Trail Building

In the back of my parents’ ranch there are 20 acres of land known intimately by a herd of deer and a large fox that we refer to as “The Back 20”. Overgrown trails wind their way through thick stumps and boulders organized haphazardly by the previous owners as they attempted to clear cut the area for pasture.

DSC04312 (1)The land is now closed in by prickers like a scene from a fairy tale. They are alive, grabby, and bent on stopping us from getting to our goal of building a system of wide horse trails for Lensman and Gunsmoke, two sweet quarter horses, and the humans who love to trail ride with them.


Here I am, marking the trails by tying an orange ribbon on a pricker stalk.

Snow still hung in the shadows as my dad and I walked each trail left by the deer, marking the ones we wanted to expand with orange flags and wondered how they managed to make it through the existing tunnels of thorns with any blood left in their bodies.

There were such wonders hidden down the unexplored trails. My imagination built a shelter up there facing open to the endless landscape. I almost forgot that I wasn’t in the Maine wilderness as I crested the top of the hill and took in the unobstructed view to the north.

Hidden high in the arching red stalks were egg cases filled with hundreds of tiny praying mantises, that when born will flood down to the ground and spread the dainty creatures all across the silent trails. Red tail hawks and turkey vultures watched our work. Three deer that normally eat unafraid on the hills near the horses outdoor paddock were off somewhere else and spring had barely released the creatures that crave its warmth.


A praying mantis egg case.

DSC04384Three days of work cleared just a corner of the trail system. The prickers were no match for our stubbornness. We sliced through stalks as thick as my thumb with a brush cutter, carried the prickers in piles to a large canvas sheet, and dragged them to a brush pile at the beginning of each trail. Then the detailed trimming and cutting began.

Note to all trail makers… DO NOT pull a pricker stalk until you know it is cut from the stump. It will tear your work gloves, your skin, lips and hair. They are evil creatures capable of inflicting great pain.

Making a trail for horses is so different from a hiking trail. There are dangers that hikers would never notice. Small stumps hidden between grasses can stick under hooves, and the half-ton animals need extra room to maneuver around difficult rocks. I have grown to love the horses so much and feel responsible for their safe passage and enjoyment.


DSC04319In the end, I took great pride in my brush piles. Notice the spot of blood on my nose. It is my war wound and I am proud of it. We will race to finish as much of the trails before all the leaves come in. For now, the horses have a nice loop about a mile long to enjoy and I think of them stopping to picnic next to the Ent-like tree with a heart in its bark, munching on grass as they look at my beloved view, and that makes me smile.

Me and the huge brush pile that we made on day three.

A section of trail, before and after!


And here’s a walk thru of a section that we cleared…

And a few more treasures…


DSC04340DSC04382DSC04364DSC04360DSC04358You’ll find more pictures on Stony Hill Ranch’s Facebook page: Trail building in the back 20 Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3, or check out their website. It is a wonderful place for horses to train and live.

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