ANDOVER — Many of the drivers
approaching and leaving town on Route 120 have been gawking at the
normally vacant recreational field, which currently resembles a
horse-lovers convention.

The grassy field is full of horse
trailers, campers and a few tractor-trailers. They
arrived on Aug. 7 and will leave Sunday, Aug. 16.

The group, which consists of about 150
people from Maine and New England and 100 horses, is the Cross State
Trail Ride Inc.
, a gathering of horse lovers who enjoy the sport of
distance riding.

They liked Andover so much the first
time they visited in 2006 that they returned this summer for the
club’s 40th anniversary.

“Forty years is a long time to keep
this craziness alive,” Diana Leavitt of Deerfield, N.H., said Thursday evening after returning from a trail ride.

Leavitt, 47, who calls herself the
group’s “chick trail boss” or trail coordinator, ventures out
daily, flagging a trail through the backcountry of Andover which will
then be ridden by club members.

“This is supposed to be fun and
pleasurable, so we try and gear it in that direction,” she said.

In the early 1970s, the club formed to
participate in distance rides across Massachusetts, then from
Connecticut to Maine and from New York to Cape Cod, Mass. They
usually rode for four days, took a one-day break, and hit the trail
again for another four days.

Now that the average age is 50,
they’ve discovered places big enough in which to establish base
camps, such as Andover’s recreation field. Trips are averaging 15 miles
a day, said Leavitt, who began at the age of 17 and rode from sunup
to sundown, sometimes 50 to 100 miles a day.

Member Mary McKenney of West Newbury,
Mass., said the group discovered Andover through a member who visited
with Deb Cayer. Cayer and husband, Matt Bean, provide horse-riding
vacations from their Memory Lane ranch in Andover.

“It’s nice when you can come to an
area and enjoy what they have in town,” McKenney said. “We
give a ton of money back to them, especially for ice.”

It’s a big enough place to put 100
people and 100 horses, member Betty Tyson
said. “It has lots of nice trails and the people
are so nice to us and the town is so welcoming,” 

Tyson, McKenney, Leavitt and club
President Larry Marshall of Barre, Mass., all spoke highly of the
quality of trail-riding made possible by landowners, the Ellis River
Riders and the Roxbury
All-Terrain Vehicle Riders.

“They’ve done a fabulous job, because they really
take it to heart here,” Leavitt said.

“We’ve never run into quite an
organization that is working so hard to make it stay good,” she
said. “It’s a model for other states to follow. It really is
something to be thankful for, because we’ve had some horror stories

They bring their own caterer and grain
for the horses. Hay is provided locally, this year by Bill Varney of
Turner. The group goes through about 450 bales, Leavitt said.

The annual two-week trail ride is so
popular with the club, which has 246 members, that their waiting list
to get in on it is 50 people deep, Leavitt said.

“This is like a huge reunion every
year,” she said. “And, at least one local gardener is very happy
that we’re here, so he can get more manure.”

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Cross State Trail Ride Inc. trail master Diana Leavitt of Deerfield, N.H., stands Thursday evening with her horse, Sky, a 10-year-old half-Arabian gelding, at the club’s 40th anniversary encampment in Andover. The group of distance trail riders is spending two weeks in the area while enjoying area trails and visiting with locals.

A lone horse at Thursday’s Cross State Trail Ride Inc. encampment off Route 120 in Andover looks up while dining on hay after a day spent taking its owner around trails.

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