Join the club
|Watch this video on horsin’ around the Rivah at Wake Public Beach in Wake, VA.|
When her dad died in front of her three years ago, it was the kick-start she needed. She thought: ‘I’m 47, when am I going to start living?’
She started taking lessons with Jeannie Jenkins at Lost Cypress Farm. Witt now owns her own horse and is a member of a local group of middle-aged women that call themselves, jokingly, the Saddlebag Club. Their motto is that riding is cheaper than therapy and twice as effective.
“It makes me feel so good,” Witt said, who works as a 911 dispatcher when she’s not in the riding ring.
“This is the thing I do for me,” said Rebecca Raymo, another member of the club, whose son takes riding lessons with Jenkins.
|Beth Clarke on Wallymon shows off her Dressage-canter.|
For expert adult riders, there are nearby fox hunting clubs steeped in tradition. Susan Sanders of White Stone and Jeannie Jenkins of Wake are members of the newly formed Caroline Hunt.
Sanders, a pharmacist by day, began fox hunting with her grandmother when she was a young girl.
“I come from a long family tradition of foxhunters,” she said.
She took a hiatus from horseback riding when she had her children, but returned to it later in life. Her daughter, now 19, rides with her in the hunt club and is a champion in national fox hunting circuits.
“It’s a wonderful Virginia tradition,” she said. “I enjoy the pageantry of it – the lovely attire. It’s just one of those things that blows my skirt up.”
Burgess grocer Erica Eubank moved to the area with her husband several years ago and decided that she needed a sport of her own.
“My husband was always playing golf, hunting and fishing, and I was doing nothing, I needed a hobby other than my children,” she said. “I kept driving by these horses in a field and thinking about how much I would love to learn to ride.”
Eubank called Debbie Scripture of Scripture Stables and started taking lessons. Now, she owns two horses of her own and has started showing some in dressage competitions.
“I never thought I’d show,” she said. “I was just looking for a hobby.”
At Scripture Farms, Eubank found a social outlet as well as a way to burn calories.
“Debbie inspired me to start showing. I’m not in it so much for the competition but to show off what I’ve learned. Riding has not only helped me get in shape, it’s changed my life.”
Most riding instructors offer lessons to adults, beginner and advanced alike. Saddle clubs typically form around a stable, so the best way to get involved is to link up with a local stable. Fox hunting clubs require an invitation to join, but welcome spectators and guests.
|Beth Scripture Farms campers explore the Great Wicomico River.|
Take a Hike
Most people explore Rivah Country by car or boat, but to see it the way the early settlers did, try a tour on horseback. Many stables offer trail rides to customers who have taken lessons.
Several area stables offer trail rides down to the river, although most will want to ascertain a rider’s skill before taking the plunge.
It’s a wild experience, said instructor Laura Gordon of Lost Cypress Farm, who swam with her horse for the first time ever this summer.
“When they get wet, especially with their summer coats, it’s like riding a wet ice cube. They’re just really slippery,” said Jeannie Jenkins, owner of Lost Cypress Farm. “It takes a lot of leg muscle just to stay on.”
But, it’s a great way to beat the summer heat and the horses truly seem to enjoy it, she added.
“They are so graceful in the water.”
For those who prefer not to get wet, a trip along the shore can be just as nice. Debbie Scripture takes her students and campers on trail rides down to the beach along the Great Wicomico River.
Stonehouse Stables in Toano offers guided tours through York River State Park. Five miles of bridle trails afford a glimpse of Virginia’s tidewater landscape, complete with views of Taskinas Creek and the York River.
Joining a saddle club is another great way to access the water. Club members often provide their companions with access to a variety of property for trail riding.
Horse owners can also trailer their horses to multiuse trails such as Belle Isle State Park in Lancaster, Beaverdam Park in Gloucester or Sandy Point in King William where they can create their own water adventure.
|Ingrid Stacia of Richmond and Cobbs Creek takes a moment away from her chores to say hello to one of the Morgan horses at Bridlewise Riding Academy.|
Summer camp is the ideal way to be immersed in the local horse culture. Whether it’s overnight camp B&B style at Bridlewise Riding Academy, week-long day camp at the waterfront Scripture Stables or an intensive three-day camp at Lost Cypress Farm, there are offerings around the region for all abilities and age groups.
Melinda Sorenson of Bridlewise said the number of students she gets each summer is directly proportionate to the number of fliers she passes out at local marinas. She’s had students from as far away as England, France, Germany and Nova Scotia discover her by water.
Bridlewise is the perfect place for a young rider who is thinking about being a horse owner some day, Sorenson said. She focuses on learning to care for the whole animal. Not only do students spend hours every day riding, they learn to do everything from saddling and bridling the horses in the morning to brushing them down and cleaning their stalls in the evening. All the students are certified in the AMHA horse mastership program.
“I believe horse care and responsibility is just as important as learning to ride,” Sorenson said. Afternoons around the ranch are spent swimming and playing with the other animals - goats, cats, dogs and even a miniature pony.
“It’s a bit like Animal Farm here,” Sorenson said. Farm fresh meals are served up three times a day from Sorenson’s kitchen and campers can choose to either lodge at the ranch or head home for the evening. Sorenson is passionate about Morgan horses, which she has been breeding and showing for 11 years. It’s America’s first breed, she said, the SUV of horses. She currently has 15 horses.
Camps run all summer long.
For riders looking for a more intensive learning environment, Lost Cypress Farm offers three-day mini camps for all riding levels. Beginning riders can learn to walk, trot and even canter before the session is over. Those who have the basics down can practice jumping, prepare for competition and learn all the essentials of owning a horse and running a barn.
Other stables offer week-long camping experiences for youth and adults. Check with a nearby stable for more information.