Back in the saddle on the W&OD trail
By Sean Kelly
Friday, Aug. 26, 2011
With an afternoon to fill on a summer's day, my wife, daughter and I went looking for a way to enjoy the countryside by horseback. An hour's drive from Washington, we found Chase Run Stable, which offers all riders, especially beginners, a peaceful trek through Virginia farmland.
When we met proprietor Jessica Raithel, 27, at her impeccably clean stable, her healthy animals stood comfortably in their stalls, thanks to fans blowing in different directions. They seemed to be on their best behavior as Jessica and her assistant, Heather McKean, directed us to our mounts.
"They know we'll be going into the ring for a while, and then [we'll] ride into the shade of the trail," Raithel said.
We signed an injury waiver, donned mandatory riding helmets and walked our horses out to a training ring, where Mc-Kean gave us basic instructions. My wife, Cathy, who grew up riding but hadn't been on a horse for a few years, welcomed the refresher. And knowing that my 14-year-old daughter, Bridey, was a beginner, Mc-Kean tutored her patiently, until she was riding independently with a fair amount of confidence.
"For riders we have never met before, I like to do a crash course first just to see their riding ability and make sure they will be safe out on the trail," Raithel said, explaining that 30 minutes of ring instruction and evaluation precede the hour-long ride. "If riders come back a second time, they don't need to do the crash course; they can just do a one- to two-hour trail ride."
My horse was big, part Percheron (a breed similar in size to a Clydesdale), part thoroughbred and appropriately named Guinness for his dark coloring. Cathy was on Penny, a midsize chestnut quarter horse, and Bridey rode Forrest, a 24-year-old gelding that Raithel adopted from an owner who was about to put the horse down.
With McKean leading and Raithel bringing up the rear, the five of us entered the Washington & Old Dominion Trail, six miles from Purcellville. We weren't on the asphalt bike path for very long before we veered off onto a wooded trail, up a hill and into a field that opened up into rolling hills of tall pasture, with mountains visible in the distance. Our horses trotted admirably, including Forrest, who surprised Bridey by motoring up one of his favorite slopes.
"He went, and so I just rode him like we did in the ring," Bridey said.
The out-and-back ride paralleled the W&OD Trail at times, and the bike riders we saw as we headed away from the stable were gracious in passing us. But on our way back, we saw no one. We rode through a leafy canopy of green in summer bloom, alternating between the cool woods and open pasture. Our horses, though hot, responded beautifully to command, and if we had wanted, they would have cantered up every hill.
At ride's end, humans and horses were thirsty. The animals went for water while Raithel pointed out the nearby Dry Mill Vineyards and Winery. A post-ride glass of chardonnay intrigued my wife, but I declined. After all, who could think of vino after a fine ride on top of a mount named Guinness?