Trail riding is like hiking with a four-legged friend
Somehow, things just look different from between the ears of a horse.
There's the perspective, of course. You're up high. You can see farther down a hiking trail when you're 5 or 6 feet off the ground.
But it's more than that.
You've got a built-in hiking partner, in the form of a furry, warm-blooded creature under your seat. Suddenly you're a living, breathing part of the landscape. Besides the chirping of birds and rustle of leaves, you hear the clattering of hoof on rock, the thud of a 1,000-pound animal stamping a leg in the dirt and the occasional whinny.
I strolled through Pace Bend Park recently aboard Toodles the mare, who belongs to equestrian Elaine Swiss, a retired high-tech executive and equestrian. Swiss invited me along because her horses needed some exercise, and she knows I love anything that involves getting dirty or sweaty.
Toodles and I followed Swiss and Zelle, another of her Arabians, along winding trails, through clusters of ash juniper and live oaks, and up and down gradually sloping hillsides. We trotted past a new mountain bike skills park, practiced sidestepping along fallen logs and checked on the ever-shrinking shore of Lake Travis, but didn't see another soul.
We live in the Lone Star State, though, so it's no surprise that an active equestrian community exists here. Many Central Texas riders trailer their horses to public parks or private ranches, where they tick off the miles atop four legs instead of two.
"For me, the beauty of trail riding is the freedom and peace in it," says Margaret Huston, a Realtor and president of Heart of Texas Lab Rescue. "You, the horse, the scenery — I can't think of a better way to plunge yourself into nature and soak it all in."
Huston sees trail riding as an opportunity to spend time with her horses doing something other than drills in an arena. "Every time you ride on a trail, there is something new and different to see. Every time you go out, your horse also does different things, so there's always a puzzle or challenge to work on."
Jessica Bovee doesn't like to hike on her own two feet, but she also loves to explore the outdoors with her horse.
"On the back of my horse, there's that relationship — it's like hiking with a friend or a lover," she says. "There's a spiritual relationship between women and their horses. When you ride through nature, you get to experience what's going on outside, and it's just a more emotional experience."
It's not always smooth or predictable, but that's part of the appeal. A little jostling adds interest; a snort or hop heightens the excitement.
All that, plus a pair of fuzzy ears.
Looking for a place in Central Texas to giddy-up?
Trail riding is allowed at a number of public parks and private ranches in Central Texas, including those listed below. Most require a fee:
Hill Country State Natural Area, 10600 Bandera Creek Road, Bandera; (830) 796-4413
Gloster Bend Recreation Area, 3533 Hollingsworth Road, Marble Falls; (512) 473-3366
Grelle Recreation Area, 640 County Road 412, Spicewood; (512) 473-3366
Harrison Ranch Park, 29401 RM 12, Dripping Springs, (512) 858-4725
Lacy Point Nature Trail at Waco Lake, 1000 McLaughlin Road, Waco; (254) 756-5359
Lake Somerville State Park/Nails Creek Unit, 6280 FM 180, Ledbetter; (979) 289-2392.
McKinney Roughs Nature Park, 1884 Texas 71 W., Cedar Creek; 24-hour equestrian trail info 1 (800) 776-5272, ext. 7427
Muleshoe Bend Recreation Area, 2820 County Road 414, Spicewood; (512) 473-3366
Onion Creek Greenbelt, 7001 Onion Creek Drive, Austin
Pace Bend Park, 2501 Pace Bend Park Road N., Spicewood; (512) 264-1482
Pedernales Falls State Park, 2585 Park Road 6026, Johnson City; (830) 868-7304
Red Corral Ranch, 505 Red Corral Ranch Road, Wimberley; (830) 833-4801 (by reservation only)
Shaffer Bend, 706 County Road 343A, Marble Falls; (512) 473-3366
Slaughter Creek Trail, 9901 FM 1826, Austin
Southwest Williamson County Regional Park, 3005 County Road 175, Leander; (512) 943-1920 (Oct-May only, orientation required)
Storm Ranch, 2501 Gatlin Creek Road, Dripping Springs, (512) 844-1407 (by reservation only)
Turkey Bend Recreation Area, 4000 Shaw Drive, Marble Falls; (512) 473-3366
Yegua Knobbs, part of the Pines and Prairie Land Trust, McDade; (512) 308-1911 (guided tours, by reservation only)