was all I had time for before we set off again.  Zerango had eaten up, peed and drunk a little, though he had done all that and more out on the trail too, so I had no concerns about his metabolic state.  He really was the healthiest and most vigorous of horses.

For around 90 minutes we enjoyed great positive progress, and a solid team dynamic. Chetta’s horse was ultra-reliable and would be first to go down the stone staircases or into deep water. Courtney was an absolute wizard with the GPS--and Melissa was hanging in there. I think we all got something positive from seeing her unbelievable stoicism and felt committed to getting her home, but her horse was fast and athletic and helped keep our cruising speed up; and I had Zerango, such a natural leader, who set the pace all day, and, as it turned out, into the night…

day one race the wild coast riding in the dark

Riding in last through the dark. Photo courtesy Daniela Zondagh

It was incredibly demoralizing to ride through the dying light, barely counting down the kilometers and knowing things would get much worse before they got better.  We lost the trail a number of times in the dark, and I found my headtorch only illuminated the rain slashing in at us.  I used a handheld torch as well, but this spooked the horses constantly and was equally frustrating.  Using the backlit GPS made us almost seasick once we had lost visual reference with the ground, the sky and everything else.  

We were hopping on and off the horses constantly trying to edge gingerly towards “the racing line” and see what it was pointing us up or down.  I knew at this point that we would survive the night--it wasn’t really a big drama, but I really did feel there was little point continuing.  We may as well drop anchor, stand around in this muddy puddle until dawn broke and try again.  I was too tired to even be cross about it, though at various points I did envision my next conversation with Barry, the race director--it was going to be terse, no mistake.  After what felt like hours of night riding, we were finally spat out onto hard sand, with just a lagoon to cross and 500 meters to the overnight stop, Mbotke.  

The swim held little terror for us, since we could not have been any wetter anyway, and could not see the bottom, the shore, or anything else to tell us if it was a good or bad idea.  Zerango swam confidently and we unsaddled at the vet check under floodlights.  We had a couple of cuts and scratches which would need a second check in the morning, but all was well--miraculously. The camp consisted of the same sturdy tents we had occupied at start camp, and I broke out the ultra lightweight sleeping bag which was dry, but hardly insulated. 

As I came to realize on the race, the quality of sleep you experience during an ultra-endurance event like this is different.  I think I would have slept on a bed of nails that night.  I just blacked out, every night, until the cold crept in or the alarm went off.  We had established a very powerful bond of trust with the horses, who had gotten us over, under, and through some unspeakable terrain and conditions, and with each other, and, in my own case, with myself.  I really was quite hard to kill!  If I could just get my act together and tie all my equipment on properly, I’d be laughing. 

Continue reading Part 3 of Race the Wild Coast

About the Author: Katy Willings was the Mongol Derby Chief from 2011-2018 and erstwhile Chief of Adventures at The Adventurists.  Based in Bristol, UK, she was a junior international dressage rider in her teens.  She rode in the inaugural Mongol Derby, the world's longest horse race, in 2009, sparking a later endurance riding career which saw her compete up to 120 km internationally, and became a full-time Adventurist in 2010, working on the Derby, and later the Ice Run, Icarus Trophy, and Monkey Run.  In the course of producing high profile events for the Adventurists, she has ridden vintage Russian motorcycles in sub-zero temperatures, wrangled with customs in far-flung places, managed local and international teams to deliver logistically complex and culturally significant goods and services--and even learned to fly a paramotor.  Kind of.  She finally did her motorcycle test in May 2018 and took to the open road, legally, this summer. She has worked with horses in Europe, led horse treks and safaris in Mongolia and Malawi, and men and machines in Morocco, Siberia, and Sierra Leone.  She has had as much adventure putting on the adventures, as the participants have had taking part.  Oftentimes, a great deal more.  She laughs in the face of people doing only two things at once.  

She runs beautiful riding adventures in Mongolia, her spiritual home, from her bespoke offering, Morindoo Tours. Follow along with her adventures on Instagram and Twitter. 

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Race the Wild Coast 2018- Part 1

Text by Katy Willings. Read Part 2 & Part 3 of this series. 

Equestrian adventurer and endurance rider, Katy Willings shares her wild ride with Race the Wild Coast, a 350-kilometer horseback riding endurance race along the eastern seaboard of South Africa, from Port Edward to Kei Mouth.

I am just back from the second ever Race the Wild Coast, a pioneering 350km multi-horse race from Port Edward to Kei Mouth, through some of the most magnificent, rugged, and remote terrain in South Africa, the formidable Transkei.

I was one of 14 human athletes competing in the race, and we each had a team of three horses, and the help and scrutiny of a fantastic veterinary and logistical support crew at hard-won intervals.  The race was broken down into 12 stages over four days, varying in length from 14 km to 44 km, and each bookended with an endurance racing-stye veterinary inspection and a hold for the horses if they were continuing on the next leg, or a horse change if it was time to switch horses. 

This event combines some of the racing strategy and horsemanship of an endurance ride with elements of pure adventure, even survival.  The toughness of the terrain and the conditions in which we were riding far surpassed anything I had experienced after a lifetime in the saddle and several FEI endurance stars to my name.  My experience of the race was colored in large part by my slightly haphazard preparation - I was a very late entry, being invited by the race director Barry Armitage of Rockethorse Racing just a few weeks pre-race, and with other commitments which kept me out of the saddle and the saddlery until the literal eve of the event.  

race the wild coast kwacha galloping on the beach

The author gallops Kwacha along the coastline. Photo courtesy Katy Willings. 

This made me the underdog but in general, the results are entertaining, and because I am somewhat bloody-minded,  I was able to get round in spite of myself and survive to tell the tale.  So here is my Calamity Kate report of Race the Wild Coast, which holds some tips for future Rockethorse Racers, in a kind of “do as I say, not as I did” parable.  It is a magnificent adventure, but not one to undertake lightly; enjoy my warts and all account, and commit to doing it properly, next year, if you like what you have read.

The event in a nutshell

Race the Wild Coast is the wildest horse race in the world; a remote equestrian odyssey across some of Earth's least accessible coastline, which must be self-navigated by GPS from beach to beach via vertiginous cliffs and punishing hills, dense forest, and yawning bodies of deep water. Contestants ride a series of three horses, theirs to manage and pace over multiple days and extended distances.  There is an emergency back up, and live tracking, but outside of that, an authentic, demanding exercise in self-sufficiency, courage, and independence.

race the wild coast

An example of the rugged terrain contestants must navigate. Photo courtesy Daniela Zondagh

Pre-race briefings and training

“You’re not going to get dry.  Ever”.  This was the pithy opener from organizer Barry Armitage of Rockethorse Racing, as we sat down to absorb the first ride briefing.  The racers gathered at Durban airport from all over the world and were transferred a couple of hours south the start line close to Port Edward.  We had been given an overview by email of how the event would run, with the proviso that most of the detail would be top secret until we arrived in the country. 

We did already know that this event is unique in including multiple serious deep water swims for horse and rider, hence you would be doing much of the race wet, and anything not stored cleverly in dry bags would be wet too.  So, the 5 kgs of kit we were allowed to carry, rather than wear (for example our sleeping bag, torch, knife, pajamas, medical kit, food rations) would only be usable if we got the storage just right.  The usual conundrums applied, about having enough kit to be able to handle various scenarios (injuries, different weather conditions) versus being able to stand packing and unpacking each morning without losing too much hair or time, and most importantly, not being too encumbered on the horse and off it.  Much of the race would involve getting off to hike or swim, and getting back on again.  Not so easy when you and horse are decked out with extra kilos and clutter.

barry race the wild coast

Barry, the race organizer, preps contestants for their next adventure. Photo courtesy Katy Willings. 

In the absence of an opportunity for serious kit testing (I got a place on September 20th, and disappeared on a two-week motorcycle tour around France and Spain on September 28th).  I simply banked all of this information mentally and resigned myself to being wet and uncomfortable for most of the race.  Would it stop me?  Probably not.  

Still, it was an enjoyable bus ride with all the other riders, comparing notes on what we had brought, what we would be wearing and carrying, what we already knew, and what we were dying to find out.  There was one repeat customer on the bus, Jamie, who had ridden the inaugural race in 2016 and was back to do even better, and he managed a barrage of questions pertaining to every aspect of the race with patience I could never have mustered.  Everyone loves a veteran.  

My approach did diverge quite significantly from that of the other riders, who had had six or nine months, rather than six or nine days, with the kit list.  We weighed out our kit on the eve of the race and had two practice rides in which to master the art of packing the saddle bag and our race equipment so that we could be totally self-sufficient for the duration of the race.  I went heavy on medications (never complain about something you can simply medicate - it’s a family motto), and light on spare clothes, since nothing would last the race clean and/or dry.  The sleeping bag I had to jettison, it was just too puffy and luxurious to attach to the back of the saddle, and so I swapped with one of the brilliant crew members, 2016 veteran Katja, taking her much smaller, lighter, frankly more pathetic, sleeping bag.  Still, this was a horse race, not a camping trip.  I didn’t dwell on it.

Briefings covered where we were going (south, keep the sea on your left) and how navigation was set up; relatively blinkered, in fact, something which I initially found really disappointing.  We would have a single path to follow on the GPS and were advised to zoom in very close, to within 120 m, to check constantly that we were precisely on the racing line.  This was because the terrain through which the racing line carved was so extreme that to be 1 km off the track could mean you were down a cliff you would never be able to get back up again, or in the dense forest, you would have no hope of hacking a way through on your own.  

race the wild coast river swims

River swims make up a large and intimidating portion of Race the Wild Coast. Photo courtesy Katy Willings. 

Similarly, the river crossings required accuracy, to find the shallowest and most forgiving channels and exit points, hopefully sparing the horses a sharp rock to the knees as they scrambled ashore.  All these reasons made sense--but still, I had pictured using a decade of navigation experience and distance riding experience to ‘read’ the country in front of us and decide on the ‘best’ path for me and my horses.  No.  We’d all go the same way; there was only one viable route.

We also talked through the rules, and emergency protocols.  Riders and horses would wear trackers and our rider mounted devices would have an SOS summons.  We discussed what constituted an SOS and agreed that you would lay down your race at the point that you summoned SOS help, diverting the entire race’s resources to rescuing you from whatever it was that had befallen you or your horse.  So...think hard before you press the button and throw in the towel.  

On the other hand, if it’s life or death, or a precious horse’s future health, it’s bigger than yours or anyone else’s race.  The chopper will be there just as soon as they can scramble.  Don’t hesitate. Hit SOS.  This was both sobering and reassuring.  Looking around the room I saw a field of adventurers with the experience and grit to never cry wolf, and never give up unless they had run out of any other options.  As far as possible, we would manage our own, and each other’s pickles, without recourse to the crews and therefore outside assistance. 

As for the rules, they centered around horse welfare, fairness, and safety--and I felt they were very cleverly designed.  Horses had to come in sound and return to a resting heart rate of 64 or less within 20 minutes at each vet check.  Any horse not fit to continue would put the rider out of the race.  Horses would have 40 minutes at each hold for food and rest, and this was our only window for the same.  Each of our horses would run over two days, not one.

There were a couple of spare horses at each vet check, and it was acknowledged openly that bad things sometimes happen with horses, so you could be out of the race with a lame or injured horse and just be unlucky.  Still, to win the race you’d have to bring all three horses home sound and fit to continue, whatever luck befell you.  All were happy with these terms.  Tough luck.  Horse luck, really.  

the finish line race the wild coast

Contestants make their way across the finish line. Photo courtesy Ian Haggerty. 

As for how to win, we were advised that it was a case of staying in the race for the first few days, and being in contention riding out of The Haven, 90 km from the finish, on Day Four.  Leads were hard to establish, likely to be in the minutes rather than the hours, and hence we’d have to decide for ourselves when to stick together and when, or indeed if, to break apart.  There would be no ‘equal’ placings.  We would race for the line and be exposed for public glory, scrutiny, or ridicule in the order we finished.  Chivalry had a place, but so did strategy and old-fashioned killer instinct. 

 Horses and riders got 12 hours off overnight, in theory.  This meant that if you got into the night stop 15 minutes before your rivals, you could leave 15 minutes ahead of them the next day.  This allowed some banking of advantage from one leg to the next, meaning swift vet checks, crisp morning protocols, and fastidious overnight repairs would pay dividends.

The river swims would impose certain logistical constraints on the racing field. Many had to be tackled on an outgoing tide, meaning cut-off times for departure and a compulsory overnight stop on Day One.  We’d have to ride until we got there, whenever that happened to be.  Race holds imposed to allow safer river crossings would not be credited - if you didn’t ride to the race ‘schedule,' worse luck, you’d just get even further behind.  Again, this seemed eminently fair and reasonable. 

So that was the theory.  Now for the practice. 

Continue reading Part 2 of Race the Wild Coast 2018. 

About the Author: Katy Willings was the Mongol Derby Chief from 2011-2018 and erstwhile Chief of Adventures at The Adventurists.  Based in Bristol, UK, she was a junior international dressage rider in her teens.  She rode in the inaugural Mongol Derby, the world's longest horse race, in 2009, sparking a later endurance riding career which saw her compete up to 120 km internationally, and became a full-time Adventurist in 2010, working on the Derby, and later the Ice Run, Icarus Trophy, and Monkey Run.  In the course of producing high profile events for the Adventurists, she has ridden vintage Russian motorcycles in sub-zero temperatures, wrangled with customs in far-flung places, managed local and international teams to deliver logistically complex and culturally significant goods and services--and even learned to fly a paramotor.  Kind of.  She finally did her motorcycle test in May 2018 and took to the open road, legally, this summer. She has worked with horses in Europe, led horse treks and safaris in Mongolia and Malawi, and men and machines in Morocco, Siberia, and Sierra Leone.  She has had as much adventure putting on the adventures, as the participants have had taking part.  Oftentimes, a great deal more.  She laughs in the face of people doing only two things at once.  

