Join the Club!

Riding clubs of all forms can be found across the country. What should you look for when choosing—or starting—a club of your own?

Photo courtesy of Albuquerque Area Trail Riders

When you think of a riding club, you might look back to your youth and being part of playdates and 4-H projects or maybe high school rodeo clubs. Your memories are probably filled with joyful moments, sharing your horses with your best pals, overcoming fears and obstacles together, and becoming young horsemen together. 

Those fun times and fond memories don’t have to live in dusty photo albums and corners of your brain that aren’t consumed by your daily life. You still have time to share fun times with riders like yourself, learning from each other, leaning on one another during tough times, and traveling to fun and educational destinations to ride. Riding clubs for all ages—especially adults—and of all kinds are fairly common across the country. You just have to be willing to look for them, or perhaps even start one of your own.

We caught up with three leaders of riding groups from diverse states—New York, Texas, and New Mexico—each with different goals, membership numbers, and perspectives. We hope their insights inspire you to find a group of riders with whom to share your horse life, or even motivate you to start a group of your own.

Gang Up for Fun

Lizzie Iwersen loves spending time with her friends as much as she does riding her horses and becoming a better horsewoman. When she moved to Texas, she set her sights on building a group of friends who could spend time together riding, cooking, and socializing, and she accepted every invitation that came her way to expand her horse-friend circle. Those roots started her Rein Gang Social Club.

“When I moved to Texas, my favorite thing was having a bunch of girlfriends around me that were as into horses as I am,” Iwersen shares. “I’m a big fun-haver, and finding a group to enjoy horses together opened up a whole new level of enjoyment for me.”

Networking

Iwersen’s professional work in the horse industry opened doors to meet other women who had big professional goals, but also wanted to be better for their horses. She found they’d spend most of their social time talking about problems with their horses, training ideas, riding goals, and such. They’d attend events together, which set the stage for the Gang to form.

“We were at Road to the Horse, and we all bought the same set of reins,” she explains. We called them our ‘friendship reins,’ and that started our name.”

The group’s casual get-togethers led to the Rein Gang’s first official clinic. Iwersen and her Rein Gang cofounder Kelsey Love Thomas, a two-time World’s Greatest Horsewoman, brought in Sarah Murphy and Kaleigh King to teach the group, and Iwersen did all the cooking. They upped the fun factor by staying at a friend’s house with a pool, and they did karaoke. The weekend ended with a mock horse show with prizes for the most improved rider.

Since that first clinic and weekend together, the Rein Gang has produced a series of clinics; hosted a tack, gear, and clothing swap meet; and slowly grown in numbers.

“I think that taking it slow is what keeps it fun and has allowed us to avoid problems,” Iwersen advises. “We get feedback from people who attend our events so we can make them the best they can be. It’s definitely a learning process, and we’re really open-minded.”

More Info: Find the Rein Gang Social Club on Facebook and Instagram.

The Rein Gang Social Club, based in Texas, started with a close group of horse-crazy friends and continues to evolve into a group of riders who want to improve their horsemanship and deepen their connections. Photos courtesy of Rein Gang Social Club

Find Riding Friends on Facebook

Kelly Torres grew up in a military family and was a newcomer to Albuquerque, New Mexico, when she and her husband moved there. In her quest to find friends with whom to enjoy her horses, she saw people post photos on Facebook of their rides but didn’t know where they were going. She knew she couldn’t be the only person looking for riding friends, so she founded the Albuquerque Area Trail Riders members-only Facebook group.

“I started the group in December 2020,” Torres recalls. “My intention has always been to simply provide a place for people to plan rides, learn about riding trails in the area, and help riders get together. I started by inviting my friends, and then they invited their friends, and so on. We’re now at more than 1,000 members. They’re people from Albuquerque, but also people who are planning a visit and want to find opportunities to ride.”

Keep it Simple

Many of the posts in the group are simple: We’re riding here at this time. All of the rides are on public trails and aren’t formally organized. This minimizes the effort Torres puts into managing the group, and it makes it virtually liability-free. The group depends on the community participating and sharing.

“When we first started, people were waiting for me to post the next ride,” Torres shares. “It took a little encouragement, but eventually people realized how easy it is and how fun it is to have others join you on a ride.”

The group does participate in a few organized events each year, partnering with another horse group that sponsors a tack sale and educational events. They also have an annual poker ride to benefit local charities and work with volunteers to guide riders across traffic and assist in event organization.

“Riders start throughout the day, and we ride small trails through Albuquerque,” Torres says. “We get a few sponsors, and the fee to participate goes toward a charity. We typically have about 65 riders, and it’s all volunteer-driven.”

