by Blake Herzog
If you’re lucky enough to own a horse, you know you have more than a pet — you’ve got a partner.
You experience your horseback adventures together and commune by just sitting or standing. Your horse may give you a higher vantage point, but you always know who’s really calling the shots.
Both of you enjoy the ride and are better for the ride. Your muscles get stronger through the balance and coordination required to stay in the saddle, and the horse gets to see something outside of the stable or meadow, as pleasurable as those places may be.
Greater Prescott has held onto the Wild West roots most of the rest of the state has left behind, and loving and riding our horses is part of that heritage. It’s also ringed, bisected and dissected by trails for hikers, bikers, runners, off-roaders and yes, horses.
Equestrian activities are not allowed or recommended on all of them, depending on how steep, slippery or busy they get. Here are some of the most popular paths among the horse-people set.
- Groom Creek Loop Trail No. 307 — The trailhead is across Senator Highway from the Groom Creek Horse Camp, so you’re likely to meet other human-horse teams here. It takes you to some of the most dramatic high-country scenery around as you approach the peak of Spruce Mountain, past stands of ponderosa, oak and Douglas fir.
- Prescott Peavine Trail — This mostly flat expanse is the workhorse of the City of Prescott trail system, and its breadth makes it relatively easy to share the road with others. It might be better to go during the week if your horse doesn’t do as well in crowded conditions.
- Iron King Trail — Like the Peavine, it’s a “rails to trails” path built atop a railroad bed, branching off of it about halfway to take you to the east, past Glassford Hill and into the Town of Prescott Valley. It’s flat enough for a peaceful ride while affording sweeping views of the Dells and Prescott Valley.
- Chino Valley Peavine Trail — This is a 5-mile segment of the same rail bed, developed farther north by the very animal-friendly Town of Chino Valley. It does not connect to the other Peavine or any other trails but is an uncrowded stretch of graded trail for the two of you to travel up and down.
- Cayuse Equestrian Trailhead — This trailhead in the Granite Basin Recreation Area was designed with equestrian users in mind with running water, hitching posts and plenty of space for horse trailers. It gives access to two impressive trails. The Cayuse Loop provides spectacular views of the mountain as you go through stands of alligator juniper and ponderosa pine before reaching chapparal; Balancing Rock Trail No. 349 is a rolling trail through shady pine forest that takes you past seasonal creeks and abundant wildflowers through much of the year.
- North Thumb Butte Trails — Horses are permitted on trails No. 316, No.317 and No. 318 in the Thumb Butte Recreation Area, and they can be used to create trips of varying lengths through many types of vegetation and more of those granite outcroppings that stud so many parts of Greater Prescott.
- Prescott Circle Trail — At 56 miles this loop, stitched together from segments of City of Prescott and Prescott National Forest trails, is the Ironman of the local trail system and a bit much for most horses to handle in one day. But, splitting it up will still give you and your equine an unparalleled view of the landscape and some fantastic exercise to boot.