Saturday, February 01, 2020

Jessica Isbrecht’s “Happy Trails” - The New Trail Riding Podcast

From Organic Farm owner to Digital Nomad to Rock Climber to Endurance Rider to Podcast Host: Meet Jessica Isbrecht

by Merri
February 1 2020

Ride + Climb: Seeing the world, one trail or cliff at a time

The name of Jessica Isbrecht’s blog, Ride+Climb, tells you most of what you need to know about her: she’s a passionate horse rider, bold rock climber, and intrepid traveler. Because as you can imagine, it takes a bit of enterprising gumption to live as a digital nomad, to venture onto unexplored trails, and to hang off a cliff - which is how she and her partner Byron have lived for the last year and a half.

The nomadism started in the summer of 2018, following a very successful, but ultimately stressful entrepreneurial career as an organic farm owner in New Jersey. Green Duchess Farm was a way for Jess to be closer to nature and farms and animals, and to honor the memory of her mother, who had passed away too young and too suddenly from a rare form of lymphoma. “I wanted to help people lead healthier lives and hopefully not get sick,” Jessica said. 

The farm was so successful - she sold her products to restaurants all over New Jersey, to clients in Manhattan and Philadelphia, and on Amazon Fresh - that it wore her down physically and mentally. For those reasons and other issues and pressures, she and her partner Byron decided to close up, pull up stakes, and hit the road. “We decided that as long as I could take my horse with me, we were going to become nomads and go wherever there was good weather and good rock climbing.”

They bought a travel trailer, loaded up her horse Mackenzie in a horse trailer, and left New Jersey in June, heading north to Rumney, New Hampshire, a world class rock climbing destination. What had to be a good omen was that Jess happened to find a place to stay called Buck-N-Horse campground, about 10 minutes from the rock climbing cliffs. “We met some really wonderful, interesting characters at that campground, and they kind of became our family for the summer.”

While in the Northeast, Jessica took Mackenzie to Maine for their first endurance ride, the Pine Tree.

Jess had been in 4H for 12 years as a kid, and in New Jersey at the time, she and her mom were part of a competitive trail riding team. “That was my introduction to distance riding, and I absolutely loved it. And I loved it so much, that after I graduated from the 4H program, both my mom and I coached our county’s 4H distance riding program.

“I always knew endurance existed, and I wanted to do it eventually, but my young adulthood and trying to build a career got in the way. So I didn’t pick up the idea of endurance riding again until the winter before we were planning on leaving New Jersey and picking up this mobile lifestyle. I was kind of looking for something to motivate me to get out and ride more, because I was so obsessed with my farm and the business, that I pretty much spent five years nearly ignoring my horse and only riding occasionally. 

“I really wanted that thing to get me motivated to ride more, and I stumbled onto the Green Bean program. I just latched onto that, and I started going out in the snow and 19 degrees and conditioning and getting out riding. And I was just super excited.” The Pine Tree ride was hard and hot and humid and Jess was exhausted after they completed, but by the end of the evening she was looking at the AERC ride calendar, planning her next competition. “Am I crazy?” She wrote on her blog. “Perhaps. Am I addicted? Most likely.”

Frosty Oak Mackenzie, a 15-year-old Cleveland Bay Thoroughbred cross that had belonged to Jess’s mom, traveled solo with Jess and Byron for six months, from New Jersey up to Main, then south through the Appalachian states to Louisiana, “where we hung a right and went West all the way to Arizona.” Everywhere along their travels, Jess trail rode Mackenzie, and she and Byron both climbed.

In Arizona they looked for and bought a horse for Byron, so that he could ride with Jess, instead of bike or hike. They ended up with 8-year-old River, a Tennessee Walker mare. “She was nothing fancy to look at,” Jess said, “and I honestly wasn’t thrilled at the idea of getting another mare. She was the right price so we ended up taking a chance. And I’m so happy that we did, because she is just absolutely wonderful. She has carted Byron around as a beginner all over rocky steep trails, and he’s learned a lot riding her, and she just has the sweetest personality.”

River has joined the endurance world too; since that first Pine Tree ride in Maine, Jess has now done endurance rides in Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, and California, aboard Mackenzie and River.

Jess and Byron have also trail ridden all over the country, in such beautiful and diverse areas, that it was almost a given that Jess would come up with another innovative idea to create something wonderful from their experiences.

“I’m a dedicated fan of Horses in the Morning podcast. It has shows dedicated to all different disciplines - there’s an endurance podcast with Karen Chaton, there’s a dressage show, and eventing, and one for off track thoroughbreds. It’s anything and everything horse related you can think of. 

“But the one thing that they don’t have is a show for trail riding. So I figured if I’m out here traveling all over the country and riding in different places all the time and experiencing all these things and meeting all these amazing people, what better fit is there.”

Even though Jessica has spent most of her horse life focused on competition, she’s always loved trail riding. “There’s just something about it, being alone with your horse, surrounded by the beauty of Nature - it’s just so special.”

In the Happy Trails podcast Jessica and her special guests will share amazing places around the country (and the world!) to ride and camp with your horse, how to travel and camp with horses, navigation skills and first aid and preparedness for riding in the wilderness, training your trail horse, horse packing, trail riding etiquette, trail access, and tales from other riders.

“Everybody has some kind of story, experiences to talk about, so I thought it would be cool to have a virtual campfire and get everybody to talk about it.”

And so the first Happy Trails podcast is live. Pull up a camp chair around the campfire and listen in here:

Jessica Isbrecht photos

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