Tag Archives: COVID-19

Ending the Pandemic Pause

hi·ber·na·tion

noun

  1. the condition or period of an animal or plant spending the winter in a dormant state.

“grizzly bears gorge on seeds to prepare for hibernation”

  • an extended period of remaining inactive or indoors.

“the fair-weather cyclists are emerging from winter hibernation”

(all definitions from Oxford Languages)

I look forward to the arrival of spring at Cold Moon Farm each year with eager anticipation. For me, the predictability of restoring the farm to a more active state after winter’s dormancy provides a sense of satisfaction; the requirement of annual chores marks the passage of time, affirms that even when snow comes in April (as it did this year), spring will prevail in the end.

April 16, 2021. I didn’t actually cry but it was close.

Step by step, the essential equipment of winter—bucket heaters, extension cords, heavyweight blankets, shovels—is cleaned and stowed away, replaced by hoses and fly masks and the onset of shedding season. Gardens are raked, the horse trailer pulled out of its winter parking spot, grooming tools and grain bins washed and aired out. Each task completed marks a satisfying check off the “to do” list and brings me one step closer to the best riding months of the year here in New England.

The arrival of robins and eastern bluebirds and barn swallows marks the end of winter’s rest for the horses; in the past, I have called this period the “deferalization of spring”. It starts with a renewed commitment to deep grooming, shedding blades and sturdy curry combs erasing the feathery remains of winter coats while pulling combs and thinners shorten manes that have become unkempt. The farrier pulls winter shoes and snow pads, making feet seem cleaner and lighter. We start legging up the experienced horses with thirty minute walks, increasing to an hour, then adding light arena work. The green beans go on the longe line or work in the round pen, hopefully demonstrating some memory of lessons learned last season.

Just another day of shedding season for this professional hair-grower. (JEF Anna Rose)

This spring, it feels as though my personal equestrian hibernation has been longer than usual. This was the first winter in years I didn’t avail myself of an indoor, instead giving all of my horses three months off. Yet in some ways my “extended period of remaining inactive” began long before the winter solstice. I haven’t competed in person since 2019, took only two lessons in 2020 and otherwise hauled out just a handful of times for trail rides. Now, as both the calendar and world around me proclaim that it is time to resume activity, I find that I am struggling to emerge from my sheltered cocoon.

There are so many reasons for this. The pandemic, of course, is a huge part of it; given the many uncertainties over the past year, it was logical to simply stay home, and I am out of practice. But the pandemic also became a wonderful excuse to simply remain within my comfort zone and avoid new challenges that might intimidate me—challenges that could also test my skills and inspire me to grow. Even though doing new or difficult things can produce anxiety, nerves and even a little fear, it is the successful completion of these small challenges that develops confidence. And having had little opportunity to achieve these small stepping stones in the past eighteen months has left me feeling less confident than before all of this started.

Through Lee’s ears.

I recently interviewed a top hunter/jumper coach and course designer on the subject of riding under pressure; he commented that humans in general tend to move away from pressure but the most successful riders instead continuously seek it, putting themselves and their equine partners into situations in which they must manage nerves, excitement, challenge and stress. Navigating pressure—whatever that looks like for you—is where growth occurs. Living within your comfort zone is safe but will not and cannot produce new growth.

My extended hibernation was inspired by the pandemic but augmented by excuses and transitions such as horses needing to step down career wise and horses needing time to mature. It has left me feeling too familiar with my comfort zone and excessively rusty and out of practice with pushing my boundaries. Now, I have a rising 6-year-old ready to go out and see the world. Regionally, shows and clinics and other equestrian activity is on the upswing. All signals indicate that the time for hibernation is over—but after such a long period of inactivity, it is so tempting to stay within the security and familiarity of my comfort zone.

re·new·al

noun

  1. an instance of resuming an activity or state after an interruption.

“a renewal of hostilities”

  • the action of extending the period of validity of a license, subscription, or contract.

“the contracts came up for renewal”

  • the replacing or repair of something that is worn out, run-down, or broken.