She runs beautiful riding adventures in Mongolia, her spiritual home, from her bespoke offering, Morindoo Tours. Follow along with her adventures on Instagram and Twitter. 

Tags:
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Horseback Riding The Pacific Crest Trail… Twice!

Why one thru-ride on the Pacific Crest Trail wasn’t enough for Gillian Larson

“Are you crazy?  Didn’t you just ride the whole trail?  Why in the world would you do that again?”

This was the typical reaction when I told people I was going to attempt a second solo horseback ride from Mexico to Canada on the PCT. How could I explain what drove me, at age 24, to do the long ride again in 2016, only two years after my first trip? All I knew was that I had to do it, not only for myself but for my horses and for any other riders who dreamed of making the journey.  

Horseback riding the Pacific crest Trail

The southern monument on the day we began the first ride at the Mexican border near Campo, CA.

The Pacific Crest Trail is a National Scenic Trail open to hikers and riders that travels from the U.S.-Mexico border to Manning Park in British Columbia, covering 2650 miles along the highest portions of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges. On the way, it passes through twenty-five national forests and seven national parks in three states, ranging from expansive desert vistas to rugged granite peaks and dense forests.  I originally heard about it almost by accident, while backpacking with my mother, and when I realized it was open to horses, I was immediately hooked on the idea.  I had been trail riding my whole life, but I had never camped out overnight with my horse, let alone packed for weeks on end.  But I was determined to tackle it.  I bought gear and supplies, trained one of my horses to pack, and headed out for the great unknown.

Anza Borrego southern California horseback riding PCT

Anza-Borrego is one of the first desert sections in southern California.

My first trip in 2014 was an amazing but often perilous adventure. The difficulties were made worse by the lack of information for PCT horseback riders. There are many resources for hikers, but riders face unique challenges. I learned a lot during my first thru-ride about the lack of water and graze; the scarcity of suitable camp sites; how to find farriers and feed stores; and the dangers of snow, the innumerable blowdowns and other obstacles. We made it safely from border to border, and really, who could wish for more than that? 

But I was convinced that if I had known before what I knew afterwards, it could have been a different experience, with less of a mental and physical toll, both for my horses and me. I wish there had been someone to tell me what I was facing, who might have helped me avoid the many mistakes as I struggled to figure it out on my own. In 2016, I wanted to put that hard-won knowledge to the test and perhaps help someone else make the journey without the same problems. I had something to prove, if only to myself.

Kearsarge Pass is in the Sierra in southern California horseback

Kearsarge Pass is in the Sierra; this shows Takoda and Shyla as we were packing through the last remaining section of trail after we already got to Canada but had to complete some areas that we skipped earlier due to snow.

My first mistake in 2014 was simple: I had a deadline. I graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in December 2013 and would start grad school the following August. Surely I could ride the PCT in that time, I thought. If I averaged 25 to 30 miles a day with one or two “zero” days a week, I could cover the distance in about four months. 

I planned to ride my mare, Shyla, and use her grown colt, Takoda, as a pack horse. I knew Southern California presented difficulties with water, but we would be close to my home near Los Angeles. My mother volunteered to meet us with water and food as needed. Once we got past Kennedy Meadows, my water problems would be over, and having the pack horse meant that we would only need to resupply every week or so during scheduled rest days. I would park a truck and trailer loaded with feed at trailheads—driving ahead and hitchhiking back, or trying to find someone  to move the truck or give me a ride. 

I thought I had it all figured out, but the PCT had other things in store for me. The first surprise was how quickly the horses wore through shoes—three weeks in most cases. Finding a competent farrier on short notice wasn’t easy, and frequent shoeings weakened the horses’ hooves. I also underestimated how much food the horses would need when they were working so hard every day. Both lost weight, and I experimented with different combinations of pellets, hay and supplements for proper nutrition.  

Then there was the snow. I was completely unprepared as the California drought lulled me into a false sense of security while I rode easily through the higher elevations in the south—San Jacinto, Big Bear, and Baden-Powell—a month before they are usually passable. By early May, I reached Kennedy Meadows and camped there with some of the first hikers about to venture into the Sierra. If they can do it, I can do it, I told myself. Although a spring storm was forecast, we all set off the next morning, the first of the season’s PCT travelers to head north into the mountains.

horse riding snow picture shows Takoda on 2014 in the Three Sisters area of Oregon

Takoda on July 2nd, 2014, in the Three Sisters area of Oregon.

That was my wake-up call, when I discovered that only Mother Nature sets the timeline. Despite the overall low snowfall, the drifts were deep as I headed ever higher.  Then the storm hit. I rode long after dark the second night as snow swirled around my headlamp beam and the landscape disappeared behind a white curtain. I had difficulty finding the creek where I planned to camp. When I woke the next morning, everything was buried in a foot of new snow. I packed the horses and tried to continue, but as I climbed toward Cottonwood Pass, the snow got deeper and more treacherous, and I realized I was a fool to go on. I backtracked and took shelter at the pack station at Horseshoe Meadow (it was still closed for winter, but had water available for the horses) and waited for my mother to come get us with the trailer. 

The reality of what I was attempting hit hard. That was also when I realized that what works for hikers—going straight north on the trail from Campo to Manning Park—was not going to work for me and my horses, not if I was going to finish by mid-August. I couldn’t wait for the snow to melt; if I did, I’d never have time to get to Canada. But I couldn’t ride on snow, either. The small size of the horses’ hooves relative to their weight makes them susceptible to post-holing, which is dangerous because one never knows what lies beneath the surface. It was a humbling revelation of how unprepared I was.

When I tried to skip north to Tahoe to avoid the snow, planning to return to the Sierra later, I discovered that the further north I went, the lower the snowline. I contacted the PCTA for advice about sections that might be clear of snow, but found that no one could tell me with certainty. I rode out of the trailhead at Castle Peak off Interstate 80 and got less than a mile before I had to turn around; I tried again from Sierra City, but one of the horses fell in the trailer on the way there and we had to rest and recover. Eventually, we walked a road part of the way to Belden before I could rejoin the trail. I was overwhelmed and out of my depth. 

Knifes Edge Washington State Pacific Crest Trail horse riding

The Knife's Edge is a famous section of trail in central Washington; Shyla and I rode above the clouds and got a great view that day.

But this was also when I found the first of many friendships, with complete strangers reaching out to help. People rushed to assist us in Sierra City after the accident, trailering us back to Truckee and offering the horses and me a place to stay. A family friend drove all the way to Reno for hay. When we got to Seiad Valley, a seasoned packer showed me a better hitch for my panniers, and a local family welcomed the horses in their pasture. During the 2016 trip, a friend in Redding let us stay with her several times, and even transported us to different trailheads. Another heroic couple changed two flat tires on my trailer on a dirt road outside Cascade Locks, then hosted the horses and me overnight. In the end, perhaps the most powerful lesson the trail has offered is one about the human heart—the incredible kindness of people without whom I could not have made the journey at all.

Slowly, I gained new strategies. After trying various horseshoes, I found a borium coating  extended the wear; eventually I added borium-headed nails and carried extra sets in my truck. I solved the feed issue with a brand of high-fat pellets, and I supplemented whenever possible with compact hydration bales; before my 2016 ride I had a ton of that feed, sold only in Oregon, shipped to my house. I also learned to cache food at secure locations, to reduce the weight the horses carried and maximize nutrition. One by one, I fended off the punches that the PCT was throwing.

But snow remained my nemesis, along with downed trees. I carried a handsaw and axe in my saddlebags but couldn’t cut through most trees on my own, so I found a way around them. That didn’t always work with snow, as there could be drifts blocking the way, or a crust of ice hiding crevasses. I spent a freezing night without food or water when snow stopped me in June south of Crater Lake. A snowbank gave way in the Three Sisters Wilderness in early July, sending my horse and me glissading down a hillside; I had to navigate through dense forest and jagged lava until I at last reached a road and  a trailer, while the horse lost two shoes and we were both battered and bruised. In northern Washington, washouts and snow on the last 60 miles forced me to take an alternate route because of my grad school deadline. Even then, when I returned to California to start the semester, I still had 200 miles of Sierra backcountry left. I completed those over a couple of long weekends. When I finished the remaining miles by riding into Vermilion Valley Resort over Labor Day weekend, I felt a curious sensation—pride, of course, but also disappointment. It wasn’t what I had expected, in so many ways, and I wanted a chance to do it again—to put what I had learned to the test and hopefully get it right.

downed tree on pacific crest trail horse riding

The downed tree photo is of a trail obstacle in northern California; this is what we encounter all the time when we are riding on unclear trail sections--and usually I get out there long before the trail crews!

That was when the dream of a second journey began. And I knew I couldn’t delay; Shyla was already 16 on our first trip, and every year increased the risk of her getting too old to withstand another long ride. I knew it was the tremendous heart of this horse that made the first trip possible. She and I had bonded in a way that I never imagined before we made that trek. Although I travelled alone on the trail, I never felt alone. We relied on each other—took care of each other—and became an unbreakable team. 

I also was eager to give others what I wish I had in 2014—a guidebook for equestrians on the PCT, with information  such as suitable places to camp, possible graze, the location of horse corrals and trailheads with trailer access—all the things I wish I had known, but which only hard-won experience provided. Everyone will make mistakes on a journey as long and difficult as this, but there’s no reason to repeat the same ones. Even those who only want a shorter section ride could benefit from clear information about the PCT. A second trip would be a chance to gather more material to write that guidebook. 

Mt Jefferson horseback riding Pacific Crest Trail

Shyla in Oregon at Mt. Jefferson.

On a thru-ride you constantly meet people who tell you how lucky you are. I understand that when they see you sitting on a horse carrying you up a hill while they sweat under their backpack, it does look easy. But trust me, it is not; it’s like having a 1,000-pound toddler that you have to take care of, hauling water, providing food, grooming before and after each day’s work. Hikers wake up and hit the trail quickly; they stop when and where they want to, take a break in a town if needed, can carry enough water to get through dry sections of trail. I have hours of work before I start in the morning and after I stop for the night; I can only camp where there is enough room and water; I have the constant responsibility of the horses’ health and safety on my shoulders. 

The knowledge I gained in 2014 proved invaluable in 2016. Despite record snowfall in northern California, I plotted a course that avoided snow issues. I never entered an area without knowing whether Shyla and I were up to conquering it. One of my most important lessons involved humility and flexibility and accurately gauging what is possible. I used a system of two trucks and horse trailers to be self-reliant, without needing to hitchhike or find someone to move a rig to the next trailhead.  I also knew where a packhorse is an advantage, mainly in the Sierra, and where a second animal merely adds to the risks; most of the time, it is best to travel as light as possible. And this time there was no deadline other than the coming of winter.  

Manning Park horse riding British Columbia

Shyla and I heading into Manning Park, in British Columbia, on the last day of our second thru-ride.

In the final days of September 2016, as Shyla and I rode north from Stevens Pass over the last 200 miles to the Canadian border, we encountered the hardest conditions of the trip.  Hundreds of fallen trees blocked us and the weather turned cold and wet. By Sept. 19, I was waking up to a suddenly white-washed landscape. More than a foot of snow obscured the trail during the last eight miles as we neared the monument on Sept. 21. But along with other hikers I had befriended, I rode the last steps to the northern terminus.  We took photos, hugged, congratulated each other, laughed and smiled. There were even a few tears—of relief, or maybe disbelief, at having come so far, but also a kind of bittersweet sadness at saying goodbye: to friends, to the shared agonies of sweat and dirt and cold and pain, and yes, to the trail itself. Our dream had become a reality that would be a part of us for the rest of our lives. 

And this time, there was a satisfying sense of completion. Everything I set out to do, I had achieved. The most valuable gift I carried home from two years of travel on the PCT is the sense of true partnership with my horse, a level of trust that successfully sustained us over more than 5,300 miles. It has been the journey of a lifetime—not just once, but twice—and will live with me forever.

For more information or to read Gillian’s blog of her two PCT rides, plus her additional long-distance equestrian adventures since then, visit her website at www.PacificCrestQuest.org.

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Conserving Land for Equine Use

What would happen if horse trails ceased to exist, facilities to board your horse disappeared, and hayfields were replaced with shopping malls? Learn about Equine Land Conservation Resource, an organization working to ensure that land for equine use remains part of our communities.

by Jocelyn Pierce

The United Statesis steeped in equestrian heritage and tradition. Horses have been partners in work, warfare and sport, playing an integral part in American culture. From the working ranch cowboy to the American foxhunter; from rural bush racetracks to Belmont Park; from pulling war wagons to reaching for Olympic gold, from the carriage horse to the trail companion, the horse and human interaction has been widespread throughout our history.

As ourpopulation grows, cities and towns expand. In areas where growth is haphazard, it infringes heavily on rural farmland areas.Land previously available for horse facilities and farms moves further from population centers, making access for equine activities more difficult to get to. The US population, currently at approximately 328 billion (US Census) is expected to increase to well over 435 million by 2050 (Pew Research). Well-planned growth can forestall or alleviate sprawling development.

With growing population, there is greater competition for land to provide housing, recreation and agricultural activities. Equine communities need to get ahead of these issues at the local level to protect their access.

Competition over the use of public land between burgeoning user groupsincreases and directly threatens equine access to land used for recreation. Equine Land Conservation Resource(ELCR) champions land preservation for equine use and works to educate equestrians on the issues that threaten equine activities.

ELCR beach horseback riding

Continuing on with this heritage, we still use horses for sport, fun, and companionship. According to the 2017 National Economic Impact Study by theAmerican Horse Council, the equine industry has a $122 billion impact on the United States economy, employing nearly 1.75 million people. Horses remain an important part of our landscape. As horse enthusiasts, owners, and riders we have a responsibility to ensure there will be lands for our horses and activities, and for future generations.