Keep it Positive

While some Facebook groups can be ultra-time consuming, the culture in this group’s community remains positive and focused. Torres estimates she only spends a few minutes each morning over her coffee approving posts or monitoring comments and answering questions. 

“It’s so rewarding,” she shares. “I’ve met so many people because of this. It’s so nice to be able to interact and meet new people while riding in places I probably wouldn’t have known about without this group.”

More Info: Find the Albuquerque Area Trail Riders group on Facebook, where you must request membership to join.

The Albuquerque Area Trail Riders Facebook group has 1,000 members and encourages riders to gather for fun, informal treks on area trails. Photos courtesy of Albuquerque Area Trail Riders

Bigger Club, More Opportunities

The Grafton Trail Riders have gathered in Grafton, New York, for nearly 75 years. With almost 100 members of all ages, the nonprofit group represents a way to gather and enjoy the 92 acres owned by the club and the adjacent state trails and parks.

“It’s an awesome group of people,” shares club president Tammy Troskowski. “Everyone is so thoughtful and caring. You really can’t beat our grounds, which include an arena, a barn, a clubhouse with bathrooms and a kitchen, and a pavilion. But the best part is that the property is connected to the Grafton Lakes State Park trail system.” 

Gymkhana Fun

In addition to nearly endless trail-riding opportunities, the club offers four gymkhanas each summer and clinics, creating a diverse group of riders who are mostly local but span throughout New York and neighboring states and as far as Florida.

One of the marquee events held by Grafton Trail Riders is the annual Over the Mountain Ride. It goes from Friday through Sunday and includes a 20-mile ride on Saturday, along with shorter rides on Friday and Sunday, and meals, entertainment, and camaraderie that’s hard to beat. It’s open to the public and is the club’s main fundraiser.

“I feel like all members are welcomed and included,” shares member John Hoffman. “There are smaller groups within the larger group since we represent a variety of riding styles, but there are many times we’re all together. In addition to riding on our land and the adjacent trails, we find opportunities to ride in other surrounding places. In the summertime, we have something going every weekend and sometimes during the week, whether it’s an organized event or just casual riding and gathering.”

Structure Helps

Even though the club owns the land, nominal membership dues are required to keep the club running. At only $50 annually for an adult membership, it’s a bargain for the resources riders have access to. Additionally, members participate in regular clean-up and maintenance days to keep the facilities in good repair for generations to come.

With a group of this size, this club requires formal structure to govern the club and to limit liability. Troskowski stays on top of those concerns by keeping liability releases and waivers up-to-date with the latest legal requirements. 

The thing that makes the Grafton Trail Riders stand out is its culture. New members must be sponsored by current members, which leads to strong fellowship. 

“Even when members move away, they keep up their dues so they can continue being part of the club when traveling back to the area,” shares Elaina Goodman, the club’s public relations chairperson.

More Info: Find the Grafton Trail Riders on Facebook and at graftontrailriders.com.

The Grafton Area Trail Riders represents 75 years of horse enjoyment for members of all ages. The group is 100 strong, and they own 92 acres that are adjacent to state trails and parks. Photos courtesy of Grafton Trail Riders

Key Pieces of Advice

When starting a club or group, keep in mind this wisdom shared by our experts.

Key Tip: Keep It Unique and Positive

Lizzie Iwersen remembers a rider coming up to her and saying, “Sometimes you go to a clinic and it’s all about men teaching and men participating. Today, the first thing someone said to me is they liked my blouse!” Iwersen feels this unique group they’ve put together helps people feel comfortable and excited about participating instead of having anxiety and worrying what other people might say.

Key Tip:  Dot Your I’s and Cross Your T’s

As your form your ideas for a riding club, be sure to investigate liability issues that you might need to consider. Iwersen’s group has a member whose father is an attorney, so he helped them form an LLC and create waivers for their events. Kelly Torres’ Facebook group stays in that format without a fee, so there’s no real liability concerns for her to face because it’s mostly just informational. Plus, the state of New Mexico has an equine liability law. Because of its size, the Grafton Trail Riders have a set fee structure, protocol for applying to become a member, and rules for all participants. 

Key Tip: Safety First

While the legal aspects of club management can limit liability, keeping all riders safe to begin with sets a club up for success. The Grafton Trail Riders require all youth riders to wear helmets, per New York State law. All of the groups highlight educational opportunities that lead to riders being safer and better horsemen. When safety comes first, everyone can enjoy their horses without worry.

Key Tip:  Encourage Activity

A group is only as great as its members. Encourage every member to participate—
and be an example of participation yourself. 

“We need leaders,” shares Kelly Torres. “We need people willing to take initiative and host a ride and welcome people to join them.”

The same holds true for the more traditional clubs—encourage members to participate and to welcome new members of all riding levels.

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