It is easy to feel inspired by spring. The annual process of nature’s renewal is manifested by drab fields rebounding lush and vibrant, buds on branches unfurling leaves with panache and perennial flowers and bushes bursting with color. As I complete morning chores, the air is filled with the trills and warbles of birds dividing territory and attracting mates. This natural cycle happens whether we will it or not, whether we notice it or not. The renewal is inevitable.

Rabbit the Barn Cat poses with the posies.

For me, the first true days of spring, when the sun is finally strong enough and warm enough to kiss the skin and warm the soil, are a tonic for the ache winter leaves behind. The smell of fresh earth, the feel of heat on your cheeks, the chirp and whistle of a vivacious cardinal, all demand to be experienced.

Spring is a time of inspiration and action. I make promises to myself, set goals, make lists. I think about which projects need versus would be nice to complete on the farm. I make more lists and set timelines. On a separate page I write each horse’s name. I list activities for them, too. I am a planner, and these lists are a road map directing our progress through the weeks ahead.

But even so, as imperceptibly as Mother Nature restores her environs from dormancy to activity, my inherent drive toward achieving my goals has changed. This year, I am finding the renewal offered by the change of season insufficient to fully offset my inertia.

A winter rainbow.

There was a time when each spring, I highlighted activity after activity on the print out of the West Newbury Riding and Driving Club’s calendar of equine events. I was out on the road with my horses to compete or clinic two or three times per month, borrowing trailers and occasionally entire rigs from generous friends (what amazing trust they had in me) or bartering rides. When I later acquired my own trailer, I became even more mobile. I shipped out for weekly jump lessons. We hauled to competitions all over New England and New York. I let little stand in my way in pursuit of participating in those activities I had set my mind to.

For most of the early aughts, I kept two or three horses in full work year round, while also stabling two of them on rough board, finishing a Masters degree and holding down a full time job that often required evening or weekend commitments. My days started early and ran long. I had an internal drive that was impossible to ignore and compelled me to push through fatigue and frustration. I was motivated at least partially by catch phrases which are probably now memes, expressions like ‘hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard’ or ‘shoot for the moon because even if you miss you will land among the stars’.

I didn’t make this meme….but I could have.

But what used to be a raging inner fire to ‘go out and do’ seems to have tempered to a gentler glow. Where I used to wring my hands over a missed ride or schooling set, now I sigh and think, ‘well, another day’. I see photos on social media of friends who have eagerly returned to competition after vaccination (as well as those who never hung it up to begin with) and think ‘good for them’.

Yet my own calendar remains blank.

I will admit that in some ways, I have had a discouraging few years. In 2019, I made the decision to retire my distance horse, Lee, from competition and have had to step back from a new sport I really enjoyed. In 2020, after pushing and pressuring Anna for several years, I finally had to admit that it is unlikely I will be able to finish my USDF Bronze Bar with her.

But these minor disappointments cannot take away the many years of success and fun we have had together. I have partnered with each of these special mares since their 6-year-old year; in 2021, Lee will be 22 and Anna, 17. Looking back at all I have experienced with them is an amazing trove of memories and moments. They have each immeasurably shaped my journey as a horseman and trainer and I consider myself lucky to have them both living in my front yard, sound, happy and useful animals, albeit in different ways than before.

The long partnerships I have enjoyed with Anna and Lee are perhaps why the thought of starting new journeys with Izzy and Nori is, at times, overwhelming. Each of these youngsters was less than two when they arrived here at Cold Moon Farm, and so of course there was much for them to learn. Izzy, now 6 years old, is at an age where she can be expected to manage more both mentally and physically. Nori, now 4, is also ready to build on the foundation laid in the past two years, which will hopefully include being backed this summer.

Nori, during an early spring grooming session (after she was too sassy to manage her patience in the barn.)

My younger self would have proceeded forward with a ‘just do it’ mentality, but today I hesitate and worry too much about the ‘what if’s’. And after over a year of easy excuses to avoid taking young horses out in the world, it is hard to be brave enough to tell my monkey brain to be quiet and take a seat.

