Monday, October 10, 2011

How Sweet It Is: A Ride on Sugar Hill

My friend and coworker, Wendy, has been telling me about Sugar Hill for years, and I finally made it there yesterday, taking Starlight on her first trail ride away from the farm, and her first one with other horses. 

Pat, on Montana, attempts to decipher the trail map.  Amber & Smoke wait patiently.
It’s strange to think that in all the trail rides we have gone on together, there has never been another horse with us.   Well, that’s how it is when you are the only rider in a family, and you keep your horses at home.   As I have often said, I can’t exercise two at once unless I take up Roman riding (or learn how to pony them, but Roman riding seems much more exciting).

Anyway, we found our way up to Sugar Hill State Forest’s equestrian area, and it was as impressive as Wendy said.  It contained lush grounds, set up for camping, along with a long barn of tie stalls, room to make temporary pastures, trees for high-tying and even a wheel chair ramp that allow equestrians with disabilities to mount a horse.

On this gorgeous fall day, there were about 15 or so other horse trailers, and many of those belonged to campers.

Apparently, trying to decipher a map makes my legs stick out (left).
Wendy was on her handsome palomino quarter horse, Cricket, who might be the most awesome trail competition horse in the Twin Tiers.  It’s pretty hard to get a rise out of Cricket (although Wendy knows how, since she has accidentally found his “freak out” button from time to time).  He is a fantastic babysitter for green horses, and for her part, Wendy, an experienced trainer, can handle whatever green riders throw her way, too, so they are a good combination.

The other riders and horses with us were well seasoned, though, Pat on Montana, a red overo paint, and Amber on Smoke, a black quarter horse.  Starlight was the only greenie and the only mare, but you wouldn’t have known it as she strode out calmly in her purple boots and bitless bridle (both of which caused some interested questions from Pat and Amber.) 

When everyone fails at map reading, ask a camper for directions.
The only naughty things Starlight did the whole ride were pinning her ears at Smoke when he came up close behind her and trying to bite Cricket a few times.   The first time she tried to bite Cricket it was only with her lips, and it almost looked as though she just wanted to taste that long blond mane of his, in case it was hay.   But the other times it happened when Smoke trotted up behind her.  She must have thought that meant it was time for everyone to trot, so she would trot a couple steps, get stopped by Cricket’s big hind quarters and then she’d try to bite Cricket as if to say, “Get going!”

Each time I let her know it was bad behavior, but she didn’t seem to be too concerned about my opinion on the matter.

We find the Farm Sanctuary, despite the map!  Wendy and Cricket are center.
The trails were in decent shape.  Much of our route was dry, despite the wet weather we have had this year, but several parts were wet and rocky, too.  We rode to the entrance of the famous Farm Sanctuary, an organization that houses critters that have been saved from slaughter and promotes cruelty-free treatment of animals.  One of the ways it has become famous is by being mentioned in news articles about wayward meat animals.  Whenever you read about some poor calf that escapes from New York’s meat district, taking police on a wild chase through Central Park, it always ends up being sent to the Farm Sanctuary, instead of back to the meat market (at least, the ones that make the news get sent to the Farm Sanctuary).

Most of our ride was through lovely woods, up and down hills.  We were out for about two hours, and that was long enough for both Starlight and me.   It was a good day with good horses and good people, and that is a special day, indeed.

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