My friend, Ann Neville, invited me to "come on up" to Tennessee at the end of June to trailer to Virginia with her and some friends from the Pleasure Walking Horse
Association of Tennessee (www.pwhat.com). I readily accepted her invitation for Tonto and me to join the gang for another memorable trail-riding adventure.
It took me two full days to get to Ann's Hobby Horse Hill in Lynnville, Tennessee, from my home in southern Florida. She lives in foxhunting country. Privately owned connecting properties are beautifully maintained and used exclusively for foxhunting.
We arrived at Rocky Hollow Horse Camp in Virginia's Mount Rogers National Recreation Area during a torrential rainstorm. Barely able to see beyond our windshields, we slowly descended the steep, downhill grade to the barn and campsites, which were carved into the mountainside.
Fortunately, two fellow campers volunteered to unhook our trailers and park our RVs in the pouring rain, while Ann and I quickly led Ransom and Tonto to their stalls in the camp's huge barn.
Ann's friends, Monte and GeGe Anderson, Steve and Melanie Kinney, and Kyle Dersham, with their four Tennessee Walking Horses and one Spotted Saddle Horse, joined us the following night.
Rocky Hollow Horse Camp offers direct access to the Mount Rogers trails. Mount Rogers is Virginia's highest mountain peak, at 5,729 feet above sea level.
Once on the trails, our horses climbed steadily up and slid down, while picking their way over rocks and roots. I soon needed a farrier's services. Tonto typically goes shoeless in sandy Florida, but before heading north, my farrier put front shoes on him. Tonto needed four-around for this type of terrain!
Our camp hosts, the Russells, contacted a farrier, who arrived within a half hour. To my amazement, we were back on the trail before noon!
One of the highlights of the week was finally reaching and then often returning to an area known as the "Scales." It's named for the location where herds of cattle graze in the summer, then are weighed in and sent to market, a practice still followed today.
There were several sturdy hitching posts where we secured our horses while we ate lunch. The view from this point was magnificent: Mount Rogers, the Virginia Highlands Horse Trail, and the Appalachian Trail.
Another highlight was encountering the elusive wild ponies of Grayson Highlands State Park, which is adjacent to the recreation area. (We accessed the park via rider gates.)
Years ago, ponies were introduced and allowed to run wild within the park boundaries. The ponies inhabit high alpine meadows or balds, which are dominated by large rocky outcroppings, with occasional windswept trees and plentiful low grasses, perfect for grazing.
Each year, park officials round up the herd and check for health problems. Come September, colts are sold at auction to keep the herd around 300 in number.
The story goes that the ponies prefer to be fed candy bars. However, our pony whisperer, Kyle, was able to approach them with an offering of baby carrots!
A relaxing trip home over the course of several days was the perfect end to this great adventure. Good horses, good company, and great surroundings - what more could you ask for?
For more information on the Rocky Hollow Horse Camp, call (888) 644-0014 or (276) 677-3900, or visit www.rockyhollowhorsecamp.com. For more on Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, call (800) 628-7202, or visit www.fs.fed.us/r8/gwj/mr/. For more on Grayson Highlands State Park, call (800) 933-PARK , or visit www.dcr.virginia.gov/state_parks/gra.shtml.