I got to cross off one more activity from my (lengthy) bucket list: to ride Murphy on the Heritage Rail Trail close to where I live. The 21-mile trail runs from the Mason Dixon line, near my home, to York, PA.
One recent Sunday we made a spur of the moment decision to take him there after saying for years that I wanted to go. I’ve grown up walking, biking, running, taking the dogs on walks, and hanging out with friends on this trail, so it’s only fitting that I ride my horse on the trail, too!
Both of my parents came with me to go on a walk. The Rail Trail takes you through the small town of New Freedom, which has an old-fashioned train, platform station and cafe at its center. I was curious to see how Murphy would react to all of that- not to mention all the people who were out on a beautiful Labor Day weekend!
When Murphy got off the trailer near the trail, he started snorting, getting louder as he realized this was somewhere he’d never been before. I walked him in the grassy picnic area alongside the trail so he could regain his senses. The picnic area was shielded by a line of trees, so he could only catch glimpses of the bikes that were whizzing by on the trail behind the trees. This made him get super tall and snort at the same time. People and dogs were stopping to watch as they realized, “Wow, there’s was a real, live horse right next to the trail!”
I started to wonder if this was a bad idea…
Eventually we got tacked up, and I got on without getting taken off with. Deep breaths. Now just to actually ride on the trail. I walked around in the grassy area and headed out on the trail when an excited Labrador Retriever (who clearly had never seen a horse before) started pulling on his leash to get to Murphy. Thankfully they both held it together and we went on our way!
Murphy was much better once he got on the trail in the shelter of the trees. He loves trail rides more than anything else. He was good about fast-moving bikes, runners, walkers, and overly excited dogs. We even walked past bright orange construction equipment without a huge reaction.
The trains weren’t running in town, which was probably a good thing, but I think a small part of me wanted to see how Murphy would react. We crossed Main Street and walked past a small restaurant that sits right on the trail with outside seating, and I felt everyone’s eyes look in our direction as Murphy walked past. No doubt he was checking out the diners as much as they were checking him out.
As we walked on the trail, we ran into one of the girls who used to work at our barn. Murphy was a bit rude and refused to stand for her to pat him though, so we decided to turn around before he started to lose it.
Going back, I let Murphy let out a little energy by trotting and cantering, which he definitely enjoyed. A guy on a bike passed us and asked if we wanted to race. He was going super fast, but I should have taken him up on the challenge! I am pretty sure we would’ve won.
The good news is that we had a successful outing! I remembered that three years ago, Murphy never could’ve handled all that activity. It was gratifying to be able to bring my horse that I produced to the place where I grew up, and have him act like it was no big deal. I really don’t give Murphy enough credit sometimes, which is why it’s so important to remember where you came from.
After we loaded Murphy on the trailer we went back to my house to drop my dad off. While we were parked there, my neighbor came outside with her young daughter, Olivia, who happened to be riding her stick horse. She was so excited to see Murphy because she had just gone to the Maryland State Fair and visited all the horses there, which sparked her interest in horses. Olivia’s stick horse made whinny sounds, which caught Murphy’s attention. She enjoyed seeing him react to the noises.
“I speak horse… I have a special connection with horses,” Olivia explained. I asked her what her horse’s name was, how old he is, and how long she has had him. She had very creative answers to all those questions. Olivia said she wants to make jump courses to do with her horses, which sounded familiar, because I used to do the same thing.
As Olivia was chattering I was thinking, Was I like this when I was her age? You could tell that she had caught the horse bug, and there was no stopping it now, at least not until she got the chance to ride a pony. We told Olivia’s parents about Pony Club and how they didn’t need to have a pony to join, which would be a great option for them.
I love seeing kids have that new excitement and curiosity for horses. Seeing that joy and passion in Olivia’s eyes as a smile lit up her face was a good way to remember where I came from. I was this little girl, (really, I still am on some level) and it’s important to never lose sight of that in the everyday highs and lows of riding.
This is why I ride – because of that passion and joy that horses bring me.
It’s special to be able to share my passion – one that has taught me countless life lessons – with another young person. Who knows, it might just change their life.