Horseback riding: A birthday surprise

This year was a large-ish birthday for me and I hoped to do something a little different. Most of the time we’ve just gathered at the latest trendy local restaurant and laughed the night away.  Last year I bucked the trend and got a group together to check out the massive daffodil display at Gibbs Gardens. With over 16 million bulbs blooming, it is an impressive springtime sight! Just to give you a taste…

Gibbs Gardens daffodils 1

In the continued spirit of trying something new (or least something I hadn’t done in eons) I suggested horseback riding for this year’s celebration. I pitched other ideas too, including checking out Paradise Gardens (the former home of folk artist Howard Finster), or getting a group together for a weekend cabin rental in the mountains. To add a little excitement, my husband handled all the planning and opted to keep me in the dark about the chosen event until the night before.

The next day, we piled into our friends’ car and headed for the border between Georgia and Tennessee; our destination was Blanche Manor in Copperhill, TN.  We fueled up with a lunchtime stop at Big D’s Barbeque in Dawsonville, and then took a scenic drive along winding country roads towards the ranch. Our drive was unfortunately a little too scenic, as we arrived a little late to our appointment. The folks at Blanche Manor were very accommodating, however, and we were saddled up in short order.

Here’s where the excitement began. One of our friends (I’ll call her “C”) had never been riding, so she was thrilled by the prospect of this adventure. I had taken horseback lessons briefly as a young teenager, but that was quite some time ago! Still, I wasn’t concerned and I mentioned to the person securing my Western saddle that I was more familiar with an English seat. Although I was sitting in a Western-styled saddle, which seats you further back on your rear end and allows your legs to hang lower, she dutifully hiked up my stirrups so that I sat a bit more forward, with my knees higher up on the horse.

My suggestion to adjust my seat proved to be a mistake. My prior riding experience had largely been on pretty flat terrain; the trails we followed on this trip were quite rocky and steep. As our paths pitched uphill and downhill at steep 45-degree angles, I found myself lurching precariously in my seat. I kept my heels down and gripped the horse with my knees and thighs as best I could, but there’s only so much that an out of shape city-slicker like me could do. Complicating matters was my horse’s stubborn inclination to constantly attempt to pass our leader on one side, usually when we were picking/skidding our way along a rocky, steep trail. I felt like I spent my ride “riding the brakes” of my horse, who was aptly named Gulliver. He definitely wanted to travel!

I think I look like a pretty competent horsewoman, no?

I think I look like a pretty competent horsewoman, no?

Behind me, however, my husband had encountered a whole other set of problems. The horse in front of my husband, ridden by our friend “A”, apparently had terrible gas. Fortunately, in horses that issue isn’t as pungent as you’d fear, but it did mean that he spent his entire ride serenaded by constant, melodious horse farts of all types, causing a great deal of amusement during the ride.

"A" and her musical steed...

“A” and her musical steed…

“C”, and “J”, our other companions had a considerably more sedate ride. The only excitement they encountered was when one of the newer horses attempted to bite “C’s” horse, resulting in a swift reprimand from the guide.

You can see that we looked like quite the horsemen (and women)!

My posse at Blanche Manor.

My posse at Blanche Manor.

We rounded out our day with dinner (adding in additional friends) at the newly opened Chai Pani, an Asheville, NC based Indian “street food” restaurant that had just opened its second location in Decatur.

Overall, it was a lot of fun and kudos to my husband for planning it and to my friends for tagging along!