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Trail Squad

You know what’s fun? Trail riding. I know, I hear you. “Duh, Casey, you’re a goddamn endurance rider. It had better be fun.” But I’m not talking about that kind of trail riding. I’m talking about the just-for-fun, let’s-go-hack kind of trail riding. Trail riding for pleasure.

Racing Heather and Rowena in at the finish of the Mustang Memorial 50 in 2009.

Because let’s be real, endurance is hard. I’m not moseying along and smelling the roses. Even at a walk, we’re marching with purpose. There’s a goal for each ride, be it mileage, time in the saddle, intervals, high-speed training, whatever. It’s unbelievably fun, and I love it, but it’s work. That’s my sport of choice, and those trail days are our training and rides are competitions.

Dancer and I did not come to play.

But even endurance riders like a good trail ride every now and again. Personally, I love the physical break (not like I’ve earned one lately, since I’m not competing), and every horse I’ve ridden out really likes the mental break. Ringwork and focused endurance conditioning require a horse that’s paying attention and concentrating, and sometimes it’s just nice to toss them the reins and go for a stroll.

And damn if this farm isn’t good for a stroll. It’s a zillion acres, and has all sorts of fun obstacles and little trails to play with. There’s a mile grass loop around the property, woodsy trails with a few jumps, cross country field with a little water complex, mini hill, and even a damn bridge to practice on. The only thing they don’t have are those evil, horse-eating tunnels that let you cross safely under roads that Fair Hill is (in)famous for.

Someday, I will have to ride the Grey Dragon through that. It's beemn nice knowing you.

I have wanted to get out there since I first toured the farm last fall, but Java has his own opinions. Like, “screw this plan” and “fuck CLEAN off” and “girl, you had better believe I won’t be going out there by my damn self.” I, being a reasonable person who likes being alive, didn’t really push this envelope. We would walk out the perimeter gate, go a few yards, refuse, ask,tell,MAKE him go a few steps, then give and go back in. Suuuuuper fun and relaxing sixteen second trail ride, Java. Thanks. So glad you’re confident.

Enter: trail squad. This big ass barn has, no surprise, a ton of people and horses of all types, and there’s a solid chunk of them who also love a relaxing trail ride around the farm! For such a fancy barn and all its appearances, the boarders are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Wonderful people like Lynne, Lauren, Melissa, Katelin, Susan, Gail, and JoAnne took Java and I out on trail rides, and so many more tolerate our airs above the ground in the arena (Seriously, there’s like, easily 30 people there). It didn’t take long for them to start inviting me, and Java’s antics are entertaining enough that they’re keeping us around. Plus, he wants to be friends with absolutely everyone and is suddenly confident in a group, so he’s a fun horse to ride out with.

Java thinks turtles on the trail are the most fascinating things on the planet.

With the trail quad, Java is brave. He doesn’t want to be the first to a scary thing, but he’s sure going to charge to the front when the coast is clear. We’ve ridden over the bridge, around the farm, popped over a little log or two, crossed the driveway, passed the neighboring houses with terrifying landscaping, and gone in and out of the water complex.

Java, Shorty, and Aloha snacking under the watchful eye of Apple.

My favorite part so far, though, has been the pond. The scene: late summer, hot as hell, and a perfect day to play. The cast: Java the Arabian and Aloha the Friesian, pond rookies and co-dependent scaredy cats, Apple the Thoroughbred, seasoned pro, and Shorty the Fjord, Warrior Princess and Fearer of Nothing.

Apple led the charge and successfully escorted everyone through the pond once. No Arabian fireworks, minimal snort drama at the water’s edge. Apple went, Shortly obviously did, too, and Aloha and Java discussed it and decided to go. Amazing! Why not try a second time? Lynne and Shorty took their win and carried on, and Katelin and Apple took a video for Lauren and I.

Aloha and Java get along really well, which makes riding together super fun. Once they’d already done it with assistance from the mares (because of course it took the mares going first), they were juuuuust brave enough to toe up to the edge and step in. Aloha, braver of the two, ended up in first, dunking his face, and Java, the brave little toaster, followed. And then…

Love us some seahorse rodeo.

That right there is why I love this place. Everyone has their own goals, disciplines, and plans. They work hard in the ring and learn and improve. But my friends here are also game to hit the trail, try new things, and when those things don’t go to plan, they laugh. They keep moving. They keep having fun. Everyone needs a good day on the trail to remind us of that mindset, and I am eternally grateful to these people for bringing Java and I along for the ride.

Java's sage mentor, Lance, spoiled (and completely deserving of it) by Melissa.


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