Equestrian Land Conservation Resource

Equine Land Conservation Resource (ELCR) is a 501c3 nonprofit organization that was created out of The United States Pony Club Task Force for the 21st Century in 1996. ELCR builds awareness on the importance of land preservation for equine activity and use and actively works to preserve those lands and promote access. When first established, ELCR worked through The Conservation Fund, but became an independent organization in 1999. The ELCR has helped protect more than 230,000 acres of land and more than 3,100 miles of trails since 2007.

ELCR sees the dangers of poorly planned land development and the daily loss of open land as a direct threat to the equestrian community and industry. Equestrian lands don’t just refer to riding trails, but also includes farms and ranches, pastures, competition venues, hayfields, and more.

 

equestrian land conservation use

We need at least 36 million acres to feed and support the current equine population, estimated to be about 7.2 million horses by the AHC.According to the American Farmland Trust’s 2018 release Farmland Under threat, the US loses 4,200 acres of farmland a day – that’s 175 acres every minute! This is an alarming statistic, but even more disconcerting is the fact that time grows short. There may not be enough land to support our horses and related activities in as little as 15 years.

Conserving Land for Horses

In 2015, The New Hampshire Department of Resources and Economic Development (DRED) proposed changes to trail policies in New Hampshire parks, state forests, rail trails and other recreational areas, limiting or eliminating equestrian use altogether. ELCR worked with the New Hampshire Horse & Trail Association(NHHTA) to ensure they approached these rule changes in the best way possible, resulting in a revised legislation that allowed horses on all trails.

ELCR helps horse people and organizations like NHHTA take action in their communities. They offer letters of support, outreach materials, educational guides, articles,webinars and other resources that help with the land loss issues horsemen and women face. But ELCR goes one step further than simply providing information and documents. They also offer technical assistance and counseling to individuals or groups on specific issues, often linking them with others that have faced similar problems.

elcr equestrian land conservation

Conserving Equine Land in Your Community

ELCR stresses that horse and equine land owners need to be awareof and understand how human population growth impacts land use. Land use planning, when done well, is essential for communities to assess what is important to residents and what is best for the community as a whole. Equestrians need to be involved in both the community planning and decision-making processes to ensure that their needs are met over time.

ELCR recommendsstarting a club or organization or joining an existing organization that keeps track of issues in the community that could negatively impact the horse community. It’s important to educate yourself about the benefits of horses to the community, as these will be primary talking points. Know if the language in your community’s land use plan and zoning ordinances is horse-friendly or not. Continue to develop positive relationships with decision makers and other community members. 
It is up to the equestrian community to stand up for the importance of equine land, offering solutions to keep horses a part of our lifestyle and tradition.

Helpful resources can be found on ELCR’s website, or contact ELCR for more information.
 

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Warrior for a Day: Mounted Archery Lessons

Take up a bow and arrow and find a new passion on your next equestrian vacation. 

Horse people are not just horse people. We are musicians, parents, athletes, history buffs, collectors, hobbyists of every interest imaginable and, if we are very lucky, we will occasionally find ourselves with the time and money to plan a dream vacation.

mounted archery lessons with tennessee valley archery

Photo courtesy of Tennessee Valley Archery. 

For the equestrian traveler who wants to add a unique new challenge to his or her riding experience, mounted combat combines skilled riding with excellent marksmanship and connects us with a time long before the advent of firearms and modern technology. In our long history with the horse, few partnerships were longer-lived than that of the warrior and his mount, and in the past 10 years, this ancient necessity has experienced a resurgence as an athletic pastime.

You don’t necessarily have to own a horse to enjoy the opportunities listed here, but if you do happen to be traveling with a trailer, these places offer your horse the opportunity to test his or her mettle as a noble battle steed as well.

mounted archery

Photo courtesy of Rachel Pendley. 

Note: In 2012, contributing writer Anne Beggs shared with Equitrekking her story of becoming a mounted archer after getting her first horse at the age of 51.  Read about her experience here. 

Lukas Novotny- Umatilla, Florida

Widely recognized as the most knowledgeable and skilled mounted archer of our time, Lukas Novotny has been winning international mounted archery championships for 13 years. He has also been a full-time bowyer since founding Saluki Bow Company 20 years ago. His bows – composed of real wood, horn, and sinew – are modeled after the composite bows used by Mongol archers as far back as 3,000 B.C. and are the culmination of many years of painstaking trial and error.

For a fee, Novotny is available to travel to your barn, club, or festival for clinics in both ground and mounted archery, but he also offers three-hour, six-hour, and two-day private and semi-private classes on his farm in Umatilla, Florida. These classes are held during Florida’s winter season (October-April,) when the weather is most favorable. Classes generally run from 9 a.m.-12 p.m., with the six-hour classes resuming at around 2 p.m. and going until 5 p.m. Of special interest to a vacationing equestrian might be the two-day option, which is conducted as two six-hour classes. There is an area onsite for RV parking or camping for those coming from out of town, but hotel accommodations are also nearby.

Riders are not expected to be archers themselves, but Novotny does not accept students under the age of 18 or those with limited riding experience. Participants should already be proficient at all gaits and be confident enough in their balance to ride reinless. This allows the classes to be focused on archery rather than horsemanship basics. (While students are welcome to bring their own horses, it should be noted that not all horses are suitable for use in mounted archery.)

Umatilla is located in Lake County, Florida, a wetland region loaded with tourist attractions, just south of Ocala National Forest and less than an hour’s drive from both Orlando and Ocala.

South Texas Archery Riders- Marion, Texas

Serena Lynn has been riding horses for 20 years and shooting arrows off their backs for six. In the process of searching for someone who had horses with whom she could spend time, she stumbled upon mounted archery through a Facebook friend who offered an exchange of work for archery lessons and ride-time. “It’s a very attractive sport on a lot of levels,” she says, “[and] it just breeds the right kind of people.” 

Lynn is the founder of the South Texas Archery Riders (STAR,) an MA3 (Mounted Archery Association of the Americas)-affiliated archery club in south-central Texas. This affiliation requires anyone taking part in mounted archery on the premises to be an MA3 member for insurance purposes, which involves a small additional fee.

This opportunity is best suited for those vacationers traveling with their own horses. Like Novotny, Lynn does not teach horseback riding and expects participants to already be proficient at riding reinless before taking a lesson with her. Lessons are generally one-on-one unless a student would like to schedule a clinic with multiple attendees. Lynn recommends scheduling multiple lessons – to be sure that students are well-prepared for the variables involved in shooting. Her first lesson always focuses on familiarizing the student with ground archery technique using a horse bow.

Lynn’s current location, in Marion, Texas, is somewhat bereft of other attractions, but at the end of 2018, she will be moving her lessons to Canyon Lake. Canyon Lake is located roughly halfway between Austin and San Antonio and the area boasts resorts, B&Bs, campgrounds, lodges, and RV parks, so visitors will have no trouble finding accommodations for their stay. Surrounding attractions include boat and jet ski rental, scuba diving, golf, and hiking.

Elizabeth Tinnan-Aragon, Georgia (and all over the US)

Elizabeth Tinnan is the president of the Chattahoochee Horse Archers, an archery club based in Aragon, Georgia. As a full-time mounted archery instructor, however, she doesn’t operate out of a single location as the other opportunities listed here do. Instead, she conducts clinics year-round all over the country. This year’s destinations have so far included Texas, Oregon, Indiana, and Florida, among others.)  These clinics take two forms, both appropriate for equestrians new to archery: an eight-hour Introduction to Mounted Archery and a 4-hour “Fast Track” which condenses the eight-hour clinic and focuses on becoming comfortable handling a bow and arrow, correct shooting form, blind arrow nocking, range safety, and desensitizing your horse to the sound and feel of a mounted archer.

mounted archery with elizabeth tinnan

Photo courtesy of Jill Monroe. 

Tinnan is a walking testament to the possibility of creating your own dream job if it doesn’t already exist for you. She got her start as a mounted archery instructor (a job that she calls “absolutely, ridiculously wonderful,”) when she became determined to share her love for the sport with people around her, only to find that there was no one nearby who taught it. She will be competing in the World Horseback Archery Championships in South Korea next month, and returning to a regular clinic schedule in Dallas, Georgia in October.

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Tennessee Valley Archery-Rising Glory Farm, Lewisburg, Tennessee

Chris Carlough, the owner of Rising Glory Farm and founder of Tennessee Valley Archery, has taken part in mounted archery tournaments but is not a mounted archery instructor himself. However, he hopes to open his new updated facility to archers (footbound and mounted) early next year. This summer Carlough had a 90-meter all-weather riding and shooting track installed, and ten acres of woods on the property area was equipped with a brand new cross country course including water crossings and 3D targets. Rising Glory Farm operates as a boarding facility, and Tennessee Valley Archery offers overnight stabling in its 32-stall barn--with massive indoor and outdoor arenas and a 60-foot round pen. So far the facility has hosted several clinics and one competition and will be hosting an Elizabeth Tinnan clinic on November 10th.

tennessee valley archery

Photo courtesy of Tennessee Valley Archery. 

His late wife, Ida Marie, knew of his lifelong history as an archer. She learned of Tinnan’s mounted archery clinics and planted the seed of interest in his consciousness shortly before her passing in 2017. “Her last gift to me was horseback archery, bringing two of my favorite things together, and it’s pretty special to me,” he said. “That’s how Tennessee Valley Archery got its start.”

Academie Duello-Vancouver, British Columbia

For the traveler who is interested in mounted combat and likes to have a lot of options, the Academie Duello may offer the vacation of a lifetime. Thousands of students enroll in its programs annually to learn European swordsmanship, wrestling, archery, and pole weapons--and their space in downtown Vancouver includes a museum, a weapons shop, and library. The Academie’s website also contains a cache of articles, blogs, and videos on subjects like horsemanship, stage combat, self-defense, exercise, and a history of arms and armor.

Last month, the Academie moved their mounted combat operations from their former location in Steveston (just south of Vancouver) to Langley, British Columbia. The new facility includes two outdoor rings, an indoor ring for year-round lessons, and a heated riders’ lounge. There are also plans to add a Knight Camp for adults (currently their Knight Camps at the Vancouver location are for ages 8-14 only.)  If you’re like me, the thought of receiving a knight’s training in Vancouver in 2018 covers about half of the things on your bucket list. This will be an addition to pay close attention to.

The Academie offers classes from beginner-level horsemanship through advanced mounted combat. Many of their more advanced classes, as well as those classes in horsemanship, riding, and jumping require several weeks of attendance. However, visitors to the Vancouver area can sign up for Mounted Archery or Mounted Combat lessons, which take place over a three hour period and require experience in neither riding nor archery. There is also a five-day intensive course for those interested in mounted swordplay, as well as an annual three-day Mounted Combat Symposium that welcomes riders, swordplayers, and archers at all skill levels.

About the Author: Sarah Mohler is a Cleveland-based editorial intern for Equitrekking. She has worked in hippotherapy and boarding facilities in Ohio, a horse rescue in Maryland, and a trail riding business in the Colorado Rockies. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Equine Facility Management from Lake Erie College.  She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in Creative Writing from the NEOMFA program at Kent State University, and hopes to write her thesis on the evolution of man’s relationship with horses.  When not writing, reading, annotating, teaching, workshopping, or grading papers, she enjoys going for walks, eating sushi, and snuggling under a soft blanket with her boyfriend.

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Three Great Places to Horseback Ride in Maine

Did you know that you can horseback ride on the beach in Maine? Here are two of the best beaches and a wildlife refuge that you won't want to miss.

Text and photos by Susan St. Amand. 

I’ve ridden a lot of Maine’s trails over the years and was excited to return this fall to enjoy horseback riding on Maine’s beaches, as well as Trimble Mountain in the Calais, Maine area. These are diverse places to saddle up and enjoy ocean views and even catch a glimpse of Canada in the distance. Here are some great location picks for trail riding with your horse in Maine.

Riding at Popham Beach State Park, Maine

Popham Beach State Park off the rugged coast of Maine is the state's most busy state park beach.  However, between October 1st and March 31st, it is open to horseback riding when the crowds die down and the weather is much cooler.

horseback riding at popham beach in maine

This was my third beach in as many days along the New England coastline.  Popham Beach has a more primitive coastline with many rock formations and sand dunes to be seen.  It is also one of my favorite beaches to visit as there are many sand dollar shells to be found along the beach during the fall season.  It is also a bit more secluded--making it a gem to ride for those who seek a more quiet atmosphere.

seacoast farm popham beach

On this particular day of beach riding, the sun was shining, and my horse was more comfortable with the ocean waves pounding onto the beach. We galloped across the beach--enjoying the exhilarating ride.

As with the previous beach riding adventures along the New England coast, authorities prefer that equestrians ride only during low tides for safety reasons. Riders are required to pick up any manure deposited by their horses on the beach or parking areas.  Manure or “diaper” bags are recommended. 

horseback riding popham beach maine

At the end of this fantastic day of beach riding, we returned to Seacoast Farm in Wales, Maine for overnight stabling.  It was great to return to familiar facilities successfully utilized in the past, making for great horse traveling experiences.

Riding on Old Orchard Beach, Maine

Many beaches are open to equestrians during off seasons when tourists are scant and the weather is colder.  Such is the case for Old Orchard Beach, Maine. 

old orchard beach maine

As I was traveling through Maine with my horse, I made it a point to take advantage of an opportunity to ride on the beach to add to the many fond memories I have experienced visiting Old Orchard Beach.  To accomplish this, riders must purchase a riding permit from the local town hall. The permit is good for the season.  Authorities prefer riders ride during low tides only for safety reasons.  In addition, many beaches now require riders to pick up any manure deposited by their horses on the beach or parking areas. The town hall can also recommend parking areas available for parking trailers.  Currently, parking is permissible at the Milliken Street public parking lot near the Old Orchard Beach Pier.  Traffic of any kind is very light during the off-season.

horseback riding old orchard beach

On this particular cool day, it was drizzling rain, but that did not deter me from enjoying a beach ride.  Wearing rain gear, my horse and I enjoyed the desolate looking beach all to ourselves.  The hollow thud of my horse's hooves on the water-packed sand echoed for several miles on the beach.  The ocean breeze and sea air were invigorating.  Adjacent to the Old Orchard Beach area is Scarborough Beach and Scarborough Beach State Park, where horseback riding on the beach is available as well.

