It was mid-January. In Ohio, we were experiencing “the worst winter on record” for what seemed like the second straight year, with constant bone-chilling Arctic blasts.
For years, my husband, Bill, and I had been looking forward to beginning an annual escape to north Florida. Both of us retired at last, we undertook a search for the ideal getaway.
For a long time, I’d been collecting items in The Trail Rider relating to Florida camping. And wherever we’ve gone, I’ve asked fellow horse campers about their favorite Florida destinations.
We found our dream destination at Long Branch Rest and Ride, LLC, in Live Oak, midway between Jacksonville and Tallahassee, in a relatively rural area of north Florida. The facility was formerly the 7 Bar L; it was recently sold to Christine Schueler and renamed.
We first flew down to Florida in the spring to check out Long Branch. We weren’t disappointed! During this visit, we met Lee Baker, a professional fence installer, who was putting in expanded paddocks.
The following January, we were finally able to live our dream. To get there, we undertook a three-day odyssey with our living-quarters trailer. By the time we arrived, this lovely campground was equipped with paddocks of various sizes, all with water hydrants and troughs, and shelters large enough for two horses. Most also had large live oak shade trees around the perimeter.
We selected a quarter-acre paddock for our horses, Foxie and Spring—a luxury we’d never seen in all our years of horse camping. It was a thrill to see our horses dash around, kicking up their heels and bucking with joy after the long trip down. Throughout our one-month stay at Long Branch, it was good to see them roam about, roll, and doze flat-out in the sun in such a spacious area.
Long Branch is located just six miles outside the town of Live Oak, in a rural setting that provides campers with a view of wide-open fields and the woods’ edge. We were happy to see that trail access from camp was an easy one-mile ride in either direction on little-used back roads.
The campground itself offers solid, safely fenced paddocks; 36 trailer sites with water, sewer, and electric hookups; five more campsites with water and electrical hookups; and additional trailer sites without hookups. A small silo has been remodeled into an immaculate bathroom with shower.
Fire rings and picnic tables provide focal points where groups can socialize in the evening. You can have firewood delivered from a local supplier for a nominal fee. For campers with dogs, owner Christine is currently installing shaded outdoor kennels.
The town of Live Oak provides the necessities for horse campers: restaurants, a tack shop, a Tractor Supply Company store, two feed and hay suppliers, a big-box hardware store, several grocery stores, laundromats, and even a Walmart. We lacked for nothing back at camp!
An added treat at Long Branch is the opportunity to participate in clinics with R.J. Sadowski (www.peacehavenfarm.com), who has spent 30 years working with horses in the tradition of natural-horsemanship trainers. He’s credentialed through the Certified Horsemanship Association and is an official trainer of the Mustang Heritage Foundation. Each year, R.J. conducts clinics for several weeks at Long Branch in late-winter/early-spring.
We rode trails along the famous Suwannee River of song, broad and gently flowing. The Suwannee River has been known to flood its banks over history, and with this, human development of the area has been curtailed.
The Suwannee River Water Management District acquires lands for flood control, water-quality protection, and natural-resource conservation. The district aims to provide a primitive, back-to-nature experience.
The Suwannee is a typical blackwater stream, tannin-stained from the decay of cypress leaves, with brilliant white sand along its banks. The sand and clay trails are flat with excellent footing, even after an all-day rain. This terrain was created by a half-billion years of marine deposits resulting in layer upon layer of limestone interspersed with layers of clay, silica, and other minerals.
Temperatures ranged into the 60s and 70s during the day. Chilly nighttime temperatures in our area quickly warmed again after midmorning, even when the southward-dipping jet stream brought record-breaking lows to the eastern United States.
At the same time, daily highs were cool enough that our horses, with their Ohio winter coats, were comfortable. Our plan from the first had been to avoid points farther south and warmer in Florida, which would have made their transition from winter in the north and back again difficult for them.
We experienced only four days of rain during our month’s sojourn; sunny skies greeted us all the rest of the stay.
The trails, well-marked with white diamonds, took us through beautiful woods of live oaks covered in Spanish moss, pines, sweet gum, and cypress. Palmetto carpeted the forest floor. This foliage, along with the area’s broadleaf evergreens, gave us the sensation of riding in springtime as we know it in the north.
Our trails led us through the Suwannee Springs, Linville, and Mattair Springs tracts. It was fascinating to our northern eyes to observe this landscape, which sits atop the Floridian Aquifer System.
This subtropical climate is home to gopher tortoise, fox, deer, songbirds, bald eagles, red-shouldered hawks, osprey, barred owls, wild turkeys, cormorants, anhinga, green herons, and great blue herons.
In the Suwannee itself are Gulf sturgeon, bass, mullet, speckled perch, gar, a great variety of turtles, and, yes, alligators. The local folks say that if you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you!
Bill and I highly recommend Long Branch Rest and Ride for the winter-weary hailing from points north. You’ll find a great campground, beautiful trails along the scenic Suwannee River, and plenty of resources to meet your needs!
For more information on Long Branch Rest and Ride, call (386) 205-9371, send an e-mail to