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Equestrians enjoy weekend at Birch Hill

  • Volunteers Frank Whitney and Ann Degnan stand with Tigger, left, and Penelope. The pair helped organize and participated in a NEECA-organized ride at the Birch Hill Dam reservation on Saturday. Photo/Greg Vine

  • New England Equestrian Center of Athol member Jean McCurdy, left, and Vice President Margo Petracone get ready to sign in participants for Saturday's ride through the Birch Hill Dam reservation. Photo/Greg Vine

For the Athol Daily News
Published: 5/20/2019 4:11:13 PM
Modified: 5/20/2019 4:11:10 PM

ATHOL — Members of the New England Equestrian Center of Athol and other equine aficionados gathered off River Road in Royalston near the Birch Hill Dam Saturday to enjoy a morning of riding the trails on the reservation.

NEECA Vice President Margo Petracone was expecting up to three dozen people for the morning-long event, which is in its eight year. Riders could take trails of 6.5, 10.5, and 13.5 miles in length.

“It depends on the weather,” said Petracone, “but I think we had around 35 last year. If it’s a rainy day, you’re not going to get as many riders. We give them maps and directions, and everything in the woods is marked so that they know where to go.”

Well, riders couldn’t have asked for better weather, as the sun shone brightly in a nearly cloudless sky. A refreshing breeze added to the comfort of the day.

Saturday’s ride took place following several events already organized by the center during the early part of what had been a mostly rainy spring.

“We’ve already done quite a few things,” said Petracone. “We’ve got an awful lot going on in the summer. If you go online and look at the website (, you can see a complete calendar.”

Jean McCurdy, who is also with the NEECA, said, “There’s a dressage clinic this weekend over at Winthrop Farm in Petersham. And they had a poker ride on the NEECA grounds on Athol Road. So, we’ve already done quite a few things.”

The NEECA, a municipal nonprofit horse park, has been located in Athol since 2001, according to Petracone. She said the group was founded by Elwin Bacon, an Athol resident who passed on July 4, 2017 at the age of 68.

“He was a blacksmith in the area,” said McCurdy, “and I think people just got together with him and decided we need a horse organization.”

“Unfortunately, we’re not seeing many youth anymore,” said Petracone, who used her hands to simulate the playing of a video game. “The average age of your rider is rising. Any age is welcome. We would love to have more children.”

“Also, when we grew up, we had ‘back yard horses,’” added McCurdy. “And you don’t see back yard horses anymore. And it’s not a cheap undertaking.”

This year marked McCurdy’s eighth year helping to organize the Birch Hill event, and the third for Petracone, who also credited volunteers Ann Degnan and Frank Whitney for helping with the ride.

NEECA’s Equestrian Park encompasses 200 acres, which were purchased by the New England Equestrian Land Management Conservation Corporation. Since its inception, the organization has grown from a mere half-dozen members to over 200.

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