Initially, my horse was skeptical of the loud, white-capped waves coming in towards her on the beach, but as we kept edging closer to the water, her confidence grew and she finally got her hooves wet. 

Riding at Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge and Trimble Mountain in Maine

Located on the outskirts of the Calais, Maine, the easternmost town in the United States, is Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge. This refuge, maintained by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, provides a sanctuary for migrating birds, endangered species (such as bald eagles), and other wildlife.  It also contains wetlands, bogs, streams, and hardwood forests to maintain a diverse ecological system. 

wetlands view from horseback moosehorn national wildlife refuge

Moosehorn National Refuge contains over 50 miles of trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding.  The refuge also has a separate education building for use by youth groups to provide opportunities for them to learn about wetlands and wildlife.

horse and rider at trimble mountain in maine

Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge is a superb area to view wildlife in their natural state little-known place with low traffic.  An added bonus was viewing the colorful changing of the leaves by riding during the fall season.

horse trails at moosehorn national wildlife refuge maine

In returning to the Calais, Maine area, I was prompted to return to Trimble Mountain.  It can be accessed via the ATV trail system in the local vicinity.  The portion of the trail to access Trimble Mountain is rigorous and rocky, so horses should be well-shod.  Once you reach the top of Trimble Mountain on horseback, you can view the St. Croix River and St. Stephens, Canada in the distance.  The view during the fall season provides a colorful backdrop as well.  Pictures do not do it justice.  The topography also makes this site a close second to what I previously experienced at Acadia National Park nearby.

st croix and st stephens from trimble mountain

The rustic outdoor recreation areas in Maine prompt me to return frequently to experience all the state has to enjoy from horseback. 

About the Author: Susan St. Amand is a Board Member of the Shenandoah Trail Riding and Horseman's Association in Shenandoah County, Virginia. She grew up in Northern Maine with horses on a farm and has been a transplant to Virginia for the past 26 years. A retired Youth Education Technician, she enjoys planning horse vacations with friends and has currently completed many rides in Maine, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, as well as Virginia, trailering her own horse.

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Horseback Riding Through Maine’s Acadia National Park

Trail riding enthusiast Susan St. Amand shares her experience horseback riding through Maine's scenic Acadia National Park. 

Text and photos by Susan St. Amand. 

Acadia National Park is known to be the “crown jewel” of the Northeast and considered one of the top ten national parks to visit. Covering over 60 miles of rugged coastline areas and 38,000 acres (with another 12,500 acres in conservation easements), it is definitely a unique place to ride and visit.  With stunning and picturesque views, the park contains biodiverse natural habitats, sparkling clean air and water, and a cultural heritage dating back to the early 1900's. 

view of acadia national park from horseback

For the equestrian rider, 45 miles of carriage roads were constructed and funded by John D. Rockefeller Jr., who was also a skilled horseman in his time.  Today, Wildwood Stables, located within Acadia National Park, operates a stable which also provides carriage rides throughout the park.  Their draft horse teams remain ever ready in their stalls to accommodate the constant flow of tourists who engage in a lovely carriage jaunt through the park.

wildwood stables acadia national park

For equestrians bringing their own horses to ride in the park, they provide trailer camping sites for horse trailers. Owners can also rent stalls for their equines overnight.  Trailer sites include water and electric hookups.

My horse and I enjoyed the overnight accommodations at Wildwood Stables. During the day, we took great pleasure in riding on the carriage trails with their majestic views and scenery greeting us at every turn.  Hikers and bikers also use the carriage trails, so horses must be acclimated to meeting up with other trail users, as well as horse driven carriages. 

wildwood stables horses

On a good note, it was a quiet atmosphere riding on the carriage trails, whereas other areas of the park were frequented by many tourists and tour buses--especially during the fall season when leaves are bright reds, yellows, and oranges.  The trails took us by Bubble Pond and the Jordan Pond Gate House.  Gatehouses were originally built to restrict automobiles from entering certain areas of the park so it could be enjoyed without the use of motor traffic. We also rode on the carriage trails to another one of the several highest peaks in the park, which is Day Mountain.

jordan pond house acadia national park

bubble pond acadia national park

Carriage trails do not go up to the famed Cadillac Mountain, the highest point in Acadia National Park at 1,530 feet high, as well as the highest point on the East Coast.   However, it is worth driving or hiking to its summit for views of Bar Harbor and the cruise ships docked along the shores.  Because of its high altitude near the ocean currents, be prepared for the winds that can blow.  Sunrise and sunset attract many people during those times, especially photographers, for the amazing views that unfold, as this is where the first glimpse of sunrise is to be seen in the United States.

horseback riding the carriage trails acadia national park

Cadillac Mountain granite is found in the park. The granite, which began as magma that mixed into older rocks.  It then cooled, hardened, and crystallized.  The granite is flecked with black hornblende and quartz crystal along with pink feldspar, which gives it a pinkish red color.

cadillac mountain granite

When not horseback riding or exploring Acadia National Park, it is worth a trip into town to Bar Harbor, which is tucked between the park and the Atlantic Ocean.  There are many quaint shops to peruse offering unique gifts. In addition, many tempting restaurant menus offer delicious Maine lobster in a variety of forms. Yum! 

bar harbor aerial view

In summary, riding in Acadia National Park was a great experience exploring the majestic Atlantic coastline, especially during the fall season with its bright colorful hues splattered throughout the forests.

About the Author: Susan St. Amand is a Board Member of the Shenandoah Trail Riding and Horseman's Association in Shenandoah County, Virginia. She grew up in Northern Maine with horses on a farm and has been a transplant to Virginia for the past 26 years. A retired Youth Education Technician, she enjoys planning horse vacations with friends and has currently completed many rides in Maine, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, as well as Virginia, trailering her own horse.

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Horseback Riding the Northern Woods of Maine in Autumn

Fall is a favorite season of mine, and recently, I headed back to my origins in northern Maine to soak in the colorful foliage with my horse.

Text and photos by Susan St. Amand. 

fall trail ride in northern maine

If you enjoy rustic outdoor adventures and getting back in touch with nature, then this is a place for you.  In this region, you will withdraw from having everything at your fingertips and test your survival skills.  Hunting, fishing, biking, boating, and many other outdoor activities are widely available due to the very rural nature of the area. Included are all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiling trails which abound in all local communities. 

These trails are endless and weave an interconnecting web throughout the state.  Thus, they make for interesting trails for horseback riding, as well.  Horses should be well acclimated to handle meeting up with the occasional ATV'er or other vehicular traffic as some of these trails will cross roadways, with some actually going through small-town main street areas.  With the cooperation from landowners, many trails cross over private property and respect should be given by staying on the trails.

Overnight stabling and horse camping facilities are rare in this area.  Fortunately, I have lifelong connections in this area, so I was able to stable my horse with a longtime family friend for the duration of my visit.  From my home base, I did not have to trailer out much to access a trail.  Trails went out in many different directions so that I did not have to ride the same trail twice during my stay. 

Be mindful of the hunting seasons and prepare accordingly.  You do not want your horse to be mistaken for a moose.  Wear bright orange clothing and stick to the main trails.  Another idea is to purchase a bright orange halter for your horse and keep it on under your bridle.

Following are a taste of the sights and scenes I enjoyed while en route or trail riding: 

Wild blueberry fields turn a vibrant red in the fall.  Wild Maine blueberries are harvested between mid-July to mid-September.  As far as wild blueberry production, Maine is at the top of the list.  These blueberries are smaller in comparison to the cultivated blueberries produced elsewhere and are canned or frozen for use as an ingredient in other blueberry products.

canadian geese in northern maine

Canadian geese are seen congregating in large flocks feeding in preparation for their long journey migrating south for the winter.  Their honking and large “V” formations flying above in the skies are also impressive.

cat tails northern maine

Fading cat-tail plants can be seen in many of the bogs or wetland areas.

fall foliage maine

Endless trails give opportunities to enjoy the transitional season from summer to winter

northern maine

A stop to take in the “Million Dollar View” along Route 1A heading north is worth a look. Photos do not do it justice, as you can see for miles the lake nestled in the forested valley.

muddy pond

A view of Muddy Pond, one of many large ponds and lakes to be found in Maine.

horse in fall leaves

With all of the bright yellow maple leaves littering the ground, I had to take a photo of my horse amidst them.

horseback riding in maine

Overlooking a “sea of gold” hay field prior to crossing it in order to get to the trail by the tree line.

horseback riding in the pine trees northern maine

Another trail through the tall pines.  Maine is known as the “Pine Tree” state due to its abundance of pine trees.

maine horse trails

Yet again, another trail littered with yellow leaves both on the trees and on the ground.  Reminiscent of following the “yellow brick road”.

white birch trees in northern maine

Another northern native tree is the white birch.  White birch trees don't have bark, but a white papery covering that is shed from the tree as it grows.  These white birch trees were popular with natives in earlier times for building canoes.

wood cutting season in maine

And lastly, in preparation for the long Northern winter ahead, wood cutting and splitting occurs with voraciousness during the fall season.  With trees being a large natural resource in the area, most residents in this area have wood burning stoves to heat their homes during the long, cold winters.   Again, machinery and technology over the years have progressed to make many labor-intensive chores much easier.  No more chopping wood with an ax.

As the days got shorter, the air got colder, and barely a leaf remained on the trees. I loaded my horse one last time and followed the Canadian Geese's trail south, to my home in Virginia.

About the Author: Susan St. Amand is a Board Member of the Shenandoah Trail Riding and Horseman's Association in Shenandoah County, Virginia. She grew up in Northern Maine with horses on a farm and has been a transplant to Virginia for the past 26 years. A retired Youth Education Technician, she enjoys planning horse vacations with friends and has currently completed many rides in Maine, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, as well as Virginia, trailering her own horse.

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Horseback Riding at Otter Creek in New York’s Adirondack Mountains

Trail riding enthusiast and Equitrekking contributor Susan St. Amand revisits the Adirondack Mountains of New York and shares her experience. 

Photos and text by Susan St. Amand. 

After a short visit to Otter Creek Horse Trails earlier this year, I was fortunate to be able to return again to fully enjoy riding in New York's Adirondack Mountain area on my own horse. This trail system is comprised of a series of intertwining trails totaling about 65 miles. The trails are mostly flat and consist of sandy roads or wooded trails.  They are wide, well groomed and maintained by the Friends of Otter Creek Horse Trails.  There are also several small ponds or lakes within the trail system. 

view from horseback of catspaw lake in adirondack mountains

On this occasion, we rode to Shingle Mill Falls.  With the recent rain activity, the water was abundantly flowing.  As with all waters located in the northern wooded regions, it contains a lot of tannins and is root beer colored, making it difficult to see the bottom of the creek or river beds.  Next, we came to a beautiful view of Catspaw Lake. 

shingle mill falls

Trails meander through creeks, over small bridges, and sometimes follow snowmobile or ATV trails.  There are several locations where tie rails and picnic tables are available to take a break and eat your picnic lunch.  If you feel adventurous, the “Trailside Restaurant and Bar” is located off the Blueberry Trail where you can stop and tie your horse while enjoying a hot meal and a drink.

trail riding at otter creek new york

Within the Otter Creek Horse Trail System is an assembly area consisting of three parking lots and an additional overflow or day use parking area.  In addition, it has 100 roofed tie stalls, two separate roofed stud stalls, manure pits, and water for the horses.  Primitive toilets are also available.  Overnight camping is permissible in the assembly area on a first come, first served basis.

creek crossing on horseback at otter creek

Surrounding the Otter Creek Horse Trail System is an equestrian community comprised of year-round residents or part-time residents whom also rent out their cabins and facilities to equestrian enthusiasts interested in taking an equestrian vacation riding in the Adirondacks.

When not horseback riding, an excursion to the Adirondack Culture Museum at Blue Mountain Lake provides knowledgeable insight into the history and culture of the Adirondacks.

bridge trail crossing at otter creek in adirondack mountains

Guests enjoy demonstrations on the trade of building an Adirondack guide boat or canoe, as well as the history of logging with the use of horsepower to pull logs out of the forests and to the rivers. In the past, competitions were held between teamsters to see whose horses could pull the heaviest loads. Building rustic furniture out of natural materials was also a common tradition.  This area is the birthplace of the popular Adirondack chair, which is commonly utilized for relaxation by the water. 

Visiting the museum gave me a greater appreciation of the surrounding views I saw while on horseback.  In addition, visiting local artisan stores, such as Blue Mountain Designs, where an artist drew a large colorful picture of a moose with chalk, gave more exposure to the hidden talents of the Adirondack culture.

About the Author: Susan St. Amand is a Board Member of the Shenandoah Trail Riding and Horseman's Association in Shenandoah County, Virginia. She grew up in Northern Maine with horses on a farm and has been a transplant to Virginia for the past 26 years. A retired Youth Education Technician, she enjoys planning horse vacations with friends and has currently completed many rides in Maine, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, as well as Virginia, trailering her own horse.

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Horseback Riding on the Beach in North Carolina

The McCools hit the beach on horseback and discover that being in the saddle is a great way to experience the Outer Banks of North Carolina! Enjoy the ride!

After far too many years without riding, my husband and I enjoyed two horseback rides in Ireland—a walk in the woods of Leslie Estate, and a beach ride in County Donegal. Both were a lot of fun, but both were walk/ trot experiences. We were so excited to return to a beach on horseback, this time for a full out canter. 

horseback riding beach North Carolina

Equine Adventures leads horseback rides to the beach on the Outer Banks in Frisco, North Carolina.

Here are five things we loved about our OBX beach ride with Equine Adventures:

- The leisurely ride to the beach follows a narrow dirt trail through the woods. It's a peaceful path and a nice break from the sun in summer months. Follow the leader's advice and use plenty of bug spray (provided) before you head out.

horseback riding beach nc

- Horses were well matched to riders. The husband rode a large, easy-going Percheron named Tonka, while I rode his "friend" Chrome. Because the horses got along well it was easy for us to ride together.

