Ancestors of Today’s Trails
(first appeared in the The Equiery's July 2012 issue)
by David A. Turner with photos by Katherine O. Rizzo
this month’s Equiery cover are Randy Crawford, riding his trail
horse Grady, and Crawford’s partner Dave Turner, holding U.S.
Senator Mary Landrieu’s trail mare, Miss Oreo. Randy and Dave
are the owners of Mieza in Prince George’s County. Crawford’s
gelding is descended from the same Tennessee Walking Horse stock used
at nearby Harmony Hall Plantation by owners Charles Wallace Collins
and his wife Sue Steele Collins in the 1920s.
Too often, our beloved neighborhood riding paths, used
daily by backyard horse owners and at riding stables, receive scant
attention in discussions and articles about trail riding. But for most
of us, the first steps in our lifelong romance with horses were taken
along just such paths. Communing alone with that first horse on a safe,
tree-lined path was the magic that bound us to our sport. These sacred
places are taken for granted.
When experts expound on “much-needed infrastructures for the future
of the horse industry” they overlook these treasures. Bridle paths
are the backbone of the pleasure horse and show horse world. Without
these trails, there are only riding courses and rings where knowledgeable
instructors and colleagues scrutinize each and every move, an acquired
pleasure. Many of Maryland’s public trails started out as bridle
paths. In the 20th century, forced from public roads by automobiles,
asphalt and bicyclists, determined equestrians established bridle paths.
In Maryland, no existing bridle path is older than the one in historic
Broad Creek on the Potomac River near Washington, DC. It runs along
a 1660s colonial roadway, the first footprint of transportation in the
National Capitol area. Here, every ride promises sightings of fox, blue
heron, wild turkeys or deer. This is remarkable because it lies only
nine miles from the U.S. Capitol Building.
Equestrian history in the tiny Prince George’s community has been
continuous for 350 years. High points include the formal carriage route
of the prominent Addison family in the 1670s and early steeplechases
from the village to the nearby Anglican church. In the federal era,
Broad Creek was an importation point where new Thoroughbred breeding
stock from Alexandria, Williamsburg, Norfolk and Dinwiddie was
shipped to race tracks and farms in Upper Marlboro, Baltimore and central
Today, Broad Creek’s bridle path is seldom more than eight feet
wide, one to two miles long, with natural footing, and dotted with small
wooden bridges where Potomac River tributaries flow much of the year.
At one point, archeologists discovered a stretch of colonial brick-paver
roadbed beneath the earthen path. Like other bridle paths, it is used
by residents or by invitation and its existence depends upon the goodwill
of cooperative landowners and St. John’s Episcopal Church of Broad
Creek. Instead of street numbers, homes in modern Broad Creek tend to
have names like Harmony Hall, Piscataway House, Kituchcia, Emma Place