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Ascutney Mountain Pleasure Ride - A Rare Opportunity

Sep 14, 2022 03:10PM ● By Nancy Humphrey Case. Photography by Herb Swanson.
For 364 days of the year, the extensive Ascutney Mountain Outdoors Center (AOC) trail system is a recreational playground for hikers, mountain bikers, and skiers, as well as an outdoor education and community resource. But for one day every fall, 10 miles of these scenic trails are reserved for horses and riders, who gather to enjoy a spectacular trail ride—for pure pleasure. This year’s ride will be on October 8.

“It’s lovely to do something noncompetitive at the end of the season,” says Debbie Klene, who rides her beautiful black Morgan mare on competitive trail rides throughout the season. “We start out riding up a big field at the base of the mountain, and it’s really, really pretty.” The course offers beautiful views of the village of Brownsville as well as wooded sections flaming with fall foliage.

“It’s nice because it’s a combination of trails on the mountain (some on private property) and local dirt roads,” Debbie says. The majority (about 70 percent) is trail, some single track and some double.

All Are Welcome

Sponsored by the Vermont Equine Riding and Driving Association (VERDA), the event welcomes all horse and rider teams from near and far who would like to take advantage of this rare opportunity. Out-of-staters mingle with locals, as riders go out in their own time and at their own leisurely pace, and if they start alone, are often welcomed into small groups. “It’s a very cordial group,” says Barbara Gerstner, the main organizer, “and the horses are well behaved.”

Barbara conceived the idea for the ride about five years ago. “There weren’t many people riding on the Ascutney Outdoors (multiuse) trails,” she says. “The trails were used mostly for mountain biking. We thought it’d be nice to have trails on the mountain just for horses,” at least one day each year.

The fall pleasure ride is well marked, and riders can choose from a six- or ten-mile loop. Is the terrain strenuous? “Only if you’re from Connecticut, where there aren’t many hills,” Barbara says. There is some climbing, but it’s not all up and then all down. Perhaps the most challenging parts—for some horses, anyway—are the two water crossings on snowmobile bridges. “They’re wide, and not very high,” Debbie says, “and you can go around one of them, but at the other crossing, you do have to use the bridge.”
Last year, to make things more interesting and fun, riddles were strung along the route, all equine themed. “It gave everyone a laugh on the trail, and something to look for,” Debbie says.

The ride begins and ends in the large parking lot of the AOC, where, after horses are untacked, fed, and watered (with water supplied by the event), riders congregate to enjoy the delicious brown-bag lunches catered by Brownsville Butcher & Pantry, a local country store and café renowned for its excellent food. “I would urge anyone who wants to try it to come out,” Barbara says.

Join the Club

Doug Bejarano, who with his wife Wendy has been competing in VERDA events for more than 30 years, would further encourage trail-riding enthusiasts to join the club. Members will enjoy a second pleasure ride on October 23 called the Eat-a-thon Year End Celebration—a “progressive lunch on horseback.” And next year the club plans to add more pleasure rides to its schedule of events.

Founded about 40 years ago, VERDA is dedicated to competitive trail riding and driving, but has recently embraced endurance riding as well. And what is the difference? Competitive trail rides are like a rally, scored on a points system. Riders aim to finish within a certain time frame, and points are deducted if they are too early or too late. Scores are also affected by the condition of one’s horse at various checkpoints.
Endurance rides, on the other hand, are timed events. The first horse to cross the finish line wins—provided he or she is judged by a veterinarian fit to continue.

VERDA’s last event of the season will be a 30- or 15- or 10-mile endurance ride or carriage drive beginning at Kedron Valley Stables in South Woodstock. The club is introducing shorter courses to encourage newcomers to give it a try. “We have 10-year-olds to 80-year-olds participating,” Doug says. “The competition is just for fun. We have a saying: to finish is to win. Anyone can do it to enjoy your horse, bond with your horse, take care of your horse, and let your horse take care of you. We’d love to see more people come into our club and into trail riding.” For information on registration for any of these events, visit

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