- Equine Adventures accommodates every experience level and age. Most of our group were novices, and ages ranged from teens to a woman in her 80s.

- Instructions were clear and helpful. Before we reached the beach our guide described how people could choose how fast they wanted to go. Girths and stirrups were checked again to ensure everyone who wanted to could have a safe canter.

- Cantering on the beach! This was a true highlight of the ride, especially since we were not allowed to canter on previous group trail rides. The image we've had of a smooth canter along a beautiful beach finally came true.

between the ears horseback riding nc

Article and photos by Julie McCool of Fun in Fairfax VA and Charles McCool of McCool Travel. Follow them on social @CharlesMcCool and @FunInFairfax.
 

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Haunted Ranches & Castles for Horseback Riding If You Dare

In honor Halloween and those who love "Ghost Hunters," check out these two great places to enjoy a horseback riding vacation... that just may be haunted! 

After visiting ranch and riding vacation destinations for over a decade, you can bet that I've come across some haunted dude ranches and riding destinations. While I'm not one to scare easily, there were a few instances at these holiday spots where fright of the paranormal got the best of me and even I might have believed I'd seen or felt a ghost. When dreams of galloping away by night roll into real life dreams come true galloping through the countryside by day, you know you've landed in an unusual equestrian vacation destination.

Marriott Ranch riding in the mountains with potential ghosts

Head to the mountains to ride with Marriott Ranch and with potential ghosts!

Marriott Ranch, Virginia

Riding at an East Coast ranch where Longhorn cattle graze is unusual enough, but add in a ghost named Hester and you're in for quite the riding vacation. Less than sixty miles outside Washington, D.C. in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Marriott Ranch welcomes travelers to participate in cattle drives, trail rides and enjoy playing cowboy in a stunning part of Virginia. Known by many as a "haunted dude ranch," the riding here is so good, we recommend that you don't stay away.

Riding with the Longhorns at Marriott Ranch

Riding with Longhorns in Virignia.

The ranch is steeped in history, as is the Inn at Fairfield Farm, the B&B where you can stay while riding here. When I first arrived, Joe led me to my room in the main inn. He told me that my room was reputed to be haunted by a ghost named Hester, whose picture happened to be above my bed. Just great, I thought, as I stared at the painting and wondered if Hester might awake me with noises in the night... 

Marriott Ranch Inn at Fairfield Farm

The Inn at Fairfield Farm is the "haunted" inn where guests stay.

The Inn was built in 1814 by James Marshall, brother of the first Chief Justice of the United States. In 1939, a Belgian Baroness escaping the Nazis lived in what’s now called the Baroness Cottage, and when Mr. Marriott took over the property, Roy Rogers and Presidents Reagan and Eisenhower, and other world leaders would come to experience life on the range. Lots of diverse history can sometimes mean lots of opportunties for hauntings!

Castle Leslie, Ireland

If you want diversity in your hauntings, head to Castle Leslie in Ireland, where you can meet a Casper-type apparition, a fright-inspiring monk, a crying child, bells ringing on their own or Lady Constance Leslie, depending on your room choice. This castle, still owned and run by its founding family, makes for a dream equestrian holiday. Walking inside the castle with its individually decorated rooms and priceless antiques, you may see why. This is the castle that's welcomed the rich and famous throughout history and where Sir Paul McCartney wed Heather Mills. It is also destinations chosen by the UK show "Ghosthunters" for their filming.

Castle Leslie's haunted Mauve Room

Castle Leslie's Mauve Room, which is reputed to be haunted.

There are twenty rooms inside the castle and reports on haunted rooms range. Guests who dare can stay in the Mauve Room thought to have paranormal activity from its former occupant, Lady Constance Leslie. The Mauve Room, also called The Royal Suite, has welcomed Queen Margaret of Sweden, The Duke and Duchess of Connaught (Queen Victoria’s favourite son, and also Desmond Leslie’s godfather), Prince Pierre of Monaco and Prince Kessee. I guess they weren't scared off by Lady Constance Leslie! 

Those who have slept in the Red Room have reported seeing a ghost named Norman who perished in battle during World War I shuffling paper and telling guests who are making too much noise to quiet down.

My friendly mount at Castle Leslie must have kept the ghosts away or tired me out, so I slept like a baby.

Now when I stayed there, I didn't have a ghost encounter, but perhaps I was so tired after my full days of galloping around the three lakes, rolling parkland and cross country obstacles on the property. 

Learn about more great places to stay and ride in the Equitrekking Vacation Guide, through our Travel Deals page and Top20Ranches.com.

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Enjoying New Hampshire on Horseback

Equitrekking contributor and trail riding expert Susan St. Amand visits some New Hampshire's best trail riding destinations. 

While traveling with my horse through the Northeast recently, I spent a few days in New Hampshire exploring Bear Brook State Park and riding on Hampton Beach.

Bear Brook State Park contains 10,000 acres of recreational space and is the largest of New Hampshire's state parks.  Besides horseback riding, other activities available are hiking, biking, fishing, boating, swimming, and two archery ranges.  Overnight recreational camping is also available.  Bear Brook State Park and its affiliated supporters are currently in the process of planning for overnight horse camping facilities in the future.  Forty miles of multi-use trails traverse through the area's marshes, ponds, and brooks.  Trail maps are available and trails are well marked.  Park staff were very helpful during my visit.

horseback riding on the trail at bear brook

Bear Brook Trail. Photo courtesy Susan St. Amand. 

My favorite trail was riding along Bear Brook. The trail followed the brook very closely and on the opposite side of the trail was a steep hillside so that you had no place to travel but forward.  Luckily my horse did not misstep – otherwise, I would have been swimming!

horseback riding at bear brook new hampshire

Beautiful view of Bear Brook. Photo courtesy Susan St. Amand. 

Another trail I explored was Catamount Trail, which is difficult in the sense that it is very rocky and should be deemed for experienced riders and horses that are well shod.  Catamount Hill is 721 feet in elevation and when leaves have fallen off the trees, I would suspect that there are awesome views to be seen.

Hayes Marsh area was picturesque during this time of the year with tree stumps sticking out of the marsh and the changing colors of the leaves on the trees in the background.

between the ears view of hayes marsh new hampshire

Taking in the scenery at Hayes Marsh. Photo courtesy Susan St. Amand. 

On the other end of the spectrum, I also spent a morning riding on Hampton Beach.  The cool ocean breeze and an empty beach with no tourists in sight made for an exhilarating and refreshing atmosphere for a beach ride.  Beach riding is open to equestrians between October 1st and April 30th.  Trailer parking and access to the beach is centered at the Hampton Beach State Park facility at the south end of Ocean Boulevard of Hampton Beach area.  Please check with local authorities on beach riding criteria as ordinances continually change.

horseback riding on hampton beach

Horseback riding on Hampton Beach. Photo courtesy Susan St. Amand. 

While exploring New Hampshire, I enjoyed my stay at Rileys Farm, which is a 30-acre boarding facility near the seacoast of New Hampshire. The farm contains several indoor and outdoor arenas, obstacle and jump courses, and offers full care of your equines and caters to all disciplines. The staff is excellent and dedicated. 

riley's farm new hampshire

Riley's Farm entrance. Photo courtesy Susan St. Amand. 

riley's farm barn

Riley's Farm barn accomodations. Photo courtesy Susan St. Amand. 

About the Author: Susan St. Amand is a board member of the Shenandoah Trail Riding and Horseman's Association in Shenandoah County, Virginia.  She grew up in Northern Maine with horses on a farm and has been a transplant to Virginia for the past 26 years. A retired Youth Education Technician, she enjoys planning horse vacations with friends and has currently completed many rides in Maine, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, as well as Virginia, trailering her own horse. 

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Exploring Virginia’s Grayson Highlands State Park

Equitrekking contributor and trail riding enthusiast Susan St. Amand shares her adventure horseback riding with the wild ponies of Grayson Highlands State Park. 

Located near the Mount Rogers National Recreation area in the Jefferson National Forest region, is Virginia's Grayson Highlands State Park, which is comprised of 4,822 acres.  Among the various recreational activities available to explore in this southwest Virginia area, a unique adventure is to experience it on horseback.  As it is very mountainous, with rocky terrain and elevations reaching close to 5,000 feet, horses should be well-shod in order to traverse the highlands.  However, it is a treat to take in the breathtaking views.  In addition, wild ponies and free-roaming long-horned cattle graze in the highlands.

horseback riding virginia grayson highland state park

Trail riding at Grayson Highlands State Park. Photo courtesy Susan St. Amand. 

The wild ponies have survived in this harsh environment for many decades since their release from duty from the coal mining era.  At most, the herd has reached up to 120 wild ponies, but during harsh winters, it has dwindled to about 45 ponies.  The Wilburn Ridge Pony Association holds an annual auction during Grayson Highlands Fall Festival to keep the wild pony herd in check.  Proceeds go towards sustaining the herd as well as to assist local charities.

wild pony and foal grayson highland state park

A wild pony and her yearling foal. Photo courtesy Susan St. Amand. 

The most popular and shortest trail to obtain the greatest possibility of viewing the wild ponies is to take the Rhododendron Trail.  When riding while the rhododendron flowers are in bloom, it adds to the experience.  Because of the dramatic mountainous landscape, wild ponies, and free-ranging longhorn cattle, it feels like you have stepped back into a different time and place.  It fosters an urge to take a horseback riding trip to the real West.

horseback riding with free range longhorn

You might encounter the free range longhorn on the trail! Photo courtesy Susan St. Amand. 

The wild ponies are usually curious and do not usually shy away from horse riders or hikers, as the Appalachian Trail crosses thru this area.

wild pony grazing

Wild pony grazing. Photo courtesy Susan St. Amand. 

There are several horseback riding and horse camping facilities available in the area.  We selected Rocky Hollow Horse Camp (which has a variety of horse camping accommodations, as well as a large barn with horse stalls, bathhouse, and gift shop.  The owners are very welcoming and accommodating.

between the ears view grayson highlands

Beautiful views at Grayon Highlands State Park. Photo courtesy Susan St. Amand. 

During times while not on horseback, you can drive to nearby local areas for country dining, artisan shops, or other festive activities to explore local culture and history (such as bluegrass music).  On this occasion, we drove to the Wytheville, VA area for shopping therapy at Old Fort Western Store to browse through western wear and tack.  Another stop was the Big Walker Lookout and Country Store.  Besides the country store, this is a Civil War Trails stop for history buffs, as you can view where the Battle of Wytheville occurred on July 18, 1863, to interrupt the supply deliveries of the railroads, and telegraph stations to cut off communications.

big walker country store

No trip is complete without a little retail therapy. Photo courtesy Susan St. Amand. 

Another avenue to view this historic Civil War battle is to climb the Big Walker Lookout tower situated here as well.  The tower was built in early 1953, stands 100 feet tall, and is built to withstand 100 miles per hour winds.  The climb to the top of the tower is a good workout and not for faint-hearted.  But once at the top, you have an awesome panoramic view of the rolling mountain vistas.

battle of wytheville mountain view

The view from the grounds of the Battle of Wytheville. Photo courtesy Susan St. Amand. 

In summary, horseback riding and exploring the Virginia Grayson Highlands Park and Mount Rogers National Recreation area is definitely a unique treat – a small taste of the Wild West situated on the east coast.

About the Author: Susan St. Amand is a Board Member of the Shenandoah Trail Riding and Horseman's Association in Shenandoah County, Virginia.  She grew up in Northern Maine with horses on a farm and has been a transplant to Virginia for the past 26 years. A retired Youth Education Technician, she enjoys planning horse vacations with friends and has currently completed many rides in Maine, Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, as well as Virginia, trailering her own horse.

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Trail Riding in Nebraska: Fort Robinson State Park

Learn more about one of Nebraska's most popular horseback riding destinations, Fort Robinson State Park. 

Fort Robinson State Park in Nebraska is a former U.S. Army fort with 22,000 acres of public recreation and historic significance. It is located two miles west of Crawford on U.S. Route 20 in the Pine Ridge region of northwestern Nebraska and has a fascinating history.

horseback riding fort robinson state park

Photo courtesy Jenny Wheatley.

It is the place where American Indian war leader Crazy Horse of the Oglala Lakota was killed while resisting imprisonment in 1877. And in 1885, the famed all-black Ninth Cavalry Regiment was stationed at Fort Robinson – the Native Americans called them the “Buffalo Soldiers.”

horseback riding fort robinson state park

Photo courtesy Jenny Wheatley.

By the end of WWI, the fort became the largest quartermaster remount depot, which provided horses to U.S. Army units. During WWII, it became a large K-9 training center as well as a German prisoner of war camp.

Photo courtesy Jenny Wheatley.

Fort Robinson was closed in 1947, but many of the original buildings still stand. The fort is now a state park managed by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. It’s one of the best places to trail ride in Nebraska.

Photo courtesy Jenny Wheatley.

Ride at the Fort

If you want to ride under the wide blue skies with millions of stars at night, see the buffalo roam, and watch antelope race across the fields (I even galloped alongside them for a short period!), then Fort Robinson is the place to explore.

horseback riding fort robinson state park

Photo courtesy Jenny Wheatley.

With marked trails that cross small streams, wind through trees and wide open plains, Fort Robinson gives riders opportunities to view turkeys, longhorn cattle, perhaps a coyote slinking away, bald eagles soaring and a wide variety of beautiful flowers and grasses. Incredible escarpments offer riders challenging terrain that is rocky, steep and narrow at times, but when you reach the top, the views are spectacular.

horseback riding fort robinson state park

Photo courtesy Jenny Wheatley.

Horse Boarding and Guest Lodging

Stay at the park for the full experience. Many of the old buildings that served as officers and soldiers quarters have been repurposed into lodging for guests. But reserve well in advance, as they are very popular during the busy season. There is also ample room for camping, including primitive tent camping or modern spaces for campers and living quarter horse trailers.

horseback riding fort robinson state park

Photo courtesy Jenny Wheatley.

