Wisconsin equestrians are finding they can still get out and ride despite the need for social distancing. At the 19th Caledonia Conservancy’s Mane Event Ride held Aug. 29, 62 trail riders enjoyed being in the sunny outdoors as they helped raise funds for the land trust.

The equestrian scavenger hunt allowed the riders to enjoy the trails riding in teams as they search for the “treasures” hidden along a marked portion of the nearly 30 miles of trails.

Sandy DeWalt has co-chaired the Mane Event Ride since its beginning when it was known as the Poker Ride. Nancy Pierce, co-chair of Outreach for the Caledonia Conservancy, has worked with DeWalt on the event for the last few years assisted by other committee members.

“This is such a fun event,” said Pierce. “This year, like so many other things, is different; yet still so much the same.”

Event riders included participants coming in from nearby farms or stables as well as those who hauled in their horses. Participants included western and English riders, retired police horses, gaited horses and others.

Teams of riders began heading out from the Neubauer family farm staging site at 8:30 a.m. Teams went out every 15 minutes with the last team leaving the barn at 1 p.m. and returning after 3 p.m.

An army of more than 39 volunteers assisted riders by welcoming trailers, directing traffic, photographing teams and doing final clean-up. Stationed along the route, crossing guards were on hand to ensure riders had safe passage across roads as well as views of each section’s scavenger items.

Riders took pictures of what they found, then shared the photos with a tabulator volunteer at the end of their ride. The number of found items translated into the number of raffle tickets each rider was awarded. The tickets could be redeemed for such items as equestrian first aid kits, bird feeders, treats, custom stepping stones and other prizes.

All funds raised by the event support the land trust’s conservation work. The conservancy, located near Caledonia and northwest of Racine, is an accredited member of the National Land Trust Alliance. The nonprofit organization’s mission is to preserve the land and its natural resources for the benefit of the community through sustainable stewardship practices.

“The Caledonia Conservancy is a bit of an odd duck,” said Pierce. “We are located at the edge of rural and urban. With the ‘urban’ edge, we have and are increasing opportunities for non-rural folks to be out on the walking trails, partaking of the activities on the trails, and more is in development.”

The conservancy offers a varied terrain of woodlands, hills, rivers and prairies and is open to hikers as well as trail riders. It also offers area students environmental programming through its School to Nature sessions. During the winter, some of the trails are open for cross-country skiing.

“On any given day, you can expect to find equestrians enjoying the trails,” said DeWalt. “We’re very fortunate to have nearly 30 miles of riding trails available for our use and we encourage visiting riders to enjoy them. Riders need to follow common-sense trail rules in order to preserve the right to ride on conservancy land and private trails (when permitted). These lands are a combination of conservancy-owned and privately owned properties.

“We have a unique community of equestrians that consist of farm owners, trainers, barn managers and exhibitors who all enjoy our vast trail system.”

The land trust’s stewardship committee uses the funds raised through the Mane Event Ride and other fundraisers to maintain the trails. This year, the committee had to rebuild five bridges in one week because of damage caused by a storm striking the area just before the ride. Support is also provided to the conservancy’s preservation committee, which works to add more land deemed appropriate to the organization’s mission along with its various educational programs and outreach activities.

More information about the Caledonia Conservancy can be found on the land trust’s website at www.caledoniaconservancy.org.