Driving at the Mountain Top Inn

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Darley Newman
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We're at the Mountain Top Inn on filming an equestrian vacation for the PBS series Equitrekking. Well, the rain has put a damper on my plans to ride today. Since it rained all morning, the trails were too wet. So, we spent the morning filming inside stuff. I sat by the fire for a bit. Yes, it is summer, but we are in Vermont in the mountains on a rainy day, so a nice fire helps with the chilly, wet weather.

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I toured one of the chalets, which was great and would make the prefect party house. I wanted to move in actually. The Mountain Top Inn has over 30 rooms and suites in the main lodge and a number of chalets that guests can rent. In the winter, the trails that we horseback ride on in the summer are used for cross country skiing. I can see cozying up in a chalet after skiing and then taking a sleigh ride.

I spent some time with Pat and Mikey today, the two beautiful Clydesdales who pull the carriages and sleighs in the winter and help guests who want to learn to drive. Mike, who took me out for my trail ride the other day, also teaches driving, something that I would try today.

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So I tried driving a carriage on Daufuskie Island, and there we used a trotting horse named Trotter. This would be my second lesson, but would again be different, as we would be using two Clydesdales and driving a cart.

I felt super small standing beside Pat and Mikey, as Mike helped me learn how to tack them up with the harnesses and other equipment. Mike would work on Mikey and then I would try to copy what he did on Pat. It worked relatively well, except that the tack was pretty heavy. I had trouble hoisting it over Pat's withers.

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I was a little worried about my little toes, as we led Pat and Mikey over to the carriage. Mike let me lead both of them. I kept my arms stretched out pretty far and hoped that they wouldn't decide to sandwich me as we walked.

Pat and Mikey are very well trained, but they are also super affectionate to each other. As we got the tack ready, the two nuzzled each other. So sweet!

Mike did the driving at first to demonstrate commands and technique. We were learning at the top of the hill overlooking the inn and the lake, making it a beautiful setting. We had dirt roads and a wide open field of grass and wildflowers to experiment.

Mike taught me some of the commands and how and were I would want to hold the reins. I had a little trouble a first and also had to come to terms with two large Clydesdales instead of one single Trotter. I would need more strength and contact to stay in charge.

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Driving can be more dangerous than riding. There is a lot that can go wrong. I was on the lookout for the couple of holes that are in the field. Mike knew where they were located and would warn me appropriately, but as a new driver, I needed ample, ample warning so as not to get us stuck.

So I needed more strength this time and just as much concen- tration. After mastering a circle or two, we took up the speed a notch to a trot. This was where the fun began. Cantering was absolutely a rush, as we took off down a dirt road.

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Pat and Mikey continued with the kisses and the sweet responses. I had thought that they maybe wouldn't listen to me at first, because I am not Mike, their regular driver. They were very responsive though. This was probably because Mike was right beside me, but also because they are so well trained.

We continued down the dirt road and the rain started up again. It would thankfully be a short shower. After ploughing the fields a bit more, we finished the lesson. I felt pretty confident in my driving skills. Certainly not enough to take off on my own, but definitely enough to want to try it again.

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Stay tuned for next week's postings from the wild West. We're going to find wild Mustangs in Wyoming and ride at UXU Ranch outside of Cody. We're traveling from Northwestern Wyoming all the way down to Albuqueque, New Mexico.

Learn more about Equitrekking on PBS and learn about exceptional equestrian vacations at EquitrekkingTravel.com.