For hours of incredible riding through rolling fields, challenging climbs, and jaw-dropping views, Fort Robinson dispels the myth that Nebraska is flat!

About the Author: Carine Stava has a Bachelor of Science in Education from the University of Nebraska-Omaha. With her husband, she owns The Farm at Butterflat Creek, where she trains horses and teaches lessons in Hunter/Jumper and Fox Hunting. She hunts with North Hills Hunt and is the First Flight Field Master most of the time. 

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Saddling Up at 91

What's it like to ride horses into your 90's? Mara Krausz of Vacations with Mom shares an adorable interview with her mom, an avid horsewoman who has kept riding even in her nineties!

My mom is 91-years-old and has been an avid horsewoman since before I was born. You would think that horseback riding would have ended for her many years ago. Think again! Mom has never let her age keep her from doing the things she loves. She hasn’t let health issues deter her either. I’ve never known anyone with her drive and determination. From a life-threatening fall on her head to neuropathy in her legs and feet, none of that has mattered. Mom has always found a way to be back where she belongs—on a horse.

I recently sat down with her for a chat about her love of horses and being a senior rider. 

senior woman riding icelandic horse

What does riding mean to you as an older person?

 It means freedom. And bonding with the animal. And it just means being outdoors amongst...being in areas that I love. Environments that I love.

And you love horses.

 Yeah, I love horses. I adore horses.

What was it like getting on a horse at 91 years old, for the first time after you had serious health issues?

 It was exciting because I really didn't think I'd ever be able to be on a horse again. And it was a real victory.

What made you think that you could do it?

 The fact that I love horses.

But what made you decide that you were ready? That you really would be able to do it again?

 Well, I was stronger, back in aerobics. I was doing my exercises. I gained physical strength, stamina. And I never rode a horse that I thought I could not control or would not understand me.

woman riding horse next to giraffe

What advice do you have for other older people who might not have thought they could ride at their age?

 Just enjoy the fact that you are on an animal that is very kind and loving. If you develop a friendship with animals and a relationship with animals—just give them a hug and a kiss. That's all they need to know. And just breath in their little noses so they can tell what your scent is. They have to know who you are. It's communication and you communicate with a horse with love and affection. Because they are huge animals; they are bigger than you are so you have to win their affection and their trust.

You always talk about how riding enables you to do things you normally can't do since you are wobbly on your feet and have balance issues.

 Well, when I'm on the horse, I'm secure. I have confidence in the horse, and if he has confidence in the fact that I can ride him and control him and tell him what I want him to do…it's all in that communication between you and the horse. And the fact that I am wobbly when I walk, I have confidence in his four legs knowing where they are going and my being able to direct him.

Being on a horse gives me a sense of wellbeing and freedom and being able to look at the other animals, birds, deer, what have you [while I ride].

Do you have a favorite memory of being on a horse?

 When I first rode Brett and he ran away with me. He ran away with me, and I said, “What do I do?” and my instructor, Jim Wylie, said, “Betty, hold on!” and that's what I did. I had confidence in myself that I would hold on. And in Brett. We became buddies. We were the best of friends. 

The other one was Eric, who was a great big 16-hand horse—huge. I was riding him and all of a sudden some bell rang, and Eric took off. It was like he was at the racetrack. He was a racehorse. And everyone said, “Oh my god! What's going to happen?” And Jim said, “Don't worry. She can handle Eric.” And sure enough, I handled Eric by saying, "Stop that! You know better!"

And that was my being with Eric. And whenever I would ride Eric, I said, "Eric, it's Mommy, I want you not to do that!" if he did something wrong. I could do that with Eric, but no one else could. Don't ask me why. I have no idea. I could ride this big former racehorse, and I'm a small person. On a good day, I'm only five feet. On another day, I'm four foot 11.

woman riding icelandic horse

Do you have a favorite riding trip that you went on?

 Oh yeah, the ride up to June Mountain with my friends. That was [laughing] the most exhausting thing I have ever in my life done because we had to sleep in tents, and I had to sleep on an air mattress, and I knew every rock in the ground. 

How old were you when you did that trip?

 I was about 65, 68...close to 70. So I did a lot of this riding when I was an older person. I was already in my sixties. 

What about riding Icelandic horses on our Iceland trip when you were 89?

 I loved that! I loved going through the water. I hadn’t gone through streams in a while since I did it in Chile in my seventies.

It reminded me of when I went to Vermont [with my riding group] and we also rode Icelandic horses. It started snowing, like a snowstorm, and I wasn’t properly dressed. Everything froze. They literally had to lift me off of the horse.

How old were you on the Vermont trip?

 In my eighties.

Are you sure it wasn’t late in your late seventies?

 I think it was in my early eighties.

senior woman on horseback

Any other words of encouragement for older riders?

 Have confidence in the horse. Make the horse your friend. Give them apples. Sugar cubes. Bananas. Whatever you think.

Bananas!

 Yeah.

Have you seen a horse eat bananas? 

 Yeah. Brett loved bananas.

That's wild. I've never heard that before. 

 I once gave Brett champagne. The horse and I were both tipsy. 

What was the occasion? 

 It was somebody's birthday or anniversary. I can't remember.

Did he drink it out of your hand?

 Uh-huh. Poured it into my hand. That was really wild. 

And some other [wild stories]…. When we were riding in Malibu, and it was at night, and we did, it was kind of like dressage. There were six of us riders, and we were in and out of formations. That was exciting. That was good riding. And that's when Brett fell. He stumbled and tripped. It wasn't his fault. It wasn't my fault. He fell on me, and the saddle cut into my leg. And I said, "Brett, listen; now move slightly off, back, back.” He listened to me. “Back, back. When you're off my leg and the saddle is free--get up.” So I pulled him back and then I said, “Now, Brett, up.” He stood up. I got out from underneath him and got back on the horse. 

I trusted the horse, and I learned that if you trust the animal, and they know you do, they’ll respond. They don’t want to hurt you.

How old were you when that happened? 

In my mid-sixties. So if I could do these things, anyone could do them. And I got up and rode around the ring, and Jim said, "Show off" and I said, "Why not?"

How often do you currently ride?

 Weekly, if it isn't too hot. 

Congratulations, Mom!

 Thank you. 

About the Author: Mara Krausz is a former chocolatier who writes articles, ebooks, screenplays, and edits books. She lives in Southern California and enjoys road trips overseas, often accompanied by her feisty mom. Their adventures are chronicled at Vacations with Mom, where others can also share stories of traveling with parents. Her books are available at www.AtoZbooks.org. Follow Mara on social media! Twitter and Instagram

Photos and text by Mara Krausz of Vacations with Mom

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Great USA Horse Trails- Equitrekking 50 State Trail Riding Project

Equitrekking's 50 State Trail Riding Project highlights great horse trails in every U.S. state contributed by the equestrian community... you! Find great riding destinations across the USA where you can bring your horse and sometimes also ride with local outfitters. Get inspired to get outdoors and horseback ride, because the more we horse lovers utilize our trails, the better chance we’ll have in keeping them open to horses. Contact us to contribute and share your favorite trails and scroll down to see what states we're still missing.

 • Alabama–– Rock Bridge Canyon- Hodges, Alabama Horse TrailsHorseback Riding at Shel Clair Farms in Vincent, Alabama
 • Alaska–– Alaska Horse Trails- Anchorage’s Ruth Arcand Park and Beyond
 • Arizona–– Horseback Riding Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve in ArizonaHorseback Riding McDowell Mountain Park Trail in ArizonaHorseback Riding Arizona’s Tonto National Forest
 • Arkansas–– Arkansas Horseback Riding Pedestal Rock- Ozark National ForestThe Best State Parks in Arkansas for Equestrians
 • California–– Horse Riding the Pacific Crest Trail in San Diego CountyHorseback Riding California’s Central SierrasHorseback Riding in Yosemite National Park
 • Colorado–– Horseback Riding Dome Rock State Wildlife Area, Colorado
 • Connecticut–– Horseback Riding in Connecticut’s Sprague Land Preserve
 • Delaware–– Favorite Horseback Rides in Delaware
 • Florida–– Horseback Riding in the Tallahassee Area of FloridaHorseback Riding the Florida Greenway– ShangrilaHorseback Riding Princess Place Preserve in Florida
 • Georgia–– Horse Riding Bussey Point Recreation Area in Lincolnton, Georgia
 • Hawaii–– Best Places to Trail Ride on Oahu Island in Hawaii
 • Idaho–– Horseback Riding Idaho's Panhandle National Forest & Heyburn State Park
 • Illinois–– Equestrian Tips for Trail Riding Illinois’ Shawnee National ForestMidewin National Tallgrass Prairie in Illinois
 • Indiana–– Trail Riding Indiana- Horse Trails in the Hoosier National Forest
 • Iowa–– The Best Horse Trails In Iowa
 • Kansas–– Kansas Trails for Horseback Riding- Kanopolis and Beyond
 • Kentucky–– Kentucky Horse Trails at Shaker Village of Pleasant HillHorseback Riding Kentucky's Green River Lake State ParkMammoth Cave National Park’s First Creek Trail in Kentucky
 • Louisiana–– Louisiana’s Best Horse Trails
 • Maine–– Horseback Riding in Maine- Kennebunkport, Popham Beach and BeyondHorseback Riding in Acadia National Park
 • Maryland–– Horseback Riding in Maryland’s Spectacular Rocky Gorge Trail


 • Massachusetts- Horseback Riding Mount Toby in MassachusettsMassachusetts Trails Roundup: Top 10 Places to Ride in the Bay State
 • Michigan–– Michigan Shore to Shore Riding Trail
 • Minnesota–– Horseback Riding in Minnesota- Great Places for Trail RidingZumbro Bottoms Horseback Riding
 • Mississippi–– Horseback Riding the Natchez Trace in Mississippi
 • Missouri–– Missouri Horse Trails- Mark Twain National Forest and Beyond
 • Montana–– Riding and Packing in the Beautiful Bitterroot Valley in Montana
 • Nebraska–– Horseback Riding in the Nebraska National Forest to Support 4-HNebraska’s Top State Parks for Horseback RidingTrail Riding in Nebraska: Fort Robinson State Park
 • Nevada–– Experience Nevada’s Diversity Riding The American Discovery Trail
 • New Hampshire–– New Hampshire on Horseback
 • New Jersey–– Great New Jersey Horse Trails- Paulinskill Valley Rail Trail
 • New Mexico–– Riding in Lincoln County’s White Mountain Wilderness, New Mexico, The Argentina Trail Loop
 • New York–– Favorite Horseback Rides in New YorkHorseback Riding in New York’s Otter Creek Horse Trail System
 • North Carolina–– Horseback Riding Western North Carolina’s Pisgah Ranger District
 • North Dakota–– Horseback Riding in Little Missouri State Park
 • Ohio–– Horseback Riding Hocking Hills in Ohio
 • Oklahoma–– Horseback Riding in Oklahoma at Lake Stanley DraperCedar Lake Equestrian Camp in the Oklahoma Ouachita Mountains
 • Oregon–– Riding the Metolius-Windigo Trail in Central Oregon
 • Pennsylvania–– Pennsylvania Horse Trails Through the SeasonsPennsylvania Trail Riding Adventures 
 • Rhode Island–– Great Places for Horseback Riding in Rhode Island
 • South Carolina–– Equestrian Trail Riding in South Carolina
 • South Dakota–– Horseback Riding in South Dakota- The Badlands and Beyond
 • Tennessee–– Horseback Riding Eastern Tennessee’s Cherokee National ForestTrail Riding at Big South Fork Recreation Area in TennesseeHorse Camping at Buffalo River in TennesseeThree of the Best Tennessee State Parks for Horseback Riding
 • Texas–– Riding in Texas at Big Bend Ranch is Not For the Timid– Or Rookies, Top Texas State Parks for Horseback Riding
 • Utah–– Horseback Riding Zion National Park in Utah-La Verkin Creek
 • Vermont–– Trail Riding in the Green Mountain State—Vermont
 • Virginia–– Trail Riding Virginia’s Northern Shenandoah Valley and BeyondSky Meadows State ParkTrail Riding Shenandoah River State Park in Virginia, The State Arboretum of Virginia – Blandy Experimental FarmAn Equestrian Weekend in Lexington, VirginiaExploring Virginia’s George Washington National Forest on Horseback
 • Washington–– Trail Riding the Cascade Mountain Range in Washington StateExploring Washington’s Riverside State Park on HorsebackRiding in the Pacific Northwest
 • West Virginia–– Horseback Riding in West Virginia from Shalimar FarmHorseback Riding the George Washington National Forest in West VirginiaHorseback Riding Around the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia, Horseback Riding in West Virginia’s Camp Creek State Park and Forest
 • Wisconsin–– Narrow Gauge Trails in Barron County, Wisconsin, Riding the Southern Kettle Moraine State Forest in WisconsinRide Wisconsin: Halls Creek and Bush Lake FlatsTrail Riding the Kickapoo Valley Reserve in Wisconsin
 • Wyoming–– Riding the Alaska Basin-Buck Mountain Pass

Have a great trail to share? Contact us and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

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Dartmoor Derby UK Horse Riding Weekend

Riding the Dartmoor Derby has been a dream three years in the making for me. Some dreams are worth the wait. I finally rode the Dartmoor Derby from September 21-23rd and it lived up to all of the hype and expectations that I had for it.

by Stacey Stearns

First, a little background; the Dartmoor Derby was founded by Elaine Prior of Liberty Trails and brings the speed, excitement, endurance, and fun of the Mongolian Derby and luxury of an African Safari to the moors of England. The Derby had a trial run in 2015, and this was the third year Liberty Trails hosted a group of riders on Dartmoor. 

