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JANESVILLE — Before last week, I hadn't ridden a horse in earnest since I was 11 years old.
Back then, I'd put on boots and jeans and saddle up old Patch, my Shetland pony, and we'd ride for hours along the fringes of my folks' northern Illinois farm. We'd swish through tall grass, scout fencerows for pheasants and dawdle in the stream that wound through the back yard.
That was years ago. I'm no longer a cowboy. I'm now a guy in his 30s who types for a living. Truth is, I can't remember exactly how to hold a horse's reins, and I couldn't tell a trot from a canter.
So how did I find myself on horseback at Gibbs Lake County Park in rural Janesville, neck deep in of one of Rock County's scattered public equine trails?
Well, I was told by riders, by trail maintenance volunteers and by county parks officials that the county's parks, though limited in size, foster a number of horseback riding trails that serve a growing number of riders.
The idea was to learn about the trails from the horse's mouth, so to speak.
As usually is the case when I get a bright idea for a story, I got in over my head, fast. I agreed to do a ride with bunch of competitive endurance trail riders—a few of them from Australia. All I could do was try to keep up.
"Hey, dude. The trail's this way," said Steve Clibborn, one of the Aussies, from atop his mustang...
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