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New Ipswich / Jaffrey

‘Horse Church’

  • A group of horse lovers gather every Thursday and Sunday in Troy for a "horse church" where they take a ride through local trails.
  • A group of horse lovers gather every Thursday and Sunday in Troy for a "horse church" where they take a ride through local trails.
  • A group of horse lovers gather every Thursday and Sunday in Troy for a "horse church" where they take a ride through local trails.
  • A group of horse lovers gather every Thursday and Sunday in Troy for a "horse church" where they take a ride through local trails.
  • A group of horse lovers gather every Thursday and Sunday in Troy for a "horse church" where they take a ride through local trails.
  • A group of horse lovers gather every Thursday and Sunday in Troy for a "horse church" where they take a ride through local trails.
  • A group of horse lovers gather every Thursday and Sunday in Troy for a "horse church" where they take a ride through local trails.
  • A group of horse lovers gather every Thursday and Sunday in Troy for a "horse church" where they take a ride through local trails.
  • A group of horse lovers gather every Thursday and Sunday in Troy for a "horse church" where they take a ride through local trails.
  • A group of horse lovers gather every Thursday and Sunday in Troy for a "horse church" where they take a ride through local trails.
  • A group of horse lovers gather every Thursday and Sunday in Troy for a "horse church" where they take a ride through local trails.
  • A group of horse lovers gather every Thursday and Sunday in Troy for a "horse church" where they take a ride through local trails.

When most people think “church,” they think of a big building with a spire and a minister in the pulpit. But for one group of horse lovers, church has begun to take on a very different meaning — sitting on the back of a horse, riding the trails, and letting nature be their cathedral.

“Horse church,” as the members of a local riding group that meet twice a week in Troy call it, started out as a joke. The group began meeting on Sundays for a regular trail ride, saddling up their horses for a jaunt through some of the woods located adjacent to Timber Trails Equine Center in Troy, where they board their horses. And afterwards, coffee and baked goods and a chat. Since it always happened on Sunday, they began to refer to their regular meets as “horse church.” Even though it began in jest, the group does see some parallels, they said in an interview at the Timber Trails barn Thursday.

“You can’t find a man-made cathedral that’s more pretty than out in the woods,” said Sue Sharrock of New Ipswich. “And when you’re riding an animal that weighs upwards of 1,000 pounds, its hard to be annoyed, self-absorbed or maudlin. So you get the same sorts of things religious people probably get out of going to church. We just get on the back of a horse and do it out there. The day always ends up happy.”

Shelley Mozier of Fitzwilliam, who was the first of the group to coin the term “horse church,” added that there are some other benefits of the group that are similar to the benefits of a church — the sense of communion. “We all just enjoy each other’s company, and have become our own family and community,” she said. “Which is what church does for people.”

“The friendships are what’s important said Susan Wasilewski of Troy. “We all have something in common and we’re doing something we like, with people we like. It’s really like a family.”

The group was able to be there for each other during the loss of one of their own — Nancy McMillan of Jaffrey, when she passed away unexpectedly at the end of January. McMillan was a member of their riding group, and they honored her in their own way. They lined up, not only all of the horses from their group, but all of the horses housed at Timber Trails, and invited in a Massachusetts minister to bless all of the horses in Nancy’s memory. And although not all of the horses are friendly with one another, noted Jim MacPherson, who co-owns Timber Trails with his wife Sandi MacPherson, the horses all stood quietly in a row for the time it took for each to receive its blessing.

“They understand,” said Jim MacPherson. “Horses just somehow have a way of sensing emotions, and they just knew something was happening that day.”

That connection between horse and rider is something the whole group understands, said Sharrock. “They understand the attachment we have to our horses,” she said of the group. “And they understand that feeling gets reciprocated. The horses trust you, they believe in you, and they count on you to take them the right way and take care of them. Horses are a prey animal, and you do have to pay attention on the trails, because anything might make them spook. It’s a matter of faith. You have to take deep breaths and trust in your friends and your animal. And it usually works out.”

Ron Boardman of Troy agreed. “People rarely have shared experiences nowadays. It’s satisfying to do something with other like-minded people, and that’s what horse church is.”

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @AshleySaari.

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