Holmes County in central Ohio is the epitome of pastoral America. The landscape of rolling green hills and dense woods is home to sleepy villages and farms. This is Amish Country. In fact, Holmes County has the highest concentration of Amish in the world. Tucked in one corner of the county lies the tiny hamlet of Glenmont, with a population of 272 at last census count.
Lisa Jamison has called Glenmont home for 15 years. The 36-year-old Ohio native is a stay-at-home mom to three kids. While her husband works as a Deputy Sergeant for the Holmes County Sheriff’s Office, Lisa homeschools the kids and tends to the family farm, which they call Crooked Ridge Farm. There they raise horses, goats, pigs, chickens, and rabbits. “I feel like every time I turn around we need another pen for something someone is bringing home!” Lisa jokes.
A couple years ago, Lisa heard about Top Trail Horse, a website where members track trail rides and pit their mileage against other members around the country to win prizes. In 2021 she decided to sign up. “I’m competitive,” says Lisa. “I do like to win things, but my goal was I wanted to ride my personal horses more.”
Lisa has two horses of her own but she also trains horses for others. She specializes in trail training so Lisa spends a lot of time riding. “I thought I bet I can ride 2,000 miles a year and I told my husband that and he kind of laughed a little bit,” she says. But her husband isn’t laughing now, because Lisa managed to log 2,780 miles, making her the Top Trail Rider of 2021!
It’s an impressive accomplishment for any rider, but trail riding has always been an important part of Lisa’s life. She got her first horse at age nine and spent her childhood years having horseback adventures with her friends. “There was a big open field we were allowed to ride in and we would ride there all day,” Lisa remembers. “We’d pack a lunch and everything. I don’t even know what we did because it was only about 50 acres so we’d kind of just go in circles. We just rode and rode and rode. I loved the freedom.”
Lisa didn’t have any formal training until she was 16, when she got a job as a wrangler at a summer camp for kids. “About all I knew about horseback riding was how to stay on,” Lisa says. The owners took Lisa under their wing and taught her horsemanship skills. She spent the summer taking camp kids on trail rides and perfecting her riding skills.
Twenty years later, her love for the trail hasn’t disappeared. Lisa rides just about every day, usually by herself but sometimes it’s a family affair. Lisa’s husband is an experienced horseman in his own right. In fact, he bought her engagement ring with money he earned training horses. Despite his busy work schedule, he is supportive and joins her on the trail when he can. “He’ll go out with me on occasion,” Lisa says. “He doesn’t love it as much as I do but he still enjoys it.”
Lisa’s children – ages 14, 12, and 10 – also ride from time to time, but she never forces them. “I want them to do it because they love it not because mom wants to get more miles,” she says. “My girls sometimes will be like ‘Mom we went and got your horse out and cleaned her up for you’ so I can just go ride. I’m very blessed that I have family that, even if they don’t have the bug quite as bad as I do, they still enjoy the animals, they help take care of everything, and they go riding with me.”
Lisa also has a network of friends nearby that she can meet up with for rides. “Having a friend to ride with definitely motivates me to get out on the trail more,” she says. “Doing anything with friends that enjoy the same things as you, it helps.” While she loves solo saddle time, Lisa says she is grateful to have people to ride with. She credits that to helping her become the Top Trail Rider last year. “I don’t think I would have had nearly as many miles if wasn’t able to enjoy it with friends and family.”
As for her equine companions, Lisa has two riding horses of her own, each with their own riding style. Her main riding horse is a 14-year-old Quarter Horse mare named Chica. “She’s the one I can pull out and ride as long as I want,” Lisa says. She also has a grade Quarter Horse named Jasper. “He can’t go as far. He will be four in a couple months so I want him to be confident on the trail but I also don’t want to wear him out or break him down before he’s fully developed.”
When she’s not riding her horses, she keeps her husband’s horse in shape. And then she has her client’s horses in training. She logged her rides on all of them. “I accomplished my miles on several different horses,” she explains. “I did a lot of small rides because a lot of the young horses I had in, I was only doing two or three miles on, they couldn’t really handle any more than that.” But the miles added up as the months went by.