Someday, maybe someday soon, I will have no excuses left. And I will have to either decide to ‘just do it’… or out of fairness to these young horses’ future, hand the reins over to someone else who can.

met·a·mor·pho·sis

noun

  1. (in an insect or amphibian) the process of transformation from an immature form to an adult form in two or more distinct stages.

“the persistence of the larval tail during metamorphosis”

  • a change of the form or nature of a thing or person into a completely different one, by natural or supernatural means.

“his metamorphosis from presidential candidate to talk-show host”

There are many lessons humanity ought to take away from the experience of a global pandemic, and it seems impossible that any individual who is remotely connected to the mainstream can emerge from the past eighteen months truly unchanged. Personally, I struggle with the idea of a “return to normal,” as neither I nor the world around me are the same as before.

In a March 2020 blog post, I wrote:

“The coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic will change all of us in small and large ways. I fervently hope that for many Americans, this time of challenge will allow nearly everyone the opportunity to reset their compass and focus on those pieces of our lives that matter on a deep, fundamental level. I believe that most equestrians did not start riding to win ribbons; we started riding because we felt inexplicably drawn to these powerful and majestic animals. Those of us still lucky enough to have horses in our lives after the dust settles have a responsibility to remember that magic and to share it with others.”

I’m not sure I fully recognized it then, but perhaps this sentiment was an early stage of what I can only call my equestrian metamorphosis. Increasingly, I am more interested in the positive impact that horses have on those they touch than I am in personally pursuing upper level sport. At whatever point in the future my own career comes to an end, I don’t want it to be defined only by my competitive success (or, let’s be honest, lack thereof). Instead, I hope that I will be recognized as a practitioner of compassionate horsemanship, as a model of affordable, sustainable horse management practices and as a teacher who took the time to truly listen to her students and their horses, celebrating the victory of establishing the correct foundation that makes a lifetime of enjoyment with horses possible.

Spring Hollow Marquesa on an early spring ride.

For a caterpillar to become a beautiful butterfly, it literally obliterates its original form, then rearranges cells and tissues into new patterns and connections. If the chrysalis is cracked open before the process is complete, the cycle may be irrevocably interrupted. Metamorphosis is messy and destructive of old forms and behaviors. But going through this process is essential for the caterpillar to become its highest evolved self– a butterfly able to offer its services as a pollinator, visiting spring flowers and perpetuating the cycle of renewal.

Perhaps instead of considering the Pandemic Pause a set back to my continued evolution as an equestrian, I need to think of it as time spent in the chrysalis. As with the caterpillar, old models of doing things must be dismantled for new forms to emerge. Perhaps my slow return to full activity is more about testing new wings, recently unfurled, than it is about not living up to old, outdated expectations of myself. Perhaps this metamorphosis is about cementing that my horsemanship journey is and always has been about the relationship I enjoy with each horse specifically. It is about shedding the weight of expectation that I have been so accustomed to carrying so that I can instead move more freely from one beautiful moment to the next.

What Living Through a Pandemic Taught Me about Setting Goals

Without a doubt, 2020 has not turned out to be the year that anyone anticipated. Since March 11, when the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak to be a worldwide pandemic, most of the structures, routines and patterns of our day to day lives came crashing to a halt. Seven months later, we are still riding the tide of changes effected as a result. Although change is inevitable, forced change, particularly when it occurs so swiftly, can be difficult to process.

Here in the U.S., the pandemic has only highlighted the gross inequities in our society, and the stress it has induced has brought many citizens to the breaking point. I am deeply grateful to have some sense of security in these challenging times, but I grow increasingly aware that my situation comes from a place of privilege, and that I work in an industry still uncomfortable with this subject. Recent dialogue on the questions of diversity, accessibility and disparity within both the equine industry and society as a whole is essential and ongoing.

So many of life’s challenges can be contemplated from here….Spring Hollow Marquesa.

When I read news stories about current events, I am gripped with a feeling of helplessness. If I think too deeply about the pandemic and its wide-reaching implications, about how it has exposed the inherent weaknesses in even supposedly “developed” societies, I feel a sense of panic about what is yet to come. Individually, we have so little control over what will happen next; collectively, we are on the same ride whether we like it or not.

