Today I went horseback riding on the Biltmore Estate, enjoying the grounds, trails and horses from an insider’s perspective. It was a hot day in Asheville, NC, and with dry roads, we kicked up a lot of dust as we headed over to the equestrian center.
If you want to ride at the Biltmore, you can enjoy over 100 miles of surrounding Appalachian trails and many choices. Anyone can take a Western style trail ride at the Biltmore. Riders can also bring their horses to board at the stables and enjoy the trails, special clinics, competitions, and more. I witnessed some kids riding out for kids camp and thought back to my camping days in these same mountains. Ah! The nostalgia.
We joined Ginger Cecil and Kelly Sigler, supervisor of the lessons program, to head out to explore the trails on horseback. Ginger grew up on the estate and told us about her childhood, riding horses in the mountains. It sounded magical and felt a bit magical too, as we at one point rode into a field that looked out to beautiful views of the Blue Ridge Mountains with the Biltmore Estate in the background. We were riding through a field which was actually the original site for the Biltmore house, before George Vanderbilt changed his mind.
Doug, our Director of Photog- raphy, got an amazing shot of us riding with the Biltmore Estate and mountains in the distance.
We also hit some of the trails, where Ginger told us about some of the wildlife that she has seen on the trails and what makes riding at the Biltmore special. These are the same trails that Vanderbilt’s guests would have ridden through during the Gilded Age.
It’s a neat experience to be on those trails, with so much history on the estate. George Vanderbilt, who conceived of the Biltmore as a 27-year-old bachelor, had grand plans for his estate. The Biltmore has lived up to his lofty goals, as it’s still the largest private home in the United States. No one has built a McMansion yet to top the Biltmore, which is both surprising and not, when you consider the 250 rooms and 4 acres of floor space that the home occupies.
I also interviewed Kelly Sigler, who besides supervising the lessons program is also a Parelli two star instructor. Parelli focuses on natural horsemanship. The Biltmore’s equestrian program works to teach riders of all ages how to communicate with horses and understand their psychology. Kelly told me a little about the experiences that led her to study Parelli and natural horsemanship. She was competing three-day eventing and feeling the stress from competitions. Through natural horsemanship, she has developed a new understanding of horses and herself as a leader.
She started out working with a horse named Buckley, who is an 11-year-old part Quarter Horse and part Selle Francais. Buckley responded to what Kelly called “games.” Kelly talked a bit about the fact that horses are prey animals and have a herd mentality. She then rode bareback and had Buckley listening to her via slight signals. She also had Buckley jumping over some barrels independent of her.
Next, one of the younger students demon- strated her technique with her horse, who had once been hard to deal with. Whether one chooses Parelli or not, I think that natural horsemanship and learning to better communicate with horses is a pretty neat concept. Also, being safe on the ground around horses is always important.
After learning more about Kelly’s work with another beautiful Thorough- bred named George and then riding and then touring the house and estate, it’s time for a much-needed cheeseburger, fries and chocolate cake. It’s a room service night, because I am super tired and have to get up early to go to Cherokee to ride in the Great Smoky Mountains. It’s a rough gig, but somebody has to do it. Good night and safe travels!
Learn more about Equitrekking on PBS and learn about exceptional equestrian vacations at EquitrekkingTravel.com.