OLD LYME – Riders trotted over hilly Lord Creek Farm on Sunday for a long cross-country ride unlike any other from New York to Boston.
Ages 12 to 70, in groups donning matching breeches, about 100 competitors mounted horses for the nine-mile Lyme Hunter Pace, a yearly event dating back more than three decades.
Hunter paces are typically easygoing competitions inspired by fox hunting over marked courses in groups of two or three aiming to complete a course – neither too fast nor too slow – in an ideal pre-determined pace time.
Each year, the Lyme Trail Association, High Hopes Therapeutic Riding and Connecticut Valley Pony Club come together to drum up funding and lure in participants from across New England.
A pair of riders from Massachusetts told the CT Examiner that they compete in about five events a year, but that the Lyme Hunter Pace was well worth the two hour drive.
“It was more fun than the others,” the couple laughed. “Some nice views and a lot of good jumps, too.”
“We have 500 acres of trails, most of which are waterfront. Even the ones on the interior of the property are beautiful along the stone walls,” said Cheryl Heffernan, president of the Lyme Trail Association.
A soft sun rose over the field as faster, more experienced riders in the Hunter division set off. They trailed closely behind their partners over 25 jumps. They would journey past Sally’s Field, Mack Creek and Upper Pond before arriving at the mid-way point, where four of 60 volunteers sat along the edge of Ely’s Ferry field for a three-minute halfway check. They handed out water to red-faced riders as horses helped themselves to grass.
“This is the best marked trail we’ve ever rode,” said one rider between sips. Her partner nodded in agreement.
At the finish, onlookers lined the stone walls, watching riders bring their horses to a stop. Groups high fived and celebrated times close to the 1 hour and 39 minute pace.
Madeline Hatt, Olivia Hatt and Callie Dufrene took the first place ribbon in the Hunter Division for Rock Hill Farm in East Lyme with a time just one minute and 44 seconds from the pace. Dufrene’s horse, Beatrice, also won the award for Best Conditioned Horse.