Health papers in order and everything checked off the list, we load the third horse into the trailer. My riding buddies, Cinette and Laurel, hop in the truck.
We're off on a seven-hour drive from our home in Ontario, Canada, to Pure Country Campground in Brookfield, New York, for a four-day camping trip to explore new trails.
A few raindrops hit the windshield as we turn into the driveway of Pure Country Campgrounds. The camp host, Jim Weidman (Jimbo), greets us. He's a jolly, roundish man with an infectious mile. He suggests we let the horses stretch their legs in the central riding ring.
A quick tour of the facilities reveals firewood, phone, and Internet service, plus contact information for a nearby veterinarian and a farrier.
I also find that we have full use of the main pavilion. This pavilion houses an industrial kitchen and four bathrooms, each equipped with a hot shower. Never before have I camped with my horse in such luxury.
Cinette prepares the stalls with hay bags and water buckets, while Laurel gets her cabin ready. I set up the camper and heat up dinner ? a premade stew cooked the day before and frozen. We set up a cook tent to eat in so that we're protected from bugs and rain.
The horses quickly settle into their covered box stalls that Jimbo has prepared for us. Then it's early to bed for us, too. We want to hit the trails early.
After a rainy night, the horses are dry and appear well-rested. We're thankful we spent the few extra bucks for covered stalls. Ignoring the constant drizzle of the gray and gloomy day, we tack up, ready to hit the trails.
We wade through a flooded-out logging path, then spot the official
trail markers. We're on the right track.
The 130-mile Brookfield trail system, originally built by prisoners and maintained by the state, has recently taken on an Adopt-a-Trail Program. Jimbo has adopted the lower portion of the system, close to his private campgrounds.
We choose to ride a short loop off the main path that we find on the map. We want to start out slow, as Cinette's horse, Blaze, is coming off an injury, and Laurel's horse, Lefty, is a little anxious, experiencing his first trip.
The trail begins fairly easy, but gets surprisingly challenging, with steep hills and thick mud. Still, it goes well, despite a slippery bridge?more nerve-wracking for us than the horses.
We head in what we think is the direction back to camp. Then we take a quick GPS calculation, realize we've taken a wrong turn, and make the necessary adjustments.
The trails here aren't very well-marked; you never know when you may lose your bearings. If you ride on these trails, I recommend bringing along a map (in a zip-close plastic bag to keep it dry) and a GPS.
A Sunny Ride
Day 2 is cool, but sunny. We pack our lunches, halters, and lead ropes and head out to the trail early in hopes of reaching Lost Pond. A local Standardbred driver passes us with horse and buggy.
After a nice warm up, we canter up the hill to the trails. As a group, we're doing much better. Blaze seems sound, and Lefty is doing well. I switched back to my old saddle pad, which seems to be staying put.
The boggy ground shows signs of the wet spring where loggers have put down rocks to get through the deep mud. Eventually, the trail dries and winds us through the forest to hitching posts and a picnic table overlooking the pond, where we stop for lunch.
I untack Bailey Boy and tie him to the hitching post, then relax with Cinette and Laurel over lunch.
On the way home, the trails are rocky in spots, and I'm glad I had Bailey shod on all four feet. At one point, the trail turns into nothing but a series of flat-rock steps with a small waterfall flowing down them. Pretty, but slippery.
The sky is clear and offers awesome views from the trail's highest points. With only a few GPS and map referrals, we make it back to camp unscathed.
Our Last Day
On our last morning, Cinette and I accept Jimbo's offer to try the versatility cowboy course that's onsite.
We listen intently while Jimbo explains the obstacles and rules to us. It's not an easy course.
When the whistle blows for Baily Boy and me, we head out with high hopes. We master the steps, the car wash, and the canter poles. But then I have to pick up a bucket of water and pour it into a barrel. This doesn't impress Bailey one bit. Then I have to dismount to get through the noodles.
We gallop to the finish line to stop the clock.
Our times aren't in contention with the big guns, but our fun meters have risen for the day.
We load up the horses, say our thanks and goodbyes, and hit the road for home. On the drive home, all we can talk about is, "Where else can you do so much with your horse and have so much fun?"
This place is one-of-a-kind.
For more information on Pure Country Campgrounds, including a listing of upcoming events, visit www.purecountrycampground.com.
As the owner of Clix Photography (www.clixphoto.com), Shawn Hamilton travels worldwide to cover equestrian events. Her images regularly appear in top magazines. She lives with her husband, four children, and five horses on a farm in Ontario, Canada.