What I can control, in uncertain times, is my own attitude and my own choices. Small acts of kindness, compassion and empathy do matter, and many small acts taken as a whole become something greater, a power that can overcome hatred, prejudice, self-centeredness and adversity.

Heading out with friends. Anna and I in front, Lee (piloted by her friend Fay) in the back.

With all that is going on in the world right now, it feels trite to discuss my personal goals in riding. But I also believe that despite everything, it is critical to keep moving forward when and where we can, and spending time with my horses is something that brings me a sense of fulfillment. I know this is a sentiment that many of my readers can identify with. Like many of you, I am a goal-oriented person; having something concrete that I am working toward helps to provide focus to my rides and a structure to my routine.

Early in the pandemic, I was scrolling through Facebook, where I saw that a friend had posted that she was participating in a 1,900 mile equestrian challenge along the Pony Express route. Intrigued, I clicked on the post (as one does) to learn more. This led me to the website of WARHORSE Endurance, the brainchild of Christina Hyke, an avid endurance rider, organizer and photographer based in Wisconsin. The mission of WARHORSE Endurance, according to its website, is “to provide riders, carriage drivers, runners, hikers, cyclists and walkers with a goal to aim for, an online community to cheer each other on and a completion award to commemorate their amazing journey.” Through this program, Hyke created a series of virtual challenges conceived to keep riders motivated and on track in their conditioning plans, despite the cancellation of most formal distance rides. But perhaps more importantly, she also established an international community that (via social media) could celebrate in our uniqueness while sharing in each other’s progress, offering support during setbacks and celebrating success.

To me, this sounded like just the tonic to neutralize the pandemic blues.

The WARHORSE Endurance “virtual ride” concept is rather simple. Mileage reporting is done on the honor system; entrants track the miles they spend leading, riding or driving their horse using their preferred app, then upload their progress to the website. There is also the option to include human “conditioning” miles spent hiking, running or bicycling to the mileage total. You can include miles logged all on one horse or on multiple horses. You can drive your horse. You can handwalk your rehabbing veteran, longline your green bean, or any and all combinations of the preceding options. Each challenge is what you make of it, so long as the miles are spent purposefully.

Anna and I practicing our selfie skills before a summer ride.

By the time I learned about WARHORSE, Hyke had already filled enrollment in two 100 mile virtual challenges and was working on filling a third. She donates a portion of each entry to charity, and when entrants reach the 100 mile threshold, they receive a medal, a patch, and/or a lapel pin, depending on the specific event.

The Pony Express 1,900 Mile Challenge that had caught my eye was Hyke’s newest venture. In what might be the longest virtual equestrian challenge in the world, entrants log their miles and track their progress along the approximate route of the Pony Express. The Pony Express ran for just eighteen months between April 1860 and October 1861, with riders starting in St. Joseph, Missouri (today commemorated by the National Pony Express Museum) and ending in Sacramento, California (now marked by the Pony Express Memorial). Back then, riders covered the route in only ten days.  Virtual riders have seven years.

Time has eroded many of the specific locations of the route’s 100 +/- stops, and according to the National Park Service, “the trail’s actual route and exact length are matters of conjecture.” Therefore, the virtual route is approximated based on Hyke’s research, and an online map lets riders learn about known points of interest along the way.  

More selfie practice, this with Spring Hollow Or Noir (Nori), a 3 year old Morgan filly. We are handwalking her twenty miles towards the Journey 100 Mile Challenge, and in the process she is learning to trust me, and that leaving home with me can be safe. As we walk away from the farm, we are becoming a herd of two. I hope that when she learns to be a riding horse next year, this foundation of trust will carry over.

Now, 100 miles is a long way to ride, run, hike or bike. 1,900 miles—from Missouri to California—is almost unfathomable. But with seven years to finish, that’s just 271 miles per year. Less than one mile a day. And if you are riding in some of Hyke’s 100 Mile Virtual Challenges, those miles can also count toward the Pony Express.

Broken down into smaller pieces, this is do-able.