Dartmoor Derby UK horse riding
Taking off on an adventure. The Dartmoor Derby is a unique weekend riding challenge. Photo credit Rachel Brock

Riders are in groups of eight, and can bring their own horses or hire a hunter-type horse for the ride. We had 22 riders from three different countries this year, forming three different groups. Each group has two local guides, and at least two ground crew members. The guides re-ride the Derby routes prior to the event each September. The plan for the Derby is to arrive on Friday and have a short ride to get to know the horses. Then it’s full days of riding on Saturday and Sunday, and departure on Monday morning. Each year, the Derby is up to 50 miles of riding across Dartmoor.

High winds and heavy rain forced some last minute changes to the Derby this year, but the organizers took it all in stride. They switched the short Friday ride to Saturday, and planned a longer distance for Friday, telling us all to wear our rain gear both days. 

I knew we were riding soon after arrival, so was wearing breeches, boots and half chaps, standing outside the train station in Exeter, England. A woman walked up and asked if I was going to the Dartmoor Derby, she and her three friends (all from London) were also headed there. We chatted as we waited for the ground crew. Jules arrived, followed shortly after by Bob. We were still missing three other riders, so Jules took the four that came together in her vehicle, and Bob and I waited for the other three. Jennifer, BiBi and Jodi arrived (hailing from Tennessee and Alabama respectively). They were so funny and I liked them immediately. We drove the 40 minutes over to Princetown talking the whole way, with Bob filling us in on local information, the sights we were passing, and the Derby.

Liberty Trails UK Dartmoor Derby
Riders can bring their own horse or request a forward going hunter from Liberty Trails. Photo credit Rachel Brock

We drove to the barn first. The base camp is at the Dartmoor Prison Farm that is rented out by Neil, a local farmer. We checked in briefly, but needed to drop our luggage and find our helmets, so we drove down to the camp. Camp is in the middle of a field; there are yurts (three people per yurt, in some cases four in a larger yurt for the groups that traveled together), and a dining yurt. Each yurt is named for one of the tors (hills) in Dartmoor.

I picked a bed in my yurt, grabbed my helmet and headed back to the Land Rover. We drove up to the barn, were assigned our teams, and given a ribbon to wear with our team color. I was on the orange team, led by Rachel and Lucy. My fellow team members were the four women from London (Heidi, Kim, Emma, and Kristina), my yurt mate Catherine from Cornwall, and Emma from Cotswolds, who was riding her third Dartmoor Derby. 

Friday and Saturday of the Dartmoor Derby

My horse for the weekend was Wilma, an Irish Hunter mare owned by a gentleman from one of the local hunts. The wind was blowing and we were off riding. The scenery was stunning. Words and pictures can't truly do it justice; it's something that needs to be experienced in person.

Stacey Stearns Dartmoor Derby equestrian
Stacey Stearns with Wilma riding in the Dartmoor Derby. Photo by Lucy Higginson.

The tallest tor is North Hessary in Princetown and we rode up and down this one each day on our way in and out of camp. It has a cell phone tower on the top, and that helped those of us from away distinguish where we were. 

From there we rode to Foggintor where we saw one of the three quarries where they excavated stone for the London Bridge. There is a deep pool inside. We rode to Leeden tor, on to black tor, and crossed the river, and continued on to Hart tor and crossed the Hart tor brook. 

Fogginator Dartmoor Derby
One attraction for this riding adventure is the stunning UK countryside. Photo credit Rachel Brock

We rode out to another point, Cramber tor, where we could see the Burrator reservoir, and look out in the distance on the Portsmouth bay. Next we headed down to Crazywell pool, it’s 80 feet deep and the British army practices swimming across it with full packs on. We continued heading down towards the Burrator plantation and reservoir. 

Our group stopped and chatted with the Neil and Paul (the photographer) at Norsworthy Bridge, and then climbed up Sheeps tor, passed what is called the ‘scout hut’ and then stopped at Ditsworthy Warren farmhouse where part of the movie War Horse was filmed and took a group photo. 

riding where War Horse filmed in the UK
Riding through areas where "War Horse" filmed. Between the ears shot by Stacey Stearns.

We stopped at a stone circle and had a big long canter over to the wall of a house that someone had lived in before the Black Death came through and they moved off of the moors. Then we rode to the foundation of a house that someone had lived in to look after the stream where it came out the side of the tor before heading to the sea. It looked like a hobbit house. Rachel grew up and still lives on Dartmoor, and filled us in on all of the history as we stopped at various points throughout the ride.

Dartmoor Derby England horseback
A small group rides and becomes friends during the Dartmoor Derby. Photo credit Rachel Brock

Soon we were watching the grey skies and storm clouds that were forecasted roll over the moors and closer to us as we were coming off Combshead tor. We picked up a brisker pace, and zipped up our rain jackets. Wilma loves to lead, and we trotted down a gravel path, back toward camp, as the hail pelted us on our way to South Hessary. Before long we were back at the barn, the having ridden 20-22 miles. The ground crew sprang into action taking our horses, and we were given hot cups of tea.

We headed back to our yurts, showered and changed. The yurts all have heaters, lamps, a small potted rose plant, carpets, are decorated with beautiful wall hangings of different patterns, and have a skylight at the top. At the dining yurt, our three chefs presented us with a delicious meal that had been locally sourced.  

Saturday's forecast was for rain all day. Elaine and the guides planned a shorter ride, what was supposed to be the Friday ride, knowing everyone would be wet and cold. Our group headed out Saturday in the rain, and I must say that experiencing Dartmoor in the rain and fog is part of the magic. At some points you could see for quite a distance and other times all you saw was the horse in front of you. Three of us were quite content in the rain, but the rest of the group wanted to head back so we just rode 8 miles or so on Saturday. In the afternoon, Catherine wanted to go to a local tack shop so we drove over to Newton Abbot and went shopping. The rest of the group rested or went to a local pub, where Elaine had a guest speaker come in and speak about the Dartmoor ponies.

Sunday at the Dartmoor Derby

We woke to the sound of rain on the roves of our yurts, and had a leisurely brunch at 11 AM and then rode out in the afternoon, waiting for the morning rains to finish and the sun to come out. Breakfast was another amazing feast from our caterers. 

Once in the saddle, we headed into the fields and started climbing to Fice’s well. Anytime we could move at a faster pace we were trotting and cantering, and on Wilma, that often meant galloping. We climbed to the top of the first hill, Newtake, and I took a few photos, it’s hard to explain the incredible and vast amount of space that is Dartmoor. It’s beautiful in every direction, but also different in every direction, and I think that contributes to the awe-inspiring beauty.

We climbed Little Mis Tor, and then Great Mis Tor where we took pictures and sipped water bottles. Then we headed down the other side, crossed Shillapark River and a ravine, before having a huge gallop across the peat track and to a stone circle. We all got splattered in mud due to all of the rain, and laughed at each other and ourselves when we stopped at the stone circle. We took a walk break, and headed toward a standing stone and then were off galloping again towards White Tor. We crossed the river at Wealake Farm.

In this stretch, we trotted past a small Dartmoor mare grazing on the side of the trail. Wilma and I were in the lead, and then I heard a very tiny whinny. The foal came trotting up the trail towards us, and her mother that we had just passed, very interested in who we were. The foal was so cute and little compared to the big mare I was on. After we went by the foal scampered down the trail and back to its dam. 

Dartmoor Derby horse riding UK foal
Spotting a foal between the ears. Photo by Stacey Stearns.

We rode on to Cox Tor, barn hill, Feather Tor, Pew Tor, on to Sampford Spinney (a town), and then to Ingra Tor. We rode under an old stone railroad bridge at a brisk trot near Ingra Tor, and then it was back to the moorland and off on another canter over to the cycle track. At the cycle track, Wilma saw some hikers and worked very hard to try and overtake them, but we took a left and headed back towards the Foggintor Quarry from Friday.

Railroad Bridge Dartmoor Derby
Riding toward the Railroad Bridge. Photo credit Rachel Brock.

Rachel found wonderful routes for us all three days. Dartmoor is 368-square miles though – so there are many other sections of the park left to explore another time. Elaine told me that you need five full days of riding to make it all the way around the perimeter of Dartmoor. With our base camp in the heart of Dartmoor we were able to ride a different loop each day.

Soon the cell phone tower on North Hessary was getting closer, and that meant the end of the Dartmoor Derby. We climbed to the top and looked out over the moors one last time. As we headed down the other side, we scattered a herd of Dartmoor ponies and ducked into another field that looks out over the prison farm and our camp.

Back at the barn, the ground crew was waiting to take our horses, and I was sorry to leave Wilma, having grown rather attached over the three days. At our yurts, a campfire was going, and we sat and reflected on our ride as the moon rose and the stars came out. We enjoyed our last dinner together and a night filled with laughter and talking. Then everyone slowly headed back to the yurts to sleep.

We had breakfast on Monday morning as everyone slowly departed. All of us from the United States had booked rooms in Bovey Castlefor Monday night, and were transferred over there by the ground crew. The W.H. Smith family built the castle in 1907. I spent the afternoon wandering the grounds taking pictures and visiting the neighboring town of Moretonhampstead, followed by dinner with some of my new friends. The next morning I headed to the airport and flew home.

Bovey Castle in the UK
Bovey Castle and blue skies. Photo by Stacey Stearns.

Dartmoor enchanted me. I’ve always loved rugged scenery and breathtaking beauty, and Dartmoor is no exception. It draws you in, and captivates the imagination as you wonder what you will encounter over the next tor. 

About the Author: Stacey Stearns is a lifelong equestrian from Connecticut. She lives on Mountain Dairy in Mansfield, her family's dairy farm, and enjoys trail riding and endurance with her Morgan horses.

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Nebraska’s Top State Parks for Horseback Riding

Nebraska ranks last among states that tourists most want to visit. The State Tourism Board just launched a self-deprecating tourism campaign telling folks that "it’s not for everyone," but we think it's a great state for trail riding. Check out some of Nebraska’s best and "secret" trail riding and camping areas for equestrians!

Danish Alps State Recreation Area

Photo courtesy NEBRASKAland Magazine/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

With miles of rolling hills and endless plains, Nebraska’s state parks serve as perfect weekend getaways for equestrians looking for a small break from reality. With just over 520 acres of land and a 219-acre lake, the Danish Alps State Recreation Area serves as a great getaway spot for those craving adventure. Located in Hubbard, Nebraska, this state recreation area is named for its early Danish settlers and aims to provide its visitors with an experience rich in history and full of Nebraska’s natural beauty.

The Danish Alps State Recreation Area is a great area for equestrians to enjoy a weekend trail riding through the beautiful plains of Nebraska. One of the two main trails within this area is designated for equestrian use only and makes its way around the 219-acre Kramper Reservoir.

For overnight use, the Danish Alps State Recreation Area provides a horse campground with 26 gravel pads, three cement gravel pads, and 14 horse corrals with hitching posts and water. All campsites provide electrical hookup and are located near common restrooms and showers.

The Danish Alps State Recreation Area allows guests to participate in a variety of outdoor activities, including fishing, boating, hunting, hiking and biking, and horseback riding. Visitors are able to see many different species of plants and animals. The area's waters host a variety of fish, including largemouth bass, bluegill, black crappie, channel catfish, and walleye. The state recreation area is open for hunting beginning on the first Tuesday after Labor Day and goes through the end of the spring turkey season.

While the Kramper Reservoir provides guests with plenty of water activities, there are still 520 acres of land left within the recreation area’s boundaries. With two main trails running throughout the area, many visitors are found hiking and biking throughout the day to enjoy the beauty of the Danish Alps.

The Danish Alps State Recreation Area serves as a great place to take the family for a weekend vacation and enjoy Nebraska’s great outdoors.

Find out more about the Danish Alps State Recreation Area. 

Fort Robinson State Park

Photo courtesy NEBRASKAland Magazine/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Located in the Pine Ridge area of North Western Nebraska, Fort Robinson State Park is one of the state's most popular horse destinations. Originally established as a fort during the second World War, Fort Robinson became a state park in 1962 and is now named “one of the nation’s top family reunion spots" by USA Today.

With just over 22,000 acres within its borders, Fort Robinson has a multitude of outdoor activities for its guests to participate in. However, one of its most popular attributes is its incredible horseback riding experiences. The park is a very popular tourist attraction for equestrians in Nebraska and has been called by many a “horse rider’s paradise”.

Photo courtesy NEBRASKAland Magazine/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

According to Assistant Superintendent, Deb Kennedy, Fort Robinson “includes riding opportunities for all levels of riders, and guests can ride on the open plains or up into the Buttes that surround the park. From Memorial Day until Labor Day, there are scheduled rides on Fort Robinson’s own horses that go out daily: one a more challenging ride that takes about about an hour and a half and goes up into the Red Cloud Buttes, and another shorter ride that takes guests down along Soldier Creek and is best for younger guests and novice riders.”

Fort Robinson provides its equestrian guests with 20 miles of trails for horseback riding and a year-round equestrian campground. The equestrian campground has full hook-ups with nearby showers and restrooms (which are shut off during the winter months), and horses are required to be housed in the barn for overnight stays.

On the west end of the park, the National Forest shares a little creek called Soldier Creek, where riders can ride on three different trails and stay overnight in a primitive camping area with a set of corrals. For more riding opportunities, guests can check in with the Nebraska National Forest.

Photo courtesy Arabian Horse Association.

While horseback riding is a popular attraction, Fort Robinson also offers its guests many other activities to participate in during their stay.  Tours of the park are given daily during the summer months in jeeps, horse-drawn hay rides, and stagecoach rides. Fort Robinson also hosts two museums--one of which is operated by Nebraska State Historical Society and focuses on the history of the park and its buildings, and the other, Trailside Museum, is operated by the University of Nebraska and focuses on the park’s geology and natural history.

For those seeking an evening of entertainment, Fort Robinson State Park hosts a free rodeo every Thursday night at 8 p.m. during the summer months. It is also home to the Post Playhouse, presenting eight shows per week during the summer months.

