- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 14, 2015

MONTICELLO, Minn. (AP) - For Jeff Burg, it’s traveling like his forefathers did - taking a route that unwinds up and over and around and down and across. For Sherry Binsfeld, it’s immersing herself in the woods. For Christie Winkels, it’s simply unwinding.

The reason for trail riding is different for each member of the Riverside Trailblazers. The Holdingford-based club offers all 35 members camaraderie and safety in numbers.

On a Sunday morning in early June, five trailers and seven riders pulled into the gravel lot at Lake Maria State Park. They chatted as they unloaded quarter horses, paints, a Percheron, an Arab cross and a mule.

“It’s my sanity. When I have a bad day, I spend a lot of time with my horses. They know your (feelings and moods). They take away the stress,” said Winkels. The insurance agent from Albany brushed her 11-year-old paint, Denver, as niece Sammy Schneider prepared to ride a 12-year-old Arab cross named Mandy.

Within 20 minutes, the group had unloaded and saddled up - in one case switching out stirrups made to fit snow boots for the slimmer summer version - packed saddle bags and headed for 6 miles of rolling, wooded trails.

Minnesota state parks and forests’ 1,000-plus miles of horse trails are augmented by county parks and private stables. For Stearns County riders, Lake Maria is one of the closest options.

The number of horses in Stearns County totaled 2,254 in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2012 census, the same number as Dakota County and third-highest among Minnesota’s 87 counties. That year, 66,384 horses were counted in the state - down from 90,140 in 2007.

“I think everybody in the back of their mind wants to be a cowboy or a cowgirl,” Burg told the St. Cloud Times (https://on.sctimes.com/1O7n3Rj). “It’s kind of like experiencing what our forefathers did.”

For Burg and his wife, Sue, the June outing was a return to trail riding after a seven-year absence. The current president and a charter member of the Riverside Trailblazers, Jeff Burg had been more heavily involved in his horse and carriage business, Horsepower Acres.

Riverside Trailblazers, which started in 2003, focuses on three things: trail rides, parades and event parking. Burg said the mix appeals not only to those who want to trailer their horses for trail rides but also those who prefer staying close to home.

Binsfeld, who rides a 23-year-old quarter horse named Tucker, is among those who will trailer up for a bit of trail riding. She joined the club because her husband doesn’t ride, and she sought the safety and camaraderie of a club.

“I love being out in the woods. I love the scenery,” said Binsfeld, of Albany, an account manager at Nahan Printing in St. Cloud. “It’s just so relaxing to be out of an office, out in the woods on a beautiful, breezy day with good friends and your horse.”

The Lake Maria ride unfolded like many do - with a bit of grilling during a lunch break, and then more trail riding for those who could linger.

Group rides benefit horse as well as rider, according to Dick Bassett, chairman of the Minnesota Trail Riders Association’s ride committee.

“The more - within reason - the better, because horses are herd animals. You can take an inexperienced horse out by himself and he’ll be very leery. You have him with one of his buddies or maybe three or four or five horses, and something that would spook him by himself he’ll walk right by with those horses,” Bassett said.

The MTRA lists a few organized rides on its website. The primary mission of the 575-member group is to promote, develop and maintain trails.

On their first overnight trips to explore some of the state’s more distant trails, most Riverside Trailblazers set out with a simple trailer and a tent, graduating to a trailer with a sleeper compartment.

That progression reflects a trend Bassett, 71, of Maple Grove, has noticed among trail riders who seek longer trips.

“The proliferation of live-in style horse trailers has just exploded,” Bassett said, especially over the past 25 years.

“A lot of the couples I know, that is their way of vacationing. Rather than have a travel trailer or a lake cabin or anything of that nature, horses - and travel with their horses - is their leisure and vacation time,” said Bassett, a semi-retired manufacturers representative.

“That is a trend I’m seeing, from the horse being a weekend diversion to, in many cases, being a lifestyle for these people.”

Winkels hasn’t quite made trail riding a lifestyle. But she does manage to go horse camping at least two weekends a month.

“People always say they have a favorite place. I don’t,” Winkels said. “I like looking for the uniqueness. I like any kind of trail.”


Information from: St. Cloud Times, https://www.sctimes.com

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