In early June, I signed up for the Pony Express Virtual Challenge. Within about a week, I decided that the medal for the Valkyrie 100 Mile Challenge was pretty cool (a winged Pegasus), so I signed up for that too. Then I added the Ranger 100 Mile Challenge to my agenda when it opened in early July. And I am not ashamed to admit that on September 1, I signed up for the Journey 100 Mile Challenge too.

I mean, it is a really cool medal.

Here’s why.

For me, each of these challenges is a unique opportunity and a motivation get out there with my horses, even if the world is feeling heavy. I am able to customize each Challenge, pushing me to spend more time on trail with all of my horses. It has provided a necessary and refreshing break to the routine of schooling in the arena. It has motivated me to visit new to me public trail networks. It has reminded me that while conventional competition can be fun, it has never been the end all be all for me when it comes to riding and horsemanship.

You might be thinking, I could never ride my horse 100 miles. That is so far! But yet….

Horses walk at about 3 miles per hour. Most of my rides have only been forty-five minutes to an hour, two or three miles in length. Since June, I have logged nearly 300 miles, mostly walking along the powerlines in my backyard. All of these small rides, over time, add up to something much larger.

And along the way, so many beautiful moments.

Such as– my retired distance mare Lee completing all 100 miles of the Valkyrie Challenge by late August, the final ride a 2+ mile hack squeezed in between thunderstorms on a Sunday evening that I probably would not have taken otherwise.

Lee looks nowhere near as excited as I was to complete the Valkyrie 100 Mile Challenge. But it was fun for me, because as the miles ticked down, I relived (in a small way) the second 100 mile Competitive Trail Ride that Lee and I completed together. When we had “ten to go” in Valkyrie, I remembered the rush of coming out of the final hold on day three, knowing that each beat of each stride was carrying us closer and closer to completing an amazing ride together. While these 100 miles were spread out over weeks not days, it was so lovely to know that my 21 year old partner still “has it”.

Or this–my Third Level dressage pony Anna completing 95 miles toward the Ranger 100 Mile Challenge. One evening, we were followed by a doe deer; on another, we came face to face with a surprised barred owl. Dividing our time between ringwork and trails, I hoped to complete the Challenge by the end of October. Weather willing, it looks like we are on track to do just that. Where our dressage training has felt less than stellar lately, here is a goal that we can attain.

Anna looking alertly at something I can’t see on a chilly October morning.

With former lesson horse Marquesa, I have carved out a special route now dubbed the “Queso Loop” in her honor. Just over a mile and half in length, it is the perfect outing for a 24-year-old veteran mare when I am short on time. This past week, we found fresh moose tracks right near our farm.

At 24 years old, Spring Hollow Marquesa still busts out 15 minute miles….and it just feels easy!

And on the Pony Express route, their collective efforts have taken me out of Missouri, through Kansas and into Nebraska.

What fun!

But for the Journey 100 Mile Challenge, I decided to do something a little different. The Journey Medal design incorporates the running Warhorse logo, the flying Valkyrie and the Pony Express rider into one piece of art, and the Challenge is dedicated to “enjoying the journey”. Instead of only using miles ridden on one specific horse, I decided that the only logical way to tackle this final 100 mile challenge of 2020 would be to divide the miles among each of my five mares, twenty miles each. It seemed such a beautiful symbol of the journey I have been on and continue to travel with each horse, as unique individuals.

Queso and her friend Julianna have been “babysitting” DRF Isabela (Izzy), a 5 year old Connemara/TB, who is learning how to hack without being quite so unsettled by the big world around her. Without the goal of doing twenty miles on Izzy by the end of the season, it would be easy for me to just push off this essential piece of her education. Right now, she is still a little “reactive” to the world at times, and I don’t love riding through those moments! But I really, really want her to have contributed her twenty miles as a RIDING horse, so we keep chipping away with little rides each week, and slowly, she is gaining more confidence.