Photo courtesy NEBRASKAland Magazine/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Fort Robinson has over 100 miles of trails, 60 of which are for hiking and 20 of which are used for biking. Mountain bikes, kayaks, and tubes may all be rented at the activities center, and guests may visit the Legends Butte nine-hole golf course for a day out on the greenery. Fort Robinson also has an outdoor wading pool and an Olympic-sized indoor pool open from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day.

The park has 35 group lodging options, housing anywhere from two to 20 people, as well as 22 rooms in the historic lodge. For those who wish to camp, Fort Robinson has 100 RV pads, all with electric hookups and available restrooms, laundry, and showers.

Find out more about Fort Robinson State Park

Indian Cave State Park

Photo courtesy NEBRASKAland Magazine/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Home to its very own large sandstone cave, Indian Cave State Park has over 3000 acres full of historical landmarks and scenic trails for its visitors to enjoy. Located in Shubert, Nebraska and bordering the Missouri River, this state park provides its guests with some of Nebraska’s best scenic views.

One of the most unique aspects of Indian Cave State Park is its namesake. This large sandstone cave is a popular sight to see, with petroglyphs from early Native American tribes engraved on its walls. Visitors may view this cave and its petroglyphs from a wooden boardwalk just outside the cave.

Indian Cave State Park has over 20 miles of hiking and biking trails, and 16 miles of equestrian trails available for use. They provide guided horseback trails on weekends during the summer and fall, and the rest of the year is open for those who wish to bring their own horses.

When riders are not out reveling in Nebraska’s beauty on horseback, they are able to participate in numerous activities and programs. The park hosts both birding tours and naturalist programs for its guests who wish to see wildlife such as deer, turkey, barred owls, and whippoorwills. Guests may also enjoy a day out on the lake fishing, swimming, and boating.

Indian Cave State Park also hosts Christmas in July, in which guests can interact with Santa, watch Christmas movies, and take a ride around the park in horse-drawn sleighs. Indian Cave also celebrates Haunted Hollow during Halloween. At the end of October, visitors are able to participate in hay rides, campsite decorating contests, and different games and crafts in celebration of Halloween.

As far as campsites go, Indian Cave State Park has 134 RV sites and primitive camping in the hills. Equestrian visitors may stay in Indian Cave’s horse camp during their overnight stays with their horses. The horse camp includes 12 corrals and multiple tie-out-posts. Temporary fencing is permitted, and camping is primitive (with no electricity). A water wagon is available for use nearby. All sites are located near showers, restrooms, and laundry, and include picnic tables and grills.

Find out more about Indian Cave State Park and how they can help meet your family’s camping needs. 

Niobrara State Park

Photo courtesy NEBRASKAland Magazine/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Located on the northeast border of Nebraska, where the Niobrara and Missouri Rivers meet, Niobrara State Park is a great place for family and friends to enjoy Nebraska’s great outdoors. With countless family-friendly events and a wide array of outdoor activities, Niobrara State Park provides its visitors with a fun-filled stay at their park.

Niobrara State Park has over 120 acres for equestrian use. However, there are no distinct trails and riders are free to roam across the land and experience the many views of Nebraska’s nature. During the summer months, Niobrara provides its guests with guided trail rides, in which riders receive an incredible tour of Niobrara’s outdoor experiences.

In between trail rides, riders are able to participate in a variety of other activities offered by Niobrara State Park. With 14 miles of hiking and biking trails, and both a pool and a lake to swim in, guests can enjoy every aspect of Nebraska’s outdoor adventures. For guests who prefer more organized activities, Niobrara hosts Buffalo Cookouts every Saturday during the summer, with storytellers and cowboy poets as entertainment. They also host wildlife watches, in which visitors can spot white-tailed deer, wild turkey, beaver, muskrat, chickadee, and possibly bald eagles. At the J. Alan Cramer Interpretive Center, guests can take in a beautiful view of the park all while learning about the history of Niobrara State Park and the Ponca Indians.

Niobrara State Park has 30 tent camping sites and 76 RV sites for its guests to enjoy. They also provide 20 fully furnished cabins overlooking the Missouri River Valley with heat and air conditioning for year-round use. There is a primitive equestrian campsite that isfirst-come-first-serve, with one common corral that guests may share.

Niobrara State Park is a park rich in history and unforgettable memories. It is a great place for equestrians to bring their horses and experience the great outdoors of northeast Nebraska.

Find out more about Niobrara State Park

Rock Creek Station State Historical Park

Photo courtesy NEBRASKAland Magazine/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Originally used as a Pony Express Station in 1857, Rock Creek Station State Historical Park is an excellent place for equestrians to experience a horse-filled weekend. Located in Fairbury, Nebraska, Rock Creek Station has 350 acres of beautiful Nebraska scenery for everyone to enjoy. This park is rich in history, as this is where “Wild Bill”, or James Butler Hickok, killed Davis McCanles and began his career as a gunfighter in July of 1861. Throughout the park, guests may see deep ruts made from wagons on the Oregon and California trails. Guests are welcome to stop by the visitor center and learn all about the history and wonderful stories Rock Creek Station has to tell.

For those simply looking for a family-friendly weekend camping trip, Rock Creek Station is the place. With four miles of hiking and nature trails and five miles of separate equestrian trails, guests are able to enjoy a weekend outdoors with the family.

For equestrian visitors, Rock Creek Station provides a horse camp with 20 individual corrals with water provided, along with picnic tables and grills available for use. Riders can wander the five miles of trails within the park, as well as visit nearby Rock Creek Station and Rock Glen Wildlife Management Area for an extended ride.

Overall, Rock Creek Station is a very popular state park for history lovers and those searching for a nice weekend outdoors with their family.

Find out more about Rock Creek Station State Historical Park

About the Author: Madeleine Davis is a college student at Texas A&M University, studying Animal Science and pursuing an Equine Certificate. Having ridden and competed Arabians since the age of seven, she has a passion for the Arabian horse and enjoys writing about her experiences and knowledge of the industry.

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Horseback Riding in the Nebraska National Forest to Support 4-H

Horses have long been a part of Nebraska’s landscape and culture. The state’s 4-H Horse Program aims to bring along young riders who are responsible, self-disciplined, thoughtful and caring. Kids and adults participate in the fundraising trail ride in the Nebraska National Forest at Halsey to celebrate its 20th anniversary. 

Story and photos by Jenny Wheatley/NEBRASKAland Magazine

“This story was originally published in the November 2018 issue of NEBRASKAland Magazine.” 

Nebraska National Forest Horseback Riding

Lillyanne Lewis of Ord rides her paint horse during the 4-H Camp Trail Ride in the Nebraska National Forest.

Head, Heart, Hands and Health – since 1958, the Nebraska 4-H Foundation has been supporting youth through hands-on projects that encourage them to stay active and engaged in their communities, and prepare them for the future. With programs ranging from animal science to business to the arts to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), the foundation’s mission is to help provide the financial backing and manpower needed to 4-H clubs across Nebraska, which collectively serve about 143,000 young people annually. 

Open to children ages 5-18, regardless of financial background, Nebraska 4-H would not be possible without volunteers and generous donations. In partnership with Nebraska Extension, the foundation is supported by 12,000 volunteers and hosts key fundraising events throughout the year.

One such fundraiser is the State 4-H Camp Trail Ride in Halsey, which began in 1999 and celebrated its 20th anniversary Oct. 6-7, 2018. 

Nebraska National Forest horse trailers parking

Local ranchers provide panels to pen in horses for the 4-H Camp Trail Ride in Halsey. They also donate Nebraska certified weed-free hay, which is required by law inside the Nebraska National Forest to prevent the introduction of invasive plants.

Hands and Heart 


When Nebraska Extension educators and friends of the 4-H Horse Program met in November 1998, they chose the Nebraska National Forest at Halsey as the site for the annual state 4-H Camp Trail Ride. Established in 1902 by Charles E. Bessey, this man-made forest offered recreational opportunities unlike anywhere else in the Great Plains, and for Sandhills and corn country horse riders, the forest is a pleasant change of scenery and terrain. 

Originally, proceeds from the ride went to support national trips for the Nebraska 4-H Horse Program, but that has changed periodically depending on financial need. Currently, funds are used to maintain the 4-H Camp in Halsey and to provide “camperships” for young people to attend other camps throughout the year. 

4-H Camp Trail Ride in Halsey Nebraska

Bruce Treffer of Cozad rides alongside his daughter, Sarah, who has been attending the 4-H Camp Trail Ride in Halsey since she was one year old.

Located within the national forest, the Halsey camp is one of two 4-H centers in the state. It was dedicated in 1962, and in addition to hosting youth functions, the camp is also available to outside organizations and events; the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission’s Becoming and Outdoors- Woman Weekend called the 4-H Camp in Halsey home for many years. 

Stuart Shepherd, executive director of the Nebraska 4-H Foundation, said, “The funds raised from the trail ride have been vital to supporting the 4-H Camp, which also benefits surrounding towns. Weddings, graduations, proms – the camp operates as a community center for the region.” 

And in turn, the trail ride could not be successful without local help. 

True to 4-H fashion, the weekend requires all hands on deck. Whether it’s local ranchers who lend their panels to pen in horses or donate Nebraska certified weed-free hay – required by law in the forest; or all the volunteers who keep the event running, who cook meals and spend time mentoring young riders while out on the trail; or the Nebraska Forest Service staff who agreed to maintain and open up a small pasture – now called “Windmill 25” – to serve as parking and trailhead ... the individuals who make the 4-H Camp Trail Ride possible could not be faulted for being short on heart. 

Head and Health 

Horses have long been a part of Nebraska’s landscape and culture, and the state’s 4-H Horse Program aims to bring along young riders who are responsible, self-disciplined, thoughtful and caring. Many of the youth riders at Halsey are current 4-H members, but this ride is also every bit as much for the adults. 

Greg leads his horse over small log obstacles in the Nebraska National Forest

Treffer’s son, Greg, leads his horse over small log obstacles. Greg has also been riding since he was a toddler.

Pulling in Nebraskans from all corners of the state – both city and rural, the forest’s central location sees an average of 100 riders each year, and in some years, the foundation may welcome as many as 150. Men, women, and children of all ages – including toddlers who share the saddle with their parents – have enjoyed Halsey. They come to explore the forest’s miles of pine-shaded trails, open Sandhills country, the camp atmosphere and friendships old and new. And after 20 years, many of these riders have become regulars, returning year after year – some coming back with growing families. 

Horses inside pens at the Windmill 25 area in the national forest

Horses are kept inside pens available at the Windmill 25 area in the national forest. It is also where all trail rides begin and end.

“There’s at least one lady who comes every year, ever since she was a 4-H youth in summer camp,” said Dewey Teel, 4-H Trail Ride co-chair. 

And those who don’t ride, the delicious Saturday night steak dinner and live and silent auctions are enough to convince many locals to enter the forest. 

“Whether or not a person comes to ride, most like to see that their money is going to something that is local to the Sandhills region,” said Teel. 

With large stands of forest and seemingly endless, wide open spaces, 4-H trail ride guides have access to about 30 miles of trails within 10-12 sections. Morning rides on Saturday and Sunday are considered short at approximately 4-6 miles, while the Saturday afternoon ride ranges between 10-12 miles. 

“You can see for miles and miles in the Sandhills areas, but when you get into the forest – even if you’re messing around for only a minute or two – you can’t see very far and you can get lost,” said Bruce Treffer, a 4-H Camp Trail Ride charter committee member. 

Additionally, if scheduling allows, riding clinics are available in some years, taught by horse experts who want to share their skills and knowledge. They may include exercises such as opening and closing gates, learning how to ride over natural obstacles and desensitizing activities. 

Trail leaders recommend that first timers practice riding out with others before coming to the trail ride, which can be overwhelming to some horses. 

Nebraska National Forest horseback riding obstacles

A rider urges his horse through a “scary” curtain of wood chimes, a desensitizing exercise that was part of a riding clinic available in 2014.

“There’s an impact in seeing so many horses going out that first time,” said Teel. But once here, to ride as part of a a large herd is a magnificent experience. Then at the end of the day on Saturday, after a full day’s ride and a delicious evening meal of steak, baked potato and green beans, a bonfire at Windmill 25 completes the camp atmosphere. 

Join the Nebraska National Forest Trail Ride 

“This isn’t a commercial trail ride,” said Gary Stauffer, who has been 4-H Trail Ride co-chair since its inception. “The area is picturesque and unique, but there aren’t many amenities, so haul in what you’ll need.” 

Staff recommends that participants drive into the Windmill 25 site with 4x4 vehicles. Port-a-johns will be provided, but those looking for a more comfortable camping experience may look to The Forest Service’s Bessey Recreation Complex and Campground, which offers water and electric hookups. 

For participants not hauling in RVs or live-in trailers, the Nebraska State 4-H Camp does offer cabins for a small fee, assigned on a first-come-first- served basis. There are also motels available in the nearby towns of Halsey and Thedford. 

Horseback riding Nebraska open Sandhills country National Forest

Riders Terri Licking (purple jacket), Kathy Potthoff of Lincoln and Bryan Bechtel (right) of Henderson and many others ride out of the trees and into more open Sandhills country.

Also, riders should be prepared for any type of weather in October. Trail riders have experienced weather from sunny and picture-perfect to rain and wind to snow. One year, a blizzard blew through the area. Although attendance took a hit, the trail ride has never been cancelled. 

“Everyone still had a good time,” said Teel. “Gary just took us through the trees and it was the prettiest drag we’ve ever had. There was snow everywhere.” 

If you’re still not convinced to come ride, perhaps Bruce Treffer’s thoughts might persuade you: 

“Horses and horse people ... when you gather people with common interests and place them in the Sandhills – one of the largest, most unique pieces of grassland there is in the country with a national forest in the middle of it, and with the 4-H Camp nearby which provides a unique camp setting ... the whole thing comes together. This has been the best place for us to meet, ride and support 4-H. It has fit our mission so well, so we’ve never thought to move the trail ride anywhere else. ” 

Learn more about Halsey’s trail rides

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