Summers are hot and humid in Ohio and winters bring frigid temperatures and snow but Lisa rides year-round. “As much as I like to try to talk friends into riding with me when it’s 10 degrees out, I don’t really get a lot of takers,” Lisa jokes. “But I actually do quite a bit of riding through the winter. I put drill tech [similar to borium] on the bottoms of my horse’s shoes so I’ve got a bit of grip. If it’s really icy we have to stay off the roads.”
No matter the weather, Lisa is fortunate to have lots of places to ride. Her property is at the end of a dead-end road, surrounded by a forest of oak and hickory. She can ride out on rural roads or trails through the woods. She describes the terrain as hilly and rocky. “It’s not terribly rugged but I have a lot of different options,” Lisa says. “It depends on what horse I’m riding and what their needs are for that day.”
Lisa has 15 acres but her neighbors also allow her to ride on their properties, giving her hundreds of acres to explore. “I really have a nice group of community here. They’re very happy to let me ride on their property,” she says. There is also a Rails to Trail area nearby, a national initiative to convert abandoned railroad lines to paths for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. She can also haul out to several nearby state parks.
Despite all her time on the trail, Lisa hasn’t ridden much outside of Ohio. “I have not actually hauled a lot of places to ride,” she admits. One of her favorite trips however was to the Smokey Mountains with a friend. They packed in and camped. It was there that she experienced her first taste of the backcountry. “I’ve never cut so many trees in my life!” she says. “We saw bears and wild boar. I loved just the sheer amount of miles that you could go.”
As for her dream trail ride? “I want to ride in Wyoming so bad!” Lisa says. “I want to go to the Bighorn Mountains. Just to see the mountains and see it from horseback that would be really neat.” Lisa hopes to be able to ride those western mountain trails someday when the kids get older and her husband retires.
For now, Lisa is content to keep riding her local trails. “It gives me so much peace,” she says. “You have the best conversations with God when you’re alone out on the trail. Also I solve a lot of problems talking to my horse. I tell my husband he’d have to spend a lot of money on therapy if I didn’t have horses!”
Lisa’s logging her miles on Top Trail Horse again this year. Not even two months into the year and she’s already ridden nearly 400 miles. “I want to do at least 2,000 miles,” she says. “But I’m very competitive so I have to try really hard not to be like I’m gonna ride 3,000 miles this year!”
Lisa says she is inspired by the other members logging miles on Top Trail Horse. “I cannot believe the amount of riding that some of these men and women do. It is incredible.” She also appreciates the community that comes with the site. “A lot of people will post about each ride so that we can kind of be like oh where you ride is really pretty, I’d like to see that someday and it’s a lot of fun to see that. A lot of fellowship.”
Some people have the wrong idea about this level of riding. At the top levels of any activity you can do with a horse, there are naysayers. We believe the health and well-being of our Top Trail Equines is priority number one. We do not promote overriding an equine or harsh training methods but we do encourage growing in horsemanship and always putting the equine first. Top Trail doesn’t offer cash or fancy prizes to our top riders. What we do provide is a cool way to measure the time you spend with your horse, mule, donkey, or even pony, in terms of mileage recorded with a GPS. While doing this you may just ride enough one quarter, or one year, to win a cool little token of your accomplishment and some recognition to help you celebrate.
While some people are riding thousands of miles on Top Trail Horse, most members are not. For anyone feeling like they aren’t keeping up, Lisa has some advice. “Don’t get wrapped up in the amount of miles. You can make plans but when you get out there and start riding, especially depending on where you are, you have to do what’s best for you, what’s best for your horse. Just enjoy every ride. If you’re not enjoying it what’s the point?”
Many thanks to Samantha Szesciorka for this article. Samantha is a Long Rider. Learn about Samantha and her adventures at Nevada Discovery Ride