Vermont Trail Ride
Written by Susan in Maine
I left work early the Friday before the Memorial Day weekend with a singing heart. I was finally on my way to Top o' the Hill Farm in Vermont! The trip that my friend Betsy and I had been planning for months was finally upon me. I was all set to go, having packed my Australian saddle and Kangaroo leather bridle - a present from me to me a few birthdays ago - , and my wildly patterned bright blue and pink Navaho blanket into my truck the night before.
I arrived at the farm in the early evening, and we had a great time catching up, checking out all of Betsy's horses, and talking about the final plans for our trail ride up Mt. Ephraim the next day. My friend Betsy Lirakis has raised foundation bred Bashkir Curlies since 1985 on her Top O'the Hill Farm in Springfield, Vermont. Bashkir Curlies, also known as American Curly horses, are a tough and hardy all-around breed, are very people-oriented and intelligent in nature and have a comfortable, forward way of movement. Their distinctive curly coat ranges from virtually smooth ("straight" Curly) to the whole body covered with curls ("extreme" Curly), and tends to be hypoallergenic.
Saturday dawned a glorious day. The sky was a clear blue with a few high thin clouds good and the black flies of Maine were nowhere to be found. A gentle breeze ruffled the curly manes and tails, and the temperature was in the low 70's. Jennifer had trailered in her three-year-old Curly palomino gelding Frick on Friday night, and we were just waiting for Betsy's daughter Zoe, and another friend, Maya, to arrive. I was really excited about finally riding a Bashkir Curly! I actually have two Curlies at home, but since they are only one and two years old, the suspense was nearly killing me.
Since I woke up before the crack of dawn (the usual time for a working mom of four children, right?), I set out to start chores and enjoy living in paradise with all these horses. After I fed out some hay and cleaned and filled everyone's water trough, I started in on the grooming. I figured I'd do some of the horses we were planning on riding that day, Lilly, Moon Man, and Keri, plus the yearling I coveted for my husband, the buckskin Oxhala. The yearling pen was just plain the most fun of all. All the yearlings snorted and stared to see a stranger carrying a couple of brushes into their midst. Wonder of wonders, bold Oxhala came right up to me and thoroughly enjoyed his grooming. All the others tried to secretly catch little snatches of my scent as they danced just out of my reach. I could see they really wanted to be touched, but just didn't quite dare. As I scratched underneath the colt's chin, I wondered to myself for the umpteenth time how to convince my cow-ey (as in Herefords) husband to become horsey.
Finally, 11:00 a.m., the appointed time, had arrived! Maya was already in business and had started tacking up Moon Man, the four year old white sabino gelding. Zoe had arrived also and decided to try out Cherokee, a new POA mare Betsy had just purchased to introduce Appy coloring into her Curlies. Betsy led up her mare Keri and her pasture -mate Lilly, the mare chosen for me to ride. Then the rest of us finished tacking up and headed out, down the long dirt driveway of the farm towards the trails. I immediately enjoyed the long, strong four beat walk of my Curly, and when she broke into the smoothest trot I had ever sat to, I was in heaven! We had about a mile of small backcountry roads before we crossed the highway to hit the climbing trails. Our horses worked out their pecking order. Zoe, a bold and confident rider, led the way on Cherokee and was experimenting with that new bitless bridle. It worked like a charm on headstrong little Cherokee, who dropped her head, softened up and led us right out. My mount Lilly and Betsy's Curly mare Keri decided that they were long lost bosom buddies destined to be joined at the hip and - egad! - could certainly not allow that young upstart gelding Frick to be anywhere near them! Maya brought up the rear with Moon Man, a sweet, sensitive and sensible young Bashkir Curly gelding who minded his own business and took to the roads and trails like the trooper he is, even though he had been ridden less than a dozen times before.
Once we crossed the busy highway with no mishaps, we started winding our way up deserted dirt roads and trails. There were plenty of trail obstacles to keep the ride interesting and fun, including deep mud puddles and even a log to jump. The terrain was continually changing too, from leafy wood trails to rocky dirt roads to smooth grassy areas.
About halfway to the top of Mount Ephraim, we took a short side trail to the old Stellafane Observatory. We came upon a beautiful little pink gingerbread clubhouse nestled in a steeply hilled clearing strewn with boulders and outcroppings of rock. We rested a few minutes, stretched and sipped water, and took some photos. Ever try taking pictures of your friends on horseback while you're on horseback??
After our brief respite, we headed out and up again. We did quite a bit of trotting and even some cantering as the trail allowed, which thrilled me to pieces as underneath this calm, mature exterior I am a somewhat thinly disguised speed demon. Just ask my husband. "Why do you have to GALLOP everywhere? Can't you just walk?!"
The trail became increasingly steep and narrow as we neared the top of the mountain. As we came up onto the flat mountaintop, it was a feast to the senses. A panoramic view of the hilly, wooded Vermont countryside spread out before us for miles. A cool breeze played around us, birds were singing, and the sun smiled down upon us from a clear blue sky. What a reward! We dismounted to rest and putter around from view to view. There was an interesting structure of carefully piled rocks at the summit that looked like a miniature scene from the movie The Englishman Who Climbed a Hill but Came Down a Mountain . The top of it resembled a cowboy hat. We took turns taking photos of each other, convincing Betsy to submit since we all felt "that smile of yours on the website would definitely sell horses!"
Our descent was as exciting and fun as the ascent. The seasoned horses knew we were headed toward home and their excitement was palpable. Maya and Betsy switched mounts so that Keri could get a little schooling while Betsy enjoyed the delightful Moon Man.
Arriving back at Top o'the Hill Farm, we untacked and hosed the trail mud and sweat off our horse pals. We put them away in their allotted paddocks and observed as each and every one of them rolled off that nice, clean bath. Later in the evening, Betsy and I enjoyed a meal fit for a queen, garden salad, fresh corn on the cob, and salmon grilled to perfection by Betsy's boyfriend Raymond. That glass of rose wine Grand Chef Raymond served me at dinnertime knocked me for a loop. I ended up sound asleep in bed by 8:00 p.m., unable to stay awake for the long awaited arrival of the three horses shipping in from out west.
The next morning, Sunday, I again woke early and headed out towards the barns. The first stall I came to contained Cooter, a beautifully marked young Appaloosa stud that Betsy was leasing for the summer from FrostFire Stables in Indiana. He was very friendly and obviously happy to see one of those two-legged animals that brings food. I fussed over him awhile and enjoyed his friendly and charming manner. The next stall housed Pocahontas, a small breeding stock Appaloosa mare in foal to an Appy colored Bashkir Curly stallion. She was also friendly and respectful and it was easy to see she had also been well trained and cared for. I then moved to stall number three. It's occupant was none other than GaWaNi Pony Boy's new horse, a Curly stallion from Crow Country Curly Horses in Montana. *Warrier Lynx, affectionately called Lazy, had to be one of the gentlest, calmest studs I'd ever seen. I noticed his water bucket was empty, so I entered his stall to replace it. Lazy trustingly placed his muzzle in the bucket I held for him and drank deeply of the water. I admired the beautiful swirled pattern of his caramel buckskin coat and the silkiness of the black ringlets in his split mane, forelock and tail. What an incredible animal! It was easy to see why Pony Boy had fallen in love with him.
That afternoon, it was time to say good-bye to my friends in Vermont and head home to my family in Maine. The experience of living, eating and breathing horses for a few days had been completely satisfying and enjoyable. Can't wait 'til next time!