New Way to See Fall: on Horseback

In Pennsylvania’s York County, Farms and Stables Offer a Way to Enjoy the Season’s Splendor as Trail Rides Serve Up Nature and Romance

Posted October 5, 2011 at 8:58am

The distance between houses in parts of Pennsylvania’s York County is best measured in miles.

Landowners account for the size of their properties in acres, dogs follow their horse-riding owners out to pasture, and farmhands push wheelbarrows full of horse feed, manure or dirt.

It’s modern-day American farm life, and it can be found just 45 miles north of Baltimore. The Buffalo Springs Horse Farm is in this rural part of the state, about six miles from downtown Spring Grove, Pa.

Farm owner Anne Bathon has been giving trail rides to outdoor enthusiasts here since the early 1980s.

“When we go out on the trail, we’re not going to see other people and we’re not going to be crossing any roads,” Bathon said on a ride last month. “But we’ll see some white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, red foxes, red-tailed hawks and groundhogs. I’ve seen a bald eagle — that’s neat, I’ll never get tired of seeing one of those. We also have a couple of white deer — they’re not albinos, they don’t have red or pink eyes. They’re piebald deer and their coats are incredibly white during the winter.”

Bathon manages the 96-acre farm and stable with the help of her daughter and one part-time farmhand. The farm also doubles as a stable where local horse owners can board their animals; Bathon has more than 20 horses of her own and usually boards about six more.

Bathon can take up to eight riders out on the hourlong trail ride, for which there’s never a need to venture off her property. The trail winds through creeks, knotty paths, heavily wooded areas and a soybean field. The diverse terrain means that riders should be prepared for the unexpected.

“I was out with a group and we had an encounter with an owl,” Bathon said. “I had heard [the owls] out there, but I’d never seen one. This one was on the ground and it came after me with talons out and everything. Fortunately, some low-hanging branches kept it away. It was a great horned owl and I’d always wanted to see one, just not that up close.”

Because a trail ride through the woods of Pennsylvania sounds like such a tranquil experience, new riders often show up unprepared to deal with the elements, Bathon said.

“They think it’s a ride around the pasture, so they show up dressed like they’re going to the beach,” she said. “We see high-heeled boots, shorts, dresses, those new toe shoes. But if you show up wearing flip-flops, you’re going to have to go barefoot. We’re not going to be dismounting every five minutes to pick up the sandal that fell off your foot.”

While the elements might sound forbidding, the trail ride doesn’t require any degree of technical expertise and Bathon takes pride in the discipline of her horses.

“These are not old, ordinary horses that you’d find at a hack stable,” she said. “These are well-trained, responsible and very pretty quarter horses. We use some of them in rodeos, so they need to be strong and able to pick up speed.”

A strong horse that can pick up speed is more Bathon’s style. When she’s not leading a group, the trail riding is a relatively low-stakes endeavor for her. She no longer gets a thrill out of a slow mosey through the hills, so in her spare time she barrel-races horses in the rodeo.

The stakes are sometimes higher for her amateur riders. Bathon offers a romantic option for couples who want to ride down to the creek for a private picnic lunch.

“We’ve had a quite a few proposals,” she said. “We helped one guy hide the ring down by the creek so when they showed up it was there. I’m always worried about it when they’re coming back. What if she said no?”