Great Smoky Mountains

Today we enjoyed riding in the Great Smoky Mountains with tribal members from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. I rode a Tennessee Walking horse, which was a first, and really liked its smooth gliding gait through the shaded mountain trails.

Forrest and his wife, Ashley, who train Tennessee Walking horses and are lifelong riders, let me, Doug and Chip (our crew) borrow horses for the ride. We would be riding and filming, which would be a logistical challenge on steep and rocky mountain trails.

I rode Buddy, a Palomino Walking gelding, who acted a little like a stallion on the trail around the mares.

The trails in the Great Smoky Mountains are beautiful. There are some narrow mountain trails that we rode along, where you would need a sure-footed horse, but also wider dirt roads.

We took off from Toe String Horse Camp in the park. There is a nearby stable, for those who want to rent a horse for a trail ride, or there are a couple of camps, where you can trailer your horse in and enjoy the park.

We are doing a segment on the relationship that Cherokee Indians have had with horses throughout history and got invited to ride with tribal members. I wanted to pick the brains of some of the locals, who had grown up in these mountains and knew the horses and terrain well.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the most visited parks in the United States. The Cherokee Indian Reservation borders the Great Smoky Mountains. Forrest, a Cherokee tribal member and our guide, grew up in the area and has ridden ever since he can remember.

Kaitlin, a younger rider, and Bud, a local teen, rode with us too. With a large group of riders, attempting to ride and film on sometimes steep and narrow trails, you can guess that we had a few bumpy moments.

The riding was challenging and beautiful. We came to an opening in the trails that led to a shaded trail beside a beautiful river. As we approached to let our horses have a drink, a group of lilac butterflies appeared beside the water, flying into the air. One passed my head, and I closed my eyes for a second to listen to the rush of the water over the rocks in the river and breathe in the clean air.

The trails in the park are serene. Even on a hot day, like we had, it is never too hot, because the trails are mostly shaded. On our way back to camp to have a picnic, we did a bit of fast riding, and I attempted to get the perfect running walk. It would take a little time, and I wish that I had more of it to spend riding these horses in these mountains.

Gabrielle Baker IHSA
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