Horsing around
'Modern girl' discovers that her first trail ride beats traffic jams
By Kamille Bostick | Staff Writer
Thursday, July 7, 2005

Past the asphalt of the city, inside fenced acres, green pastures and woods, well-worn trails stand ready for shoed feet - the equine kind.

It's not just urban cowboys or award-winning equestrians who mount up and take to the paths, said Gerry McKie, the office manager at Canterbury Trails Equestrian Center in Grovetown, one of several places in the area that offer trail rides to the public.

"We get couples, 4-H groups, all kinds of people who want to come out and ride a trail," he said. "They're at all skill levels. And we get them all year round."

Why?

"It's relaxing," Mr. McKie said matter-of-factly.

It seems there's something about sitting in a saddle and holding the reins as a horse rocks you back and forth that is soothing.

The therapeutic values of going horseback have been touted for years, and for good reason, said Valeria Beard, the owner of Almost Heaven Stables in Warrenville.

"Horseback riding is great exercise. You use muscles you never knew you had because you only use them when you're horseback: the inner thigh, the buttocks, the abdominals. ... People get off (the horse) and say, 'Oh, I'm sore.' They feel like they've been at the gym."

The after-trail aches don't dampen the fun of the ride, though.

The scenery has something to do with that, said Ryan Inglett, a lifelong horse rider who was along for his first trail ride as a Canterbury Trails employee.

"Being outside is about the best thing you can do," he said. "And I love horses, so this is great."

Mrs. Beard agreed.

"You're outside with nature, in the quietness of the woods," she explained. "It's a very relaxing thing to do - getting outdoors in nature and with the animals."

Trail riders need not have years of experience under their belt, either.

"It's not that difficult," Mr. McKie said, "but even an inexperienced rider can take a trail ride. We just give them the basic steering instructions and most of them can do it."

Just don't expect any daring dashes across finish lines, bucking stallions or fast gallops. Most trail rides are leisurely jaunts through the scenery on the backs of horses that are both well-trained and well-behaved. In fact, that's the key to it all, said Anya Roelofs, a trainer at Canterbury Trails.

"We make sure we get them the right horse," she said. "It's all about the horse. If you get put on a good horse, you'll have a good ride."

Not only should riders make sure the horse is the right size for their height and weight, skill and temperament but they should be put on a gentle, laid-back animal, Mrs. Beard said,

She also suggests that first-time and beginner riders go on a guided trail ride to stay as safe as possible.

"If you don't know what you're doing, you need someone there. There are precautions, a right way and wrong way to do it," Mrs. Beard said. "Operating a horse is no different than operating a car."

With one exception, Mr. McKie said during a guided trail ride: "There ain't no power steering."

Just for the record, I never figured I'd be on horseback.

I'm a modern girl, in a modern world, and we have cars and planes to take us places.

In fact, before I arrived at Canterbury Trails Equestrian Center in Grovetown to go along for a trail ride, "stable" was nothing but a state of mind and a "bit" was just a little of something.

I'm no city girl, though. I've seen horses - in people's yards, from the highway, in my car. In addition, I've been watching the TNT series Into the West, in which the only thing more frequent than deaths on the prairie are the number of folks shown on horseback.

Based on that, I figured I could handle getting onto a horse and riding on a trail.

For the most part, I did.

My mount (see, I learned something) was nothing short of flawless. As much as I'd imagined getting on backward or slipping underneath, as all the comedy skits show, I got on Sandy, a quarter horse who obviously got her name from her mane.

Of course, most of the credit has to go to my trainer, Anya Roelofs, who explained the process and guided my misplaced foot.

Off we all went. Down a dirt path, through a grassy meadow, and then deep into a thick forest blanketed with mud.

I was good on the dirt, I was confident on the grass, but I wasn't so good on mud.

Now, I know a horse has four legs, but with such tiny feet (OK, hooves) I was sure I was going to fall off. And when Ms. Roelofs called from the front of our group for me to "lean back" - like the song, I said jokingly - as we went downhill, I was certain I was going to end up in a puddle.

Sandy was not only gentle, though; she was good. I held on and she took me for a delightful ride.

Getting back into my car and watching the fuel needle barely graze a quarter of a tank, I was almost compelled to think that if gas prices continue to rise, I might try getting around with reins instead of keys.

Reach Kamille Bostick at (706) 823-3223 or kamille.bostick@augustachronicle.com.

GET RIDING

Looking to take a trail ride? Check out these places. Call ahead for age requirements and dress codes:

- Canterbury Trails Equestrian Center, 5581 Wrightsboro Road, Grovetown

Guided trail rides are $30 per hour; 30 horses are available. Open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Call 24 hours in advance, but some same-day appointments are available. (706) 556-1287.

- Hilltop riding stables, Building 508, North Range Road, Fort Gordon

Self-led trail rides are $20 per hour. Ponies are $8 an hour. Two-hour guided tours are scheduled for the second and fourth Sundays of every month, excluding holidays, for $30. Open 9 to 5 p.m. daily. (706) 791-4864

- Almost heaven Stables, 220 Golf Course Road, Warrenville

Guided trail rides are $30 per hour. 16 horses available. Open Monday-Saturday by appointment. Call (803) 663-3001

- Bring your own: If you have a horse, try taking it to Hitchcock Woods in Aiken to ride.


What you need, besides horse

Just having the horse and trail in mind doesn't mean you're ready to go. Take these essentials along for the ride:

Long pants: Unless you want to chafe, throw on a pair of jeans or, if you have them, riding pants.

Boots: Hey, cowboys wore thick boots and heels for a reason. Open-toed shoes are strictly forbidden.

Bug spray: Most trails are naturally beautiful, which means nature (read bugs, mosquitoes and the like) is all around.

Sunscreen: It's summer; protect your skin.

Helmet: Though most guided tours barely get past a trot, if you're going to stay for a lesson or plan to do more than take a leisurely ride, take along some gear to protect your head.

From the Thursday, July 7, 2005 printed edition of the Augusta Chronicle
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