The fall can herald the end of a favored season -- summer -- and it can also be the dawn of the best riding time of the year!
Cooler days, fewer attacking flies, (although by no means departed) and eye-popping fall colors add up to great riding experiences. If trail riding is your main interest, the trails will be more beautiful than ever. Even as the leaves fall, it means opened vistas, and a chance to spot wildlife. Do keep in mind that as leaves fall, and the appearance of meadows and woods alters, your horse may take exception to the changing face of his once-familiar trails. Be prepared for balks, high heads, and snorts. That granite rock, hidden all summer behind foliage, and now glittering in the sun on the edge of the trail, will look like something worth going into Red Alert over. So, look forward to memorable rides, as trail riding with a trail-savvy, enthusiastic horse really has no equal for outdoor pleasure.
This is also the time of year when many equine groups and councils offer organized, group trail rides on the weekends, letting riders get together in a relaxed fashion for a day of riding and socializing. If you’re new to these activities or to your area, the best way to hear about these events is to check in at your local stable and visit the bulletin board. Your farrier or vet can be a real source of information about the when and wherefors of these events as well.
Take note: Fall is also hunting season. For those of you taking to the woods, know the hunting schedule for the area, and don safety-orange vests!
Trail riders aren't the only ones with excitement on the agenda: those riders who are active competitors will find themselves on the way toward important year-end championships. Many, if not most, of these championships -- in myriad breeds and disciplines -- will be taking place in the months of October and November, from states as diverse as New York, Florida, Missouri, and Arizona. These shows are an exciting culmination of years of work, and it's a chance to see the very best, Olympic riders included, in American equestrian sport. Take advantage, if you’re lucky to live close by to a championship venue, and go watch the best in the sport! These large shows, with their well-established spectator base, often offer great vendors of equestrian-related merchandise, ranging from the practical for the horse and rider, to the beautiful for the barn and home, to the whimsical for year-round gift-giving. Check in on the web site of U.S. Equestrian Federation, the governing body of equestrian sports,(www.usef.org) to find a complete listing of major competitions as well as links to the specific breed and discipline organizations that promote these annual shows.
For those looking to mix trail riding and competition, seek out the very popular fall (and spring) hunter paces. A hunter pace is a timed ride, set over a pre-determined track through the countryside. The pair or team that crosses the finish line closest, but not under, the optimal time is declared the winner. Often, hunter paces are fundraisers, as well, and social lunches that allow non-riding spouses and friends in on the fun, are included as part of the entry. English and Western riders, adults and children, participate, and riders can ride to win or they can ride to enjoy the camaraderie and fun. Enter early, as these hunter paces are very popular and fill quickly.
Or, maybe you would like to try fox-hunting, which has almost everything to do with watching horses and hounds excel at leaping fences and tracking fox, and very little to do with any actual confiscation of the quarry. Fox hunting has many intriguing, well-followed customs, but most, if not all, hunts are very interested in taking in newcomers and allow “capping,” when individuals who are not members of the hunt may go out with the hunt for the day. Meets usually take place mid-week and on Saturdays – their schedules printed on what is called a fixture card – during the fall, winter and early spring, and are often followed with social lunches and other enjoyable get-togethers. These hunts are also often sponsor hunter trials, which involve jumping classes and other tests of suitable for foxhunting, or field, hunters. These are as fun to watch as they are to participate in! Contact the Masters of Foxhounds Association of America (www.mfha.org) for more information.
Keep in mind that many competitions are in search of volunteers for the many tasks that make a horse show or horse trials event possible. If you are interested, you can contact the organizers and managers of the competition and sign on as a volunteer. This can include marking jumps and trails, timekeeping, scoring, and a host of other interesting duties. If you would like to meet other horse-centric people, this is a prime opportunity, and a nice way to spend a day out-of-doors in beautiful fall weather (but plan to bring rain gear). Dressage competitions (primarily the U.S. Dressage Federation, www.usdf.org) and eventing competitions (primarily the U.S. Eventing Association, www.useventing.com) are especially volunteer-dependent, so contact these organizations directly or log on to locate shows and events in your area.
So, enjoy the great fall riding season… and get your riding in now before the hustle and bustle of the that inevitable holiday season, with its shopping and parties, means a whole lot less saddle time!
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Note: All prices in US Dollars