Trail Riding

Monday-Friday I work at my full time day job and Saturdays I work my Cosmic Earth stand at the Harrisonburg Farmers Market    This leaves me Sundays off, and after a stressful, or even a not so stressful week, I want some down time.

My idea of down time involves solidarity and nature.    Luckily I live in the Blue Ridge Valley, smack between two mountain chains, locally referred to as National Park and National Forest, where I can spend my day in the saddle listening to nature and the clop of my pony’s hooves.

Shenandoah National Park

A short drive in one direction brings me to one of the gated entrances to Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive.  Shenandoah has well tended and well mapped trails as well as maintained paved roads.  National Park closes when weather has made the roads or trails unsafe.  It requires an entrance fee (the yearly pass is a good deal if you plan to visit more than 2 days out of a year) and is rather popular and often heavily trafficked by other nature goers.  This is ok if you don’t like being out in the middle of nowhere completely on your own, if you are the type that tends to get lost or turned around, or if you want to plan out a hike/ride that includes a detailed description of terrain and distance.  National Park also requires dogs to be leashed, and it requires visitors to stay on marked trails.

George Washington and Jefferson National Forest 

A short drive in the other direction takes me to the more rugged National Forest.  It is less formal than National Park and has a lot of access points.  It is not gated, there is no cost to enter and users are unlikely to see a park ranger during their visit.  The roads are often gravel, sometimes potholed, and not always wide enough for two vehicles to pass easily.  The roads and trails close very infrequently, requiring visitors to be aware of conditions on their own.  With an extensive trail and fire road network, National Forest is a multi use park that allows hikers, bikers, horse riders, hunters and campers alike and does not require dogs on leashes or users to stay on preexisting trails (although creating new trails is prohibited).  In exchange for lack of an entrance fee, many of the trails are not well marked or obsessively maintained.  On most of my visits to this park, I have not seen another person during my stay.


Being comfortable in the outdoors, reading a map, and equipped with a reasonably adequate sense of direction, I am content not seeing other people on my excursions, hence my need for solidarity.  I also enjoy taking my dog, Daisy, with me when I go on trail rides and since it’s pretty hard to keep a dog on a leash from the back of a horse, taking Daisy is just not possible in National Park.  So although there are a few specific trails I plan to venture on in National Park, I tend to frequent National Forest most often.

Simon - August 2011

I also really enjoy exploring and finding new areas.  When unexpectedly passing a side trail, I often find myself asking my pony, Simon, “oh, what’s down that trail, let’s find out”.  and off we go.  Usually it leads to a dead end or gets too thick for a pony to pass, but sometimes I find really neat trails, and I can’t help but be excited with each moment of, what’s over the next hill, or what’s around the next corner.  I save this uncharted adventuring for when I am out on the trail on my own.  Oddly enough, I have discovered that most other people want to stick to the preprogrammed circuit with an expected outcome.  And since I usually do go on trail rides on my own, that works out just fine.

Friend Carol Ann and her pony Zeke - November 2011

I honestly do enjoy being on my own in the woods.  Of course there is always the chance that something bad could happen to me, Simon or Daisy, and being on my own might make it worse.  But while I respect that Simon is a pony, and has a mind of his own, he is also a relatively safe pony, and he has a good level head.  He is not the type to do something particularly stupid like walk over the ledge of a drop off, decide he is going to turn and gallop full throttle back to the trailer, or refuse to move forward because a rock looks particularly scary.  And Although Daisy does like to scout along ahead of us, she is never out of sight and always comes back when called.  Frankly the peace of mind is worth the risk.  And I do always carry my trail map and my cell phone, which surprisingly works on more of the trails than would be expected!

Ash and Daisy - on the "Bear Ride" - June 2011

If you do not trail ride in this area, you will probably find my trail reports pretty boring.  So heads up on that.  But sometimes they can be exciting even for the non local rider.  For example, this spring I rode right past a momma bear and her cubs.  As in, she was just a few feet from me.  No joke.  She was standing on the fire road that I was trotting up, and I just trotted on past her.  Simon is the one that actually cued me that something was coming up because he pricked his ears and tensed up before we rounded a bend in the road.  But he just kept on trotting and went right on past her without a flinch.  I also had both dogs with me.  Daisy, who normally scouts out ahead, sniffing her way along, tends to follow my husband’s dog, Ash, when he is along.  And Ash, being his military minded self, sticks directly behind Simon, trotting in formation the whole time.  Ash is very businesslike.  so both dogs were in a line behind Simon and just kept on running past the bear too.  I was so proud of both of them and Simon.

But if you do ride the trails in the same area as me, it may be interesting to read my trail reports because I plan to include the current condition of the trail.  It is also possible that I might mention a ride you haven’t tried before, which can be exciting too.

I do most of my trail riding in the mounted games-off-season, which covers most of the winter, and that means I should have quite a few trail reports to post over the next few months.

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1 Comment

  1. Nice blog, I’ll be back for sure.


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