My Heart Belongs to Trail Riding
When I did the trial ride for my very first horse, I took him outside of the ring. I had already ridden inside of the tiny arena, but for whatever reason, the owner suggested I go ride in her field. I went out there, exploring the small wooded paddock, and when I turned around, Clay picked up a canter. It wasn’t fast, he was a pretty slow horse overall, but it was one of the most exhilarating experiences I’d ever had at that point. As we cantered through that field, the freedom surged through me. I didn’t have to wait for an instructor to tell me it was time to canter. I didn’t have to wait for anyone to tell me anything. I was free with this horse, free to ride, explore, and gallop across the field. We bought the horse.
While it was one of the first times I’d cantered freely through a field, it actually wasn’t the very first. That time belonged to a ride I had taken when I was about 11 or 12, still at my first lesson stable.
My usual group lesson hadn’t shown up, so it was just my brother and I (Yes, we used to lesson together, and then he lost interest, but I don’t think he ever lost the praise he got while he rode. He forever thought he was pretty good!). The instructors at that barn rotated frequently, I’m not even sure how they decided who would teach that day, it might have been a spin the bottle type situation, or whoever lost a drinking game the night before.
That day’s instructor decided that the best lesson would be a lesson in riding out. Or she just wanted an excuse to ride out. Or she wasn’t even an instructor at all, and just wanted to ride her horse, honestly who knows at this point. But all three of us saddled up our horses, and off we went into the field.
I can still see all the images of that ride in my head. The rolling hills, the forest trail, and the bright sky. I’ve never been to Ireland, but I imagine that’s what it would have looked like. Big, beautiful open field, ringed with woods. I don’t remember who this woman was, but I remember she was so happy, and was just a pleasure to be around. She must have been a saint to be so incredibly happy while playing babysitter for two preteens.
On the way back to the barn, she told us we were going to canter up the hill to the barn. We did. We galloped up that hill. I was both scared and exhilarated. That pony was no calm Clay, it was a rocket, and we were exploding off the earth. Seconds later, we were at the top and it was over, the wildest ride of my life.
Those two moments, plus a multitude of others, are the reason I love trail riding. It’s a sense of freedom that I’ve never had anywhere else. My childhood is filled with more trail rides than anything else. There were so many times my friends and I would take out Clay and Vintage, and just ride everywhere. The only reason I knew anything about the neighborhood was from all the rides I took. We saw all the local farms, galloped through the empty fields, waded into water, and even had one bizarre experience with what seemed to be quick sand.
When I moved out on my own, the trails rides were paused, but only until I once again had two horses and a trailer. Then I was back at it. I was exploring all the local trails, from around my house to the public parks. Of all the horse experiences I’ve had, nothing compares to just galloping my horse through a field, feeling the wind on my face, and the power of my horse underneath me.
Once I got pregnant though, the rides stopped. After the second pregnancy, there were no rides in sight. I wasn’t even sure if I was going to ride again. Maybe that part of my life was over.
But as any equestrian knows, riding is a part of you that never leaves. There may be times in your life where it is quiet, laying dormant, but it is always there, waiting for the right moment to spring into action. It might be years, it might even be decades, but the pull of horses never fully leaves.
Even though I was busy with children, my heart yearned for horses. And maybe the universe realized that, since suddenly it made sense for Stu to come back to me. Despite being busier than ever before, I had to make time for horses and riding. So I did.
After having him home for a few months, working in the arena, I still felt the pull to go ride out in the fields, finding that freedom.
Riding a young green horse that is still confused about steering out into an open field seemed like one of the worst ideas I could ever have. But, I kind of toyed with the idea. I begin with just walking him through the fields on foot. As in, I walked, and lead him. I watched his reactions to everything. And …. nothing happened. Just like how he’s been acting ever since I moved him.
After a few more walks, I felt brave. More importantly, my friend also wanted to ride through the fields, and having a friend motivated to do something is probably one of the most motivating things possible. We saddled up, and right from the barn we mounted and rode out.
We took the closest loop around the barn, and the horses continued to do nothing. We took them out further, and still nothing happened. We took them out even further, and a deer spooked them. But we recovered, and basically nothing happened.
As far as trails went, it was a pretty simple ride. We just looped around the property at a walk. It wasn’t anything like the fast moving trail rides of my youth. But it still felt like an adventure. It was exciting and calming at the same time. We had taken a chance, and it had paid off.
After we dismounted, all I could think about was when would our next ride be? The jubilation of that ride could not be matched. Would we be cantering down trails soon? Would we be jumping logs in the woods?
For such a green horse, probably not soon. But not never – it was going to happen. The boulder had been set into motion down this path, and it would not be stopped.
That is why I love trail rides. It seems like such a simple concept, almost a throw away thing to do with horses, but it brings such possibilities. It could be a way to relax, or it could be an exciting adventure. It’s up to you.
I can’t wait for the next one.