Daufuskie Island, SC

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Darley Newman
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On the ferry ride over to South Carolina's Daufuskie Island I heard a bunch of people talking about where the island's name came from. There were conflicting stories. Some people talked about it being a Cusabo Indian word for "sharp feather," because of the shape of one of the island's peninsulas. Others said that it came about because the Gullah, descendents of slaves brought over from to work plantations on the island, would call the island the first key. I would have to straighten this out.

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I also heard people talking about the film crew coming to the island, which was us. Apparently word gets around on a small island, and we were on the islanders' radar.

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The only way to get onto the island is by boat or ferry. We headed out on the ferry at sunset, making it a beautiful ride. The red sun was setting over a nearby marsh during a good part of our 45-minute ride to the island.

I had done my research on the island and the riding program before we got there. Daufuskie is a small island off the coast of Hilton Head, SC. It was made famous by Pat Conroy's novel The Water is Wide, based on his time teaching African American students in a one-room schoolhouse on the island. The equestrian center sounded interesting because on Daufuskie you can't bring your car and therefore must travel the island by golf cart, horseback, bicycle or horse drawn carriage. The idea of exploring a small island on horseback is very appealing.

Daufuskie also holds carriage driving clinics. I had never tried carriage driving before, but have talked to many people who absolutely love carriage driving and have told me that once I try it, I'll be hooked. I am anxious to discover it for myself.

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The equestrian center is picturesque, with white fences surrounding bright yellow stables. The stables currently have 11 horses and a pony. I had spoken to Jody, the co-manager of the equestrian center, several times before our visit. After relaying my experience and riding desires to her, she had me paired up with Hunter, a beautiful black thoroughbred with a sweet disposition and nice canter. Hunter turned about to be the perfect riding companion for me.

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The next morning, we headed out with four other riders to explore the island on horseback. The resort on Daufuskie is much like a country club. It is very manicured and planned, with restaurants, a general store, beach club and golf courses. It's a good place for families who have a variety of interests, because while one person is riding, non-riders can golf, ride, bike, hit the beach or hit the spa. Lots of kids learn to ride during their summers on the island.

One of our fellow riders had grown up riding on the island. Soon to graduate high school, she was hoping to study equine science and was helping out at the stables for the summer.

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Our group passed the pastel colored cottages en route to the beach, where we would get in a few good canters before the tide came up too high. Then we'd catch a trail further down the beach that led to more dirt roads and riding trails.

As we took off into a canter, Hunter was perfect, listening to my cues and riding smoothly. We fit well together, as our pack cruised the shore. We cantered up and down the beach a few times, but were fighting the tide. I took advantage of one last beach canter, before our group headed onto the trails that led to Bloody Point.

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Daufuskie Island's original inhabitants were the Cusabo Indians. Archeologists have found arrowheads around the island that have been carbon dated back 9000 years. One of my fellow riders who has been coming to Daufuskie since she was a kid actually had an arrowhead that she had found on the beach a number of years ago. She said that until they refurbished the beach by filling it in with more sand to help combat erosion, they frequently found arrowheads and other artifacts on the beach.

We continued our ride on past the Silver Dew Winery, where an island resident named Pappy would use island ingredients like pomegranates and berries to make win. We also passed the island's First African Baptist Church, which at one time served as a one-room schoolhouse for island residents. Our group decided to do a bit more cantering in order to get to the next set of trails that wound through a maritime forest that would lead to great views of the marsh and a former Cusabo Indian village site.

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The cantering and gallops were lots of fun, especially with our group. I was enjoying looking around at the lush island vegetation. I was also looking forward to what else the island had in store.

By the way, the island name Daufuskie came from the Indian word meaning "sharp feather." Mystery solved.

Learn more about Equitrekking on PBS and learn about exceptional equestrian vacations at EquitrekkingTravel.com.