As of October 15, I have 60.6 miles toward Journey’s completion. Lee handily finished her twenty mile contribution early on; Queso has posted just over thirteen miles and young Izzy, who is just learning how to go out on trail, has added 10.5. Once she has finished Ranger, Anna will start working on her twenty mile segment. And with three-year-old Nori, who is not yet backed, I have handwalked just over eighteen miles, often in the dark of a mid-autumn evening. I hope to complete each mare’s segment before autumn’s breeze turns to winter’s chill, but even if I don’t, every stride my horses take brings us one step closer to attaining the goal.

Nori, taking a pause to contemplate the life, universe and everything.

And in reality, this is how we collectively must get through these unstable times. The outcome is uncertain, the path twisting and forward progress at times practically impossible to measure. We must always remember that the bigger goal is achieved through smaller steps and day to day victories. But each time we make the choice to stay positive, to have faith that events will resolve, to believe that light will always prevail over darkness, we move one step closer to resolution.

Hitting the Trails with 2020 Vision

If there is any silver lining to what has been a time of unprecedented uncertainly, fear and anxiety, it is this—

2020 will be the Year of the Trail.

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the equestrian competition season (First World Problem alert), cancelling everything from local schooling shows right on up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. This is a huge disappointment for riders that have been doing their homework all winter, especially those interscholastic and intercollegiate riders who saw their seasons abruptly end right when year end championships were scheduled to begin. Here in the northeast, our show season is pretty short anyway, so it won’t take much of a delay before it basically ends up not happening at all. And with more states enacting “stay at home” orders or lockdowns, those who board their animals are even being denied access to the companionship and comfort their horse provides.

Covid19showseason

On a more fundamental level, most equestrian organizations and facilities rely on monies garnered from their shows or clinics to help support operating costs; scores of trainers, grooms, braiders, exercise riders and more count on a busy summer season just to cover every day expenses. Losing horse shows may seem like only a superficial problem, but for a luxury industry like ours, the impacts are going to be even more wide reaching. Once this is over, horse and equine facility owners, particularly those who have faced a reduction in income, may have to make some hard choices.

Yet despite these uncertainties, I remain hopeful that positive change can and will come from these hard times. In particular, I believe that we will see more equestrians returning to their roots, focusing on simply enjoying their horses and hitting the trails rather than competing—and that puts those of us who have been advocating for stronger trail networks and a greater understanding of the positive economic, social and aesthetic benefits of maintaining healthy, multi-use trail systems in a unique position to recruit more support for our work.

longed

In early February, over twenty New Hampshire area equestrian trails advocates gathered together for the first “Let’s Talk Trails” roundtable, organized by the New Hampshire Horse Council. We shared strengths and concerns and brainstormed solutions and ideas. Equestrian trail groups across the state are struggling with the same issues: declining membership, limited financial and human resources, increased encroachment on trails and loss of access. One theme became dominant through all the discussion—we need to do a better job networking not just with each other but with other trail users.

The work of protecting trails is not glamorous. It is joining local conservation commissions/trail committees and attending selectman’s meetings, keeping your ears open for opportunities to protect or grow equestrian use of public lands. It is joining land trusts, such as the Southeast Land Trust, the Monadnock Conservancy and the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, which are increasingly holding the easements on lands we once travelled. Land trusts and other conservation groups play an important role in protecting open space, but they often do not understand the needs or importance of allowing equestrian trail use, even on properties that have historically been used for this very purpose; as a member, we are poised to better advocate for equestrian access. It is taking the time, one on one, to speak with fellow equestrians about good trail etiquette, and also to reach out to our friends who bike, ride off road vehicles, hike or otherwise recreate on trails to educate them about safe interactions with our horses. It is talking to local landowners to hear out their concerns and ensure that equestrian use does not degrade the quality of their land. It is about looking at other trails groups as potential allies, not adversaries.

horses-atvs630
Image from Rider’s West.

