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October 31, 2014

Equestrians ride out the mountain trails

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Posted: Monday, August 4, 2014 10:13 pm

Somewhere in the mountains of Fayne Creek – A narrow column for smoke rises in the cool morning air. The bright orange orb is already above the tree line. Coffee is steaming on the fire. Next to the java pot is an old iron skillet, hot and ready to accept several slices of bacon.

Horses tied on a run between two oaks munch on their morning feed. They nudge the bucket around showing its contents have been depleted. The pair of equine lap up some fresh water distributed by their owner and friend. It seems both man and animal look forward to what the new day has to offer.

As breakfast for all is completed, the dishes will have to wait it is time to saddle up and get ready to ride.

 This scenario may sound like it is taking place in the mountains out West. However, a group of cowboys, cowgirls or just plain horse lovers prepare to embark on a six hour trail ride through the mountains of East Alabama. The 2,400 acre Fayne Creek Hunting Club will provide open trails along scarred logging roads and through narrow passages among the oaks and pines.

Outfitter camps and trails

Trail riding on horseback is becoming more popular across the southeast. Stables and outfitters offer a variance of activities via horseback. There are rides, both short and long that will appeal to any age group. And the best part is you don’t have to own a horse.

“We can provide the horses, tack, and camping gear,” said Andy Barker of Munford, owner of Cheaha Mountain Outfitters. “All you have to bring is your clothes and you.”

Barker started his outfitting business a few years back. He offers short or long one day trail rides or a complete overnight pack-in and pack-out trips. There short rides along easy trails for beginners or intermediate trail rides for more experienced riders looking for some new scenery.

Riders are welcomed to bring their own horses or Barker can provide one for you. The overnight pack-in style rides are more popular. Trail riders can experience a western style horse camp right here in Alabama. It is a good taste of primitive camping and top notch trail riding.

“Our trails and camps are in private land areas,” said Barker. “We can offer trips in the fall, winter, and spring months.”

Barker says there are creek crossings that provide water for the horses. On the trail camps high wall tents complete with wood stove / heaters provide warmth on cold mountain nights. The overnight pack trips are about a 17 mile round trip event. 

Trail rides gaining popularity

According to Barker there has been some increase in interest in folks wanting to trail ride. More people want to get outside enjoy the outdoors form a different perspective – on the back of a horse.  States to our north and east have seen a marked increase in horseback riding trails and camps.

“Tennessee and Georgia have a bunch of open areas in their National Forests to ride a horse,” said Ted Haynes of Munford. “It seems they have a different set of rules here (Alabama) for horse riding in the National Forests.”

Haynes has ridden horse trails all across the Southeast for a better part of his 75 years. And in most states it is easy to get a permit to trail ride. Some horse camps provide hot showers and laundry rooms for campers and trail riders. There are some horse trail available in the National Forests in Alabama, but they are more restrictive.

As an example in the Cohutta Wilderness Area of the Chattahoochee –Oconee national Forest have several different trails that are open to hikes as well as equestrians. Most have camping areas for only a small fee.

The equine industry has a high contribution to the economy.  The sale of horses, trailers, trucks, feed and tack provide economic input to local and state commerce. Some states cater to horsemen providing ease of access to many different types of trails.

“It seems the forestry service here in Alabama would charge a small fee for a yearly permit to ride horses,” said Barker. “That would generate some income and increase tourism in the state.”

Equestrians also hold benefit trail rides for various causes and organizations. Barker said his outfitter group is sponsoring a trail ride in September to raise funds for a gentleman with cancer. This is one way trail riders help the community.

Happy trails for all

Trail riding is about being outdoors and the companionship between a man or woman and their horse. There is a special bond between a horse and its owner. Both become lifelong friends and they trust one another. The horses enjoy the trail rides as much as the riders.

There is not one particular breed of horse that is better for suited for trail riding. According to Haynes it is more of a personal preference. He says all breeds can be good for trail riding. And each has a specific quality that has been bred in them.

“The Tennessee Walker has a smoother gait,” said Haynes. “The American Quarter Horse is more sure footed. Arabians have better endurance since they have a larger heart and lung capacity.”

Helen Chamberlain of Chattanooga, Tenn., has ridden horse trails all across the U.S and rides almost every weekend. She says out West the trails are more open. The overnight pack trail rides are a little more challenging due to the elevation and weather changes. Chamberlain come down for the Fayne Creek ride because she enjoys riding and seeing different trails.

“It is much easier to get a trial ride permit for the Smoky Mountain trails and the Cohutta area,’ said Chamberlain.

Trail riding can create new friendships with common interests among equine owners and riders. Sara Hayes an ophthalmologist from Birmingham made the trail ride at Fayne Creek. She was formerly an English riding (jumping) mainly in arenas.

Hayes introduced her anesthetist, Nona Hurst, formally of Talladega into trail riding. This trail riding duo along with Karen McCarty of Wilsonville ride almost every week. Another friend has joined them and they have become the four amigos trail riding whenever and where they can.

“There’s a lot more therapy in trail riding, Hayes said. “And it beats going in circles.”

All of the lady riders said they enjoy being outdoors and the friendships that have been cemented from trail riding. Chamberlain says she regularly sees many different types of wildlife on the mountains of east Tennessee and north Georgia. She says black bears and wild pigs are fairly common along the mountain trails.

“I enjoy horseback riding so much,” Chamberlain said. “I cannot imagine life without my horse.”

Barker says Alabama seems to be holding back on some of the equine sports. There are a wide range of people involved in horseback trail riding.

“It is a different atmosphere when trail riding,” said Barker. “There is the tranquility it offers being outdoors.”

If you want to learn more about the various equine activities or are interested in a trail ride, contact Barker at Cheaha Mountain Outfitters at (256) 368-3287 for more information.

Charles Johnson is the Anniston Star’s outdoor editor. You can reach him at ChrJohn7@aol.com

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