Trail Riding in the Smokies

This another of the several articles that I wrote for Simply Morgan magazine about trail riding and pack trips.  This article was originally written in 2008. 


I have always enjoyed trail riding. I think I was born about a hundred years too late. Fortunately for me, several of my family and friends tend to suffer from this same affliction. As a rule, we try to take at least one overnight trail ride a year. For several years we have ridden in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. For those of you who have never had the opportunity to ride here I highly recommend it. The 4-5 hr drive is very doable with a horse trailer, the scenery is gorgeous and there are TONS of different trails to explore. For several years in a row, we hauled into the Round Bottom campground close to Cherokee, NC. In my opinion, it isn’t possible to ride in the mountains without coming back with a story of some type.

Stan and Poke

During one such trip, there was a fallen log across the trail. I elected to ask my mare, Charli (Charli Girl), to cross the log at its highest point because it was farther away from the edge of the trail. I have an aversion to going rolling down the side of the mountain, and I have seen horses do this when the ground on the edge of the trail crumbles out from under them-pretty scary and I don’t want to go rolling down the side of a mountain. Unfortunately for me, Charli didn’t quite make the jump over the log and we ended up rolling down the side of the mountain anyway. All I could hear was my cousin, Stan, yelling, “Jump off!! Jump off!” I didn’t listen. Charli somehow managed to get her feet under her (I was still mounted) and clamber back up onto the trail. This feat earned Charli my undying gratitude and prompted an admiring Stan to comment, “You don’t ever need to get rid of that horse.”

Kristin and Airy

Another eventful trip occurred in the spring of 2004. I visited the Round Bottom Campground with my cousins, Stan, Graham, Chavis, and Tatum, and my friend, Kristin. We were all set to enjoy a weekend of riding and good food. This weekend was the first overnight horseback trip for Kristin and Tatum as well being the first time Kristin had ever ridden my little Morgan mare, Airy (Quietude Arioso). It takes either a lot of trust or a lot of stupidity to get on a horse you’ve never ridden before on some of the trails we traveled that weekend. I like to think Kristin just trusted me a lot! I was up on my other Morgan mare, Charli and the others were mounted on an assortment of Appaloosas, Paints, and Quarter Horses that ranged in size from 15.1 to 16 hands. My girls are 14.3 if they stand up straight. One of Stan’s favorite occupations is teasing me about my horses. This weekend was no different and he proceeded to look at Kristin and I, give his best John Wayne imitation, and drawl, “I didn’t know you girls had started riding sheep! Are you gonna be able to keep up?” The first day we rode a fairly short loop of about 12 miles before ending up back at camp. I’m pretty sure at this point Kristin thought that we weren’t friends anymore and I was trying to kill her. Early in the afternoon, Airy decided to live up to her name and had a true blonde moment. While Kristin tried to remount on an extremely narrow trail, Airy spied a wildflower and turned to sniff it which had the effect of moving her hips nearly off the side of the mountain. No harm done, but it was enough to make Kristin wonder about my taste in mountain horses. Back in camp, after a good meal, we told stories and goofed off around the campfire. Graham decided to demonstrate his Lone Ranger imitation and poor Charli dealt with each of us trying to jump up over her rump onto her back.

The second day Stan decided to try and take a route that he had never ridden before. It was a fairly long route according to the map (about 20 miles-which takes a lot longer in the mountains than on flat land). We started out at about 10:00 AM, made good time and stopped for a hot lunch of soup at a very picturesque trailhead. To this day, I’m not exactly sure what happened afterwards. Maybe the trail signs weren’t well marked, maybe the mileage on the map wasn’t correct, but regardless of how long we rode, the trail signs indicated that we were still about 10 miles from camp. It’s an eerie feeling to ride and ride and get absolutely nowhere (according to the signs). So we ended up coming down off a ridge of the mountain in pitch black dark. We were in the trees and the moon hadn’t risen yet.

Graham and Lucy check the map while Blackberry and Charli grab a snack.

The switchbacks were incredibly sharp and the trail had eroded in places so the horses were literally jumping down rock steps about 18 inches deep. At one point, Stan, who was in front on his 16 hand Appaloosa, looked back to check on the rest of us. Kristin and I, on the little Morgans, were the only ones in sight. Graham, Tatum, and Chavis were nowhere to be seen. Stan grinned and said, “Well, I guess the sheep are keeping up better than anything else.” I’m not sure the Morgan breed has ever gotten higher praise. We finally made it back to camp at about 10:30 PM. Not counting the time we spent eating lunch, we spent 11 hours in the saddle. After a late dinner we fell into our sleeping bags and passed out. None of the horses seemed to suffer any ill effects of their long ride. We rode a fairly short loop (thankfully) the next morning and then loaded up and trailered home that afternoon. The situation that we were in really told a lot about our horses in my mind. Pitch black darkness, steep treacherous trails and rock shelves don’t exactly inspire confidence in any rider (or horse for that matter). Not to mention we weren’t entirely sure where we were……..However, all of our horses took it in stride and didn’t seem to be bothered at all. Now I can use that experience as one more reason that I ride a Morgan!!