This past week I joined a webinar sponsored by American Trails, a thirty-two year old organization founded with the explicit purpose of “bridging the gap between different user types, across the whole spectrum”. American Trails is the group behind the formation of the Trails Move People Coalition (TMP), a consortium of ten different trail user groups ranging from the Back Country Horsemen of America to the National Off Highway Vehicle Conservation Council to the American Hiking Society, for the purpose of discussing and resolving those concerns affecting all groups using trails. Obviously, these diverse trail users will not agree on best practice for everything, but they are coming together with the hope of presenting a unified front for those topics where there is common ground. By becoming familiar with the needs of each type of trail user, the TMP is better able to advocate for a collective vision—one in which trail access is considered a critical part of the infrastructure of a community’s physical and economic health.

TrailYieldSign
The Essex County Trail Association is an effective multi-use trail advocacy and protection group in Massachusetts. This is their version of the universal “yield” sign used on their trail network to help keep all users safe.

On the webinar, Mike Passo, Executive Director of American Trails, shared his thoughts on our unsettled times. “When coronavirus is all said and done, people are going to need to re-create themselves,” said Passo. “Taking away people’s ability to use their trails cuts at the core of a person.”

Through the Trails Move People project, Passo and other leaders hope to develop tools necessary to unify the greater trails community: gathering hard data on the value and impact of trail users, identifying funding and other resources that benefit the trails community as a group (especially to address the trails maintenance backlog) and advocating effectively for policy, legislation and funding decisions on behalf of the trails industry to Congress and other federal agencies.

Their goals are ambitious but essential. And even on this high level, the same theme came clear—there is a fundamental need for trail users to unite and to support each other in promoting our public and private trail networks as an essential bedrock to our local and regional communities.

img_2503

The coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic will change all of us in small and large ways. I fervently hope that for many Americans, this time of challenge will allow nearly everyone the opportunity to reset their compass and focus on those pieces of our lives that matter on a deep, fundamental level. I believe that most equestrians did not start riding to win ribbons; we started riding because we felt inexplicably drawn to these powerful and majestic animals. Those of us still lucky enough to have horses in our lives after the dust settles have a responsibility to remember that magic and to share it with others. It is the only way in which our industry will recover. Trail riding is equestrianism at the grassroots level.

It seems most likely that 2020 will not be the year of great competitive success. But it still can be a time in which we step towards other goals—goals which if they come to fruition will leave a long-lasting impact on our communities.

Are you willing to Hit the Trails with 2020 Vision?

If so, here are a few things you can do.

  • Join a trails group, and if you can afford it, join more than one. Advocacy starts at the grassroots, local level, so my personal opinion is that you start by supporting those groups that have the greatest impact on the trails/region where you ride the most. You can always expand from there.
  • Attend meetings or learn more about trails groups supporting different kinds of users. The more we as equestrians clearly understand what a snowmobiler, biker or ATV rider all need in their trail systems, the better poised we are to advocate for trail designs that can accommodate different users. Cooperation is a two-way street; equestrians are not the largest trail user group, and we are frequently misunderstood. It is up to us collectively to reach out and change that.
  • Introduce yourself to your town conservation commission. Find out what trail projects are already going on in the area, and start to look for ones that might be suitable for equestrian use.
  • VOLUNTEER! There will be plenty of grassroots work that needs to be done on trails networks across the county once we get the blessing to move freely again. Volunteering is free, gets you outside and is a wonderful way to meet other trail users.
  • GET OUT ON THE TRAILS. Take your horse somewhere you have never been. Explore a state park. Sign up for a hunter pace. Attend a meet up of a local riding club.

If living through the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic teaches us nothing else, hopefully it is a reminder that we are all deeply interconnected and must live and act in a way that considers the needs of both other people and the broader ecosystem to which we all belong. Working to preserve trails and protect equestrian access is important, and because most horse trails are shared trails, we will be serving to strengthen our ties to the local communities. And in a small way, we will be taking a step towards healing ourselves.

A few years ago, I founded an informal group called the Strafford County Equestrian Trail Riders. With just a small core group of volunteers, we have started chipping away at tasks including documenting and mapping existing trails/dirt roads in our country with the goal of creating a network, have helped to defeat a proposed “anti-manure” bill at the state level, and have represented equestrian interests to local land trusts and conservation commissions. Our total impact as of yet is not great but it is a start, a small step forward. And as everyone knows, a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.