The air is crisp, the horses are frisky — who wants to go for a ride?
Presumably plenty of folks around Frederick.
Frederick ranks first among Maryland counties in land used for horses (21,400 acres) and second in equines owned by county residents (6,000 of 7,850 horses in the county), according to a 2010 census compiled by the Maryland Department of Agriculture, the Maryland Horse Industry Board and the Maryland Field Office of the U.S. National Agricultural Statistics Service.
A look at horse clubs active in Frederick reveals a wide range of equine pursuits offered in the county, and nearby, for children and adults.
Some clubs help kids learn horsemanship skills and grow into responsible adults. Some provide an escape from workday pressures and a chance to reconnect with nature, friends and family. Some members say their clubs offer all those things.
Pony Club has been a factor in the development of many professional and amateur horse people, from Olympic champions to those who simply continue their hobby into old age.
Frederick Pony Club has its home field near Ijamsville. Pony Clubbers gather there for horse care demonstrations, discounted group lessons and practice in show jumping, dressage, eventing (which includes dressage, show jumping and cross-country riding over obstacles), mounted games, polocrosse (a hybrid of polo and lacrosse played on horseback) and tetrathlon (riding, plus running, shooting and swimming).
At Pony Club rallies members compete as teams and are judged on riding, knowledge and horse management.
Most Pony Clubbers own or lease horses, but having your own mount is no longer required to partake of what Pony Club offers.
Pony Club Centers — an idea brought to the U.S. from Europe – allow those who love horses, but don’t have one, to get the Pony Club experience through a U.S. Pony Club-designated riding center, which supplies horses and ponies, equipment and instruction.
U.S. Pony Club Centers include one in Mt. Airy and one starting in Libertytown, spun off from a Pony Club Center at Good Choice Riding Center in Clarksburg.
Pony Club also has opened its membership to adults, even allowing them to compete at rallies. It’s a move that Kevin Bowie, a national Pony Club examiner who operates Good Choice Riding Center, said was made largely to increase Pony Club volunteers.
Two adult Pony Clubbers from the Capital Region competed in the East Coast Pony Club championships last year, Bowie said.
But riding and membership weren’t necessary to lure Bonnie Snyder of Adamstown to Pony Club.
Snyder said she seldom rides, except for the occasional trail outing while vacationing with her three daughters, who are Pony Club members, and her husband.
She is joint district commissioner of Frederick Pony Club but has gained most of her horse mileage organizing club activities and driving her daughters to events and to the farm where they board five horses, including one for her husband, who rides western.
The Snyder girls are also members of Horse ’N’ around 4-H Club, based in Montgomery County.
“When we think about 4-H and all the knowledge they gain from 4-H, we wouldn’t want to give that up – it (4-H) comes at the experience of being a horseperson, but also with the component of public service,” said Snyder, noting that the 4-H club has raised money for charities and made visits to a nursing home.
Bits and Bridles, based near Urbana, is one of several Frederick County 4-H clubs with horse programs.
“Whatever your interest, 4-H has a club for you,” said Vicki Bazan, who has led youngsters through Bits and Bridles for 30 years.
Both English-style and western-style riders participate in the program which requires members to keep records on their horses, give talks and demonstrations and encourages them to compete in 4-H horse shows and at the county fair in the fall.
Fall also is prime time for foxhunting, and Maryland — with nine officially recognized hunts, plus a few informal ones – is one of the sport’s strongholds. The picturesque activity takes riders through fields and woods.
Although foxhunting often is seen as exclusive, New Market-Middletown Valley Hounds joint Master Katherine Byron says the club she leads “has long-had the reputation as a working man’s hunt.”
“Pretty much every hunt is coming to the point of a working man’s hunt” now, Byron said.
Despite the image conjured by foxhunting’s traditional attire and aristocratic associations, few hunts have many members with enough time and money to spend two days each week riding to hounds during the September to March season, she explained.
Byron said that New Market-Middletown, the only foxhunt with kennels in Frederick County, tries to accommodate people’s time, ability and pocketbooks with various types of membership and by organizing followers into first, second and third flight fields according to what a rider and horse can handle.
Non-members can ride as guests if they are invited by a member and pay a “capping” fee.
The club also offers a “Foxhunting 101” course as a pipeline for new members.
Still lots of clubs around the county offer more casual, less costly adventures for horse and rider.
Central Maryland Saddle Club was founded in the 1960s by horsepeople who wanted to take weekend rides with like-minded folks.
Some of its 120 members ride English, some ride western and some don’t ride, but join family and friends who do, for the potluck lunch that accompanies the club’s trail rides.
“We try to keep Central Maryland Saddle Club pretty simple,” club President Butch Myers said.
Like other clubs catering to trail riders, some of its members also belong to Trail Riders of Today (TROT), a statewide group, with scores of Frederick County members. TROT advocates for trail riders’ interests, as well as offering organized rides.
Mount Airy Saddle Pals began as a family trail riding club in 1965 and was started, in part, by riders who also belonged to the Mount Airy Volunteer Fire Company, where the club has maintained ties. Many of its 70 members hail from Frederick and Carroll counties.
Saddle Pals offers about three or four trail rides monthly, from April to early December, and has a “pretty even mix” of English and western riders, member Patti Mathes said.
Thurmont Riding Club started as way to organize trail rides and also hold small horse shows.
Children aged 15 and younger account for most of the club’s 150 members, said Julie Talbert who helps run the organization.
Thurmont Riding Club also includes adult novice and “returning” riders and hosts educational clinics, she said.
Shows held at the club grounds on Roddy Road include classes for English and western riders, special gaited horse breeds, as well as showmanship and trail obstacle competitions.
“Everybody helps everybody out — we want to make it so everybody has a place to come and play,” Talbert said.
The state sport
Horse folks who like a family atmosphere but hanker for stiff competition might want to try their hand at ring jousting, designated Maryland’s “official sport” by the state’s legislature in 1962.
“A lot of people can ride a horse but not everyone can joust” said Ron Vogel, president of the Western Maryland Jousting Club.
That’s because success in jousting requires running a lance through three swaying 1.75-inch to .5-inch rings, over an 80–yard course, through arches, past banners and spectators, within about nine seconds.
To break ties, ring-diameter can drop to as small as 1/4-inch.
Specifications and rules vary slightly by club, but a change in the horse’s speed or balance throws the odds against the “knight” or “maid” (as competitors are called), Vogel said.
Although ring jousting requires a well-trained, steady horse with a level canter or running gait, the short runs are not hard on the horse, which allows families to share a good mount, he said.
“Our club generally puts on at least two clinics each year [and] if somebody wants to come learn how to do it they can,” Vogel said.
Maryland is part of a jousting hotbed that runs through parts of Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania near Interstate 81.
One jousting dynasty born in Frederick is the Enfield and Minnick family, which holds multiple state and national jousting championships.
Saturday, the National Jousting Championships took place at Petersville Farmer’s Woods in Brunswick.
10 percent of Frederick County land is used for riding and grazing of horses
Nearly 10 percent of 81,000 horses in Maryland are in Frederick County
One-third of all Maryland horses are thoroughbreds
Horse-related annual expenses total $6.7 million, much of which goes into the local economy