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About 20 years ago I worked on a farm that backed up to the watershed. This was before the "hoo-ha" about the Chesapeake Bay when you could ride your horses in the watershed. Maybe you still can.

When it comes to riding these days I am past all of that. I have found out, as I age, that there are four rules referring to equine sports that have occurred to me. In no particular order, they follow: 1. The older you get the harder the ground becomes; 2. You don't bounce as well you used to; 3. You don't heal as quickly after you have not bounced, and; 4. Gravity is no longer your friend.

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But when I was young and foolish that watershed was a wonderful place to take out not only your good old trail horse but also horses that were young and foolish, too. That was when trail riding was just ordinary riding. Nowadays it is the land peopled only by those with undaunted valor and horses that are courageous beyond belief. Back then you went out with a friend — always the safest way to ride anyway — and you took whatever horse you got your hands on that morning.

We used to take thoroughbreds that had been on the track the day before with the attitude that at least the horse was broke to ride if it had been on the track.

It turned out that the thoroughbreds were all so busy being horses out there in the woods that they mostly clean forgot that they were race horses.

But this story isn't about that. It was about an idea I had — don't know where I got it, but I doubt that it was original to me — about a thing I called The Ultimate Trail Ride.

I have checked the Internet and found out that there are these things around now but they seem to have a lot of man-made things involved with them.

Ours back then was much simpler and more natural. We had three divisions, a beginner pairs so that a beginner could work with a more experienced rider (we even allowed lead lines to be employed) either for the whole thing or for just past "scary" stuff. We had a green horse division for those with an inexperienced horse and we had an experienced division.

Our first part was just three gaits in the ring. Walk, whatever came next faster on your horse and whatever that was faster than that. That was so that gaited horses were competing with the walk, trot, canter crowd absolutely straight across. It was judged on soundness, standing to be mounted, standing alone for a quick minute, backing — never know when you might have to back out of something — and just standing there for a few minutes without being an idiot about it. If your gear was safe and clean that was pretty much it, but you got brownie points for having a hoof pick.

The second part was more difficult. We had some, well, obstacles. We had a goat tied out to a fence in the big field, we had a big bunch of leaves on a tarp, and we had a humongous white turkey in a pen and then some logs that were tossed down looking like a giant's pick up sticks. There was a steep hill in that field that you had to walk down and then on the other side of the field there was that same hill that you had to ride back up — walking for beginner pairs, trotting (or whatever) for green horses and cantering (or whatever) for experienced. Things like that.

The experienced group had to be within six feet of the goat and turkey (points for closer), over the leaves on the tarp and over the logs. Green horse had to be within 15 (or so) feet of the goat and turkey, on the edge of the tarp and over two logs, beginner pairs ditto and on the lead line if the human was beginning to fray badly in the nerves department.

The third part consisted of a timed ride over the same paths on the watershed but had a time difference for the pairs. We checked it at the walk the whole way and at the trot and at a spanking good pace for the experienced ones. We also had outriders all through the ride out there to help people and markers that the outriders took down when they came in.

We had a ball and awarded great big ribbons for everyone with completion ribbons, too. Didn't make much money but what we did we gave to the Baltimore City Mounted Police. If I had to do it again I probably wouldn't. Once was plenty but that once was fun!

410-857-7896

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