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Fall in Door County is a magical time, no matter how you chose to enjoy it. My favorite happens to be on the back of my horse, Harley, riding on trails through the woods. It’s a great way to get back in touch with nature on a level far different than hiking or biking. It's early October and the leaves are exploding with color and the air is crisp and clean.
It’s a crisp fall morning and a group of us are heading north of Ellison Bay for a morning trail ride. The horses stand by the trailers munching on the last of the summer grass as we discuss where we're riding, who's in the lead, and start saddling up. I'm riding on Harley, our 16-year-old Quarter Horse-American Standard Bred and my mom is riding her 13-year-old Quarter Horse named Sierra. We're joining a group of her friends riding on some privately owned land that they've gotten permission to go on.
As we head out, we walk through forests of cedars in the low ground that changes to hardwoods as the elevation rises. What most people don't know is there are quite a few horse riders in Door County. Most of the seven ladies I'm riding with are part of the Thumbs Up Riders - Glacial Drumline Horse Trails Association (GDHTA), a local group working to develop multi use trails that horses are allowed to be on. They organize horse and pony rides on the 4th of July in Baileys Harbor and host other events to raise money for the cause. They spend most of the time today chatting about upcoming fundraisers, organized rides and who's doing what. I start to tune in and out as they talk business about the upcoming board meetings and issues regarding getting the public horse trails going.
There's a crispness to the sound as the horses walk through piles of leaves on the forest floor. It's the same sound you heard when you were a little kid jumping in a pile of leaves as your parents raked them up. The sweet smell of dirt and decaying leaves is one of my favorite indicators of fall. As we wind through low lying swamp areas skirting around marshes, frost still lines the branches of the fragrant cedar boughs that the sun hasn't touched yet.
I jump back into the conversation as the women start to discuss Hanna. Hanna, one of the girls with us, is heading to Oklahoma to compete in western dressage at the National Level with a horse that she rescued and trained from a yearling. Hanna, who's in front of me on her horse Soldier, is only fifteen years old and a better equestrian than most adults. Soldier was written off as being useless due to an injury at a very young age and Hanna has been his only trainer. They have competed their way to Nationals and are heavily decorated in their field.
Most of the talk is focusing on the Annual Fall Trail Ride coming up at the Bley's Farm on October 9. It’s an annual event put on by the Door County 4-H Youth Horse and Pony Project including a Chinese raffle, scavenger hunt and trail ride. It’s a great fundraiser for the group and something we try to make every year. Visit Door County 4-H Youth Horse and Pony Project on Facebook to see the outcome and to join in on next year’s fun.
After reaching the end of our trail, we head back to the trailers. It’s time for one last group shot so we all lined up. Do you have any idea how hard it is to line up seven twelve-hundred-pound animals and get them to look in one direction? As you can see, we didn’t completely succeed but it was a great way to spend the morning discovering the deep forests that very few have ever seen. There’s something to be said about an adventure that takes you back over one hundred years to the way the first settlers discovered Door County, on the backs of horses just like these.
No matter how you prefer to explore, Door County’s fall color is absolutely amazing and a must see. The county changes at different rates so you are very likely to find the peak color anywhere from early to mid-October and into November depending on the year. Make sure to check out any fall festivals that are happening in September or October.
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