Mother Nature is constantly encroaching in the world of trail riders.
She provides scenery, shade and the trails but at the same time gives thorns, brackens and overgrowth that must be dealt with.
On a recent glorious Saturday afternoon, Carolyn Garber of Taylorsville set off on foot armed with an anvil pruner to do battle with branches that had overgrown the bridle paths at Piney Run. The occasion was the first of the summer's planned trail-clearing expeditions of the county trail system.
Garber was joined by three riders and their horses who were sent off to a "major sticker area" to clear away the growth. Westminster riders Harry Desmond and Jeani Swartz on Dancing Lady and Smoke, respectively, and Joe Zentgraf of Carrollton aboard Dandy set off for the far western loop of the trail to deal with the stickers.
"That really is a job for 'Machete Man,' " said Garber with a laugh.
Jeani Swartz, aboard her 4-year-old buckskin Paso Fino, said they would be "using first gear most of the time" on the hilly terrain at Piney Run.
"Coming on a trail clearing expedition is a very good way for horses and riders to learn the county trail system," Swartz said before setting off with her 14.2-hand gelding. "It's also a good way for the horses to practice skills such as standing still, side passing, and turning on the forehand while the rider trims the multiflora [sticker bushes]."
Harry Desmond and his liver chestnut mare Dancing Lady are old hands at this trail business.
"She's a good trail horse, a fun horse with no bad habits," Desmond said of the 20-year-old mare he has owned for six years. "From the first time I saw her, I liked the way she looked and liked the way she goes."
Joe Zentgraf, who usually rides an American Mustang, borrowed daughter Jillyn's horse Dandy for the day. Zentgraf had nothing but praise for the big Palomino gelding.
"He'll try anything on the trails, he's very reliable," Zentgraf said as he climbed aboard and set off on the 7-year-old horse.
After making sure the riders were all off safely, Garber set off with her handy anvil pruner, a long-handled affair that allows her to cut branches from overhead and at trail level. She also had responsibility for tying black and yellow trail markers in the appropriate places and for administering ice water to the riders.
"The markers have to be tied fairly high up so that they are visible to someone on horseback," Garber said. "The markers have to be replaced fairly often because something keeps eating them."
Sure enough, the first markers encountered looked as if something had chomped off both of the tied ends. Garber replaced it and snipped off branches that had grown onto the trail.
"We use two markers to indicate where there is a turn, although there is only one way in here and one way out, so if riders stick to the main trail, they can't get lost," Garber says. Garber, Swartz, Desmond, Zentgraf and other members of the Trail Riders of Today (TROT) and of the Carroll County Equestrian Council constantly monitor the condition of the trails system.
"We need to encourage and enlighten other trail riders to come out and help with this," Garber said.
Trail-clearing is more fun with a group of people tackling the project. Riding the trails and trying to enjoy the scenery is no fun if you keep getting hit in the face by branches and sticker bushes.
Anyone who makes use of the county trail system is invited to participate in the trail-clearing sessions. Bringing a horse is not necessary, since a ground crew is always needed.
The next sessions will be held at Union Mills Bridle Trails on July 18 and at the Gillis Falls Reservoir Site on Grimville Road on Aug. 29. Call Janet Breeding at 795-4262 for information about Gillis Falls and Jeani Swartz at 346-7060 about Union Mills.
Saturday-Sunday: Fifth annual Therapeutic and Recreational Riding Center Benefit Horse Show at Foxfield Farm in Woodbine, (301) 854-6505
Sunday: Lehigh Pony Club English Horse Show, 756-6057
July 12: Weave-A-Dream Horse Trials in Hampstead, 239-2558.
July 18: Trail Work Day at Union Mills Bridle Trails, 346-7060
July 19: Carroll County Western Circuit Show at Spring Valley in Glen Rock, Pa., 239-7885.