By Kirby Hidy, Ohio’s Country Journal
“The outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man.” Former President Ronald Reagan has been credited with that statement, and on a recent weekend, I came to believe it to be true.
Had you asked me about trail riding 20 years ago, I probably would have “Harrumphed,” allowing that I could think of few things more boring than spending an afternoon looking at the behind of the horse in front of me. That attitude helped immerse me into the world of cutting horses — a passion that consumed me for nearly two decades.
Jump ahead 20 years. I moved back to Ohio after living nearly 13 years in Texas and quickly renewed several old friendships. Among them, a former classmate who kept encouraging me to join her, her husband and a group of their friends on the many weekend trail rides they took. For months I politely declined, always finding more important stuff I just had to do that weekend. The truth is, I was still hanging on to that old attitude about boring, ambling rides in a straight line, around corn and bean fields and the occasional abandoned railway. My friend kept inviting and I kept declining. Finally, I agreed.
I live near some of the best corn and soybean ground in the state, which is about all you see when you drive down the roads. The notion of a scenic or otherwise entertaining ride seemed out of the question, but I did look forward to the opportunity to ride.
I arrived at “horse camp” early on a Saturday morning greeted by my friend and her husband who introduced me to Wes and Gale, trail bosses of the group and owners of one of five adjacent farms over which 30 or more riding trails had been made.
As I looked around “camp” I was immediately impressed. Several campsites were scattered across a clearing that was totally invisible from the road. In fact, had my friend not told me about certain discreet landmarks so I would know where to turn, I’d have never known such a place existed.
In the heart of the camp stood a genuine Indian Tee-Pee and in front of that, a sign post marking directions and distances to such places as Sedona, Las Vegas, Denver and Cheyenne. A fire pit, wood-burning cooker and prep-tables were nearby. Spread around the camp ground were several permanent corrals with horse trailers parked nearby, all with living quarters.
After a few minutes of filling saddlebags with water, snacks and other trail essentials, I stepped up onto my horse and made my way to where everyone was gathering. “Well … it ain’t like cuttin’ cattle but at least I’m on a horse,” I thought.
About 15 riders gathered around Wes and his white mule. Wes would lead the group and decide which trails we would ride that day, and with everyone assembled, Wes squeezed the sides of his mule and we headed toward a wooden bridge that would lead us to the trails. Within just a few minutes we were out of sight of the camp and headed up a very steep hill in some very dense woods.
As we rode, I noticed the terrain seemed to change almost every minute. Steep climbs up hills, down even steeper ravines, over downed trees, across dried up creek beds and down rocky slopes. All around us, fall colors of red, yellow, green and brown began to take hold as a bright Indian summer sun broke through the trees. The unmistakable smell of leaves and vegetation just beginning to decompose in anticipation of another long winter filled my head and I spent more time looking at the natural beauty around me than I did the butt of the horse (or mule) in front of me.
As Wes told about scarring up a flock of wild turkeys on a recent ride, four deer jumped from the brush nearby and my horse jumped, convinced the deer were about to eat her. “It’s amazing,” I thought to myself, “All the things that can eat a 1,000-pound horse, and horses see everyone of them.” From giant puff-ball mushrooms, to an orange tree-marking ribbon, to a fawn just out of its spots, the flight reflex kicks in.
We came to a shallow creek with a rocky bottom and rode our horses into it to give them a drink and to give ourselves a little break. It was among the most beautiful places I’d ever seen. Walls of shale and limestone rose up from the creek 30 to 40 feet high. Beavers swam near the dams they had built less than 20 yards away. It was quiet, peaceful and wonderful.
The ride went on for more than four hours through country that, I was certain, simply could not have existed in the county I’d been born and raised in, worked in, hunted, fished and drove around for more than half my life. And with it all came several new friends, a lot of laughing and, in my case, a very sore behind.
I have no desire to compete anymore, but I do believe I’m going to own horses again. I think I’ve found my new “go-to” hobby. And I think it’s going to be good for my head, my heart and my soul.
Ohio has several great trails to ride and they’re easy to find on the Internet. Many of these places will rent you a horse and, with a guide for novice riders, show you some of the prettiest scenery, fascinating natural wonders, and give you some of the finest “escape” time you could imagine. If you’ve not experienced trail riding, I strongly encourage you to consider it. If you have, then you know what I’m talking about and I feel fortunate to have “discovered” just how good the outside of a horse can be for the inside of a man.