INDIANAPOLIS – If horseback riding is on your bucket list of activities at the Ford Hoosier Outdoor Experience, then you’d better sign up early.

It’s one of our most popular events,” said Marty Benson, Assistant Director of Communications for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, “and it takes the most time.”

Benson said people who want to ride should go straight to the stables, sign up and then enjoy the rest of the events until it’s their time to ride.

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The Ford Hoosier Outdoor Experience, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. June 10 and 11, celebrates Indiana’s outdoor opportunities. Spread out over the 1,700 acres of Fort Benjamin Harrison State Park, 6000 N. Post Road, more than 40 organizations host dozens of activities, workshops and seminars. The free two-day weekend event pulls in DNR employees from around the state as well as more than 200 volunteers who provide opportunities for everyone to try something new outdoors. In addition to horseback riding, participants can experience fishing, mountain biking, archery, target shooting, kayaking and hiking.

The event, now in its seventh year, had originally been held in September. Organizers decided that moving it to June – the start of the outdoor season – might give people to put into practice new interests or skills learned at the Outdoor Experience.

“They might pick up something that they really like that might become an activity they would use for rest of their lives,” Benson said.

One of the most unusual events offered is gaga ball, which, according to, lends itself to a kinder, gentler version of that playground classic, dodge ball.

It must be growing in popularity, however, as Benson observed some neighborhood kids playing the game in someone’s yard.

“I had never seen it anywhere other than the Hoosier Outdoor Experience,” Benson said.

Participants also have the chance to try their hand at disc golf, also known as Frisbee golf.

“People don’t know how accessible it is,” Benson said. There are more than 125 specialized disc golf courses in Indiana – including a public course in Sugar Creek Park in New Palestine. Goals are set up to look like baskets made out of chains. Discs are aimed to hit a vertical pole and drop into the basket below.

Shooting sports – archery, crossbow, shooting — are also popular events at the Outdoor Experience.

“It gives people a chance to try things that may have intimidated them previously under the eye of experts,” Benson said.

The 2015 Outdoor Experience drew more than 25,000 people over the two days, but crowds don’t worry Benson. Neither does he worry that such an event will result in overcrowding and overuse of the state parks recreation areas.

“Some parks are very popular, but there are fish and wildlife areas that are underused and state forests that have plenty of room,” Benson said.

“There’s room for people to come out and enjoy them,” Benson said. “The more they appreciate the environment, the more they take care of it.”

Greenfield resident Scott Fleshood discovered the Hoosier Outdoor Experience by accident while walking his dog at Fort Benjamin Harrison State Park during a previous year’s event. He ended up hanging around to watch a demonstration on fly fishing techniques that included fly tying and casting.

“We don’t get a whole lot of that [fly fishing] around here,” Fleshood said. “It’s mostly out west. It’s a totally different kind of fishing.”

Fleshood uses his state park pass to enjoy hiking in Indiana’s recreational areas with his dog,

but reminds those who might not be able to afford an annual pass ($50) that passes are available to be checked out from the Hancock County Public Library.

Michelle Mannweiler of Indianapolis, has attended the Hoosier Outdoor Experience a number of times. She was too late to reserve a spot for horseback riding, but did get to experience off-roading in a utility task vehicle.

Mannweiler praised the hills and dips of the UTV course set up for the experience at the outdoor event.

“It was bumpy and fast and a long enough ride to get an idea of what it can be like,” she said.

Admission to the event and all the activities are free. Concessions will be available on the grounds for purchase, but participants are welcome to bring a picnic lunch and make a day of it in the out of doors.

No parking is available in the park so attendees are encouraged to park across the street at the Bean Financial Center, 8899 E. 56th St. and take a shuttle to the event.

If you go

The Ford Hoosier Outdoor Experience is a free two-day event from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. June 10 and 11 at Fort Benjamin Harrison State Park, 6000 N. Post Road.

No parking is allowed in the park; attendees should park and take a shuttle from the Bean Financial Center, 8899 E. 56th St.

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Christine Schaefer is arts editor and editorial assistant at the Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3222 or