One of the real pleasures of life in Vermont is the tradition of horses. Horses have been part of Vermont life, as a means of transportation, to haul timber, plow fields, pull stumps and carry heavy loads since the 1600’s. Today, most horses are relieved of the heaviest of work activities, but Vermonters are very attached to traditional ways, and it is still possible to find horses being used on farms, in logging operations and, of course, as transportation around the state. The Morgan horse is the official state animal, a strong, compact horse well suited to the Vermont weather and a dependable carriage and riding horse. Any time of year, you can find opportunities to ride, work with or just watch horses in action. Carriage driving and sleigh rides are popular activities on rural Vermont backroads and many Vermonters love, own, breed, ride and show horses.
The Green Mountain Horse Association (GMHA), just 7 miles north of the 1815 House on Route 106, is the region’s premier equine education, show and recreational facility. Located in picturesque South Woodstock, GMHA provides a wide range of riding, dressage, jumping and carriage driving clinics throughout the summer and fall, hosts numerous competitions and offers the best horse trail riding around on it’s vast network of trails. In fact, GMHA has worked hard with local landowners and has developed the largest network of riding trails in New England, including 70 miles of permanently marked trails open to members and hundreds of miles of trails on private lands available to members by permission.
All summer long and well into the fall, GMHA hosts horse camps for kids and clinics for adult riders in everything equine. There are events and competitions almost every weekend. While you may not have thought of horseback riding as a spectator sport, you have an excellent opportunity during your stay at the 1815 House to watch impressive jumping, carriage driving and dressage events just up the road. You are welcome to drop by to watch the competitions and learn more about this what goes on at this popular facility. Before moving to Vermont, I had no knowledge of carriage driving. But it is very popular and you can find people enjoying a carriage ride along the many roads in our neighboring hills, as well as watching carriage driving competitions at the events at GMHA.
Dressage, which is the art of training and controlling both horse and rider as a unit to develop their skill, grace and performance is a major focus of the competitive events. The hunter/jumper events are my personal favorites…to watch the horse and rider glide over the course and clear some pretty festive obstacles with speed and precision. The carriage driving gets surprisingly competitive, as well, in a good-natured sort of way!
GMHA activities appeal to all ages. They host Junior Horsemanship Clinics for riders between the ages of 9 to 17 to train kids in everything from dressage, jumping, competition and caring for their horses. School shows have offered opportunities for kids as young three to participate. Clinics, trail rides and competitions for adults are seemingly endless. This year, GMHA will host the 80th Annual 100-mile ride, which is an amazing competitive trail ride held every September. The organization hosts over 65 events throughout the season, so there’s a bit of something for everyone. Even if you don’t ride a horse, there are ways to participate. GMHA is always happy to find a job for a volunteer, in fact, they could hardly exist without them! Last year alone, over 300 volunteers logged thousands of hours to make sure all the events, clinics, trailrides and parties (oh yes! they have parties*!) went off without a hitch! (pun fully intended!)
GMHA’s facilities, covering 65 acres, includes permanent stabling for approximately 160 horses in six barns, and additional temporary stalls available for select events to enable a total of 196 horses to stable on the grounds. They have four event and training rings, numerous grass riding areas and a cross country course that includes a number of interesting jumps. In 2015, they purchased the Rush Meadow Ring, just around the bend from the 1815 House, which is a 5.6 acre parcel of land with a large grass arena and serves as trail head for two of the member loop trails.
GMHA does not own any horses. Members and participants bring their own horses with them to participate in clinics, trail rides and competitions. Those without their own horse sometimes make arrangements with the stable owners where they train to use their horses. I asked about riding lessons or opportunities for 1815 House guests to go on a trail ride. GMHA, since they do not own horses, does not offer traditional lessons or provide horses for trail riding. However, there are private stables nearby that can provide lessons or trail riding opportunities. If you are interested in riding during your stay at the 1815 House, let me know and I will help make arrangements for you–the best way to see the Green Mountain State is definitely on horseback!
Horses can be seen everywhere in Vermont, being ridden along a country road, grazing in the fields and even plowing fields and working on mountain slopes . Loggers and public utility workers sometimes use horses preferentially to vehicles because the horses can keep their footing in places where trucks cannot even go. The utility worker in the photo to the right is using his horse to pull fiber optic cable.
*Speaking of parties…The social events at GMHA this year, to which you are warmly welcomed, include:
- July 9th, 2016: Celebrate GMHA’s 90th Birthday Party. They will be hosting an open house, including hay rides, demonstrations, horses to pet, birthday cake and general merry making for all. Open to the public; noon to 4pm; free.
- July 9th, 2016: What better way to celebrate a birthday than with the Annual Raise the Roof Wild West Fundraising Party. GMHA will be throwing open the doors of Upway Barn and inviting y’all to kick your heels in your best western dress. Cocktails at 5:30pm; BBQ dinner at 6:30pm; spectate or participate in the mechanical bull-riding competition at 7:30pm. $65. Info, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
- July 14th, 2016: Team Jumper Challenge and Lobster Bake. Come for the jumping, stay for the lobsters! For more info, contact email@example.com
- August 19th, 2016: Derby Day and Tailgating Party. Bring your friends, food, favorite beverages and park ringside to watch some great jumping on the derby course. When the horses finish, the course will go to the dogs! with the annual Doggie Derby. Noon to 7pm or later. Open to all.
- September 2-4, 2016: 80th Annual 100-Mile Ride. The weekend will be filled with activities to spur on the tired riders. Volunteers are always welcome for this event, so if you’re interested in participating in this exciting event, contact firstname.lastname@example.org