Trail riders…..some may say we are cowgirl and cowboy wannabes in a modern world, but we keep doing it. Why do we keep doing it? “It” means all of it. Going to the expense, time and energy and trouble of horse ownership. Loading a 1,200-pound animal onto a steel rolling box and heading out on the open road with all the crazy people intent on not getting behind us. Hauling to the horse trails can be risky business indeed and we all have our scary stories.
My first equine was a small Appaloosa pony named Sugar. We rescued her from a pig pen, knee deep in mud, with her nose hanging on the ground. For $100, we got her, a few bales of hay and an old saddle and bridle. She became healthy and gorgeous, and I rode the mess out of that pony.
That little white App with her lovely spotted blanket was the beginning of an intense love affair for me at age 11. Now I am in my 50th year and it has not waned, not even a bit. In fact, the older I get, the more I need that relationship with my horse.
A Good Horse Heals
A good horse heals and horses seem to absorb stress and worries. Perhaps you know what I mean. I used to do all the other stuff: cross country jump, English discipline and shows, but I finally figured out that what I truly loved was what I had done with Sugar all those years ago, and that was hit the trail (or blaze new ones) and just go exploring; building confidence and courage and never lacking for a best friend. That’s my “why I do it.”
Maybe your why is because of the mist that sometimes rises from the earth deep in the forest after a rain. Maybe your why is because the gentle rhythm of your horse’s movement loosens up all that binds you. Maybe your why is because when you are on the horse trails , you are tapping deeply into your primordial nomadic roots and covering ground that many will never see in their lifetime. Maybe your why is that, when you catch the smell of an equine, you breathe in deep and when you exhale you are relaxed and smiling.
So, whatever your “why” is, let’s talk about hitting the horse trails (or blazing new ones) in the Hyco Lake region. I hope you learn about a new trail in this article and find a new riding buddy and hey, I hope to see you on the trail.
Randall and Clint Carty own Wiseman Farms. To ride, you must schedule a visit. There is a day ride fee of $20 and they have about an hour of wooded trail. You can ride around the farm in open fields, the outside course and ring to add some time to get another hour or two. You will need to have your negative coggins and sign a waiver. If you do not own a horse you can take a lesson on one of their horses in the inside ring (sorry, no guided trail rides).
Laurie Miller’s horse farm is absolutely gorgeous with rolling hills. It is available only by appointment, and will most likely allow day riders and campers (primitive or cabin rental if available) as of summer 2020. At the time of writing, the owner is working out the details regarding rentals. You need a negative coggins and a waiver for a few hours or more of trails plus rolling hills and connecting trails.
Ringgold Trail, Ringgold Va.
Parking at Ringgold Trail is not the greatest for horse trailers. The trail totals 11 miles out and back. Local riders say the best place to park is the depot end off Ringgold Depot Road. You can park on the side of the road. It is a side street, so traffic is minimal. The end of the trail, where the tunnel is, is fun to ride. The footing is crushed gravel, there is one bridge, no water crossings, and the trail is lightly used, partly wooded and goes by pretty farmland. You do not have to get off and clean your horse poop but you do have to do this at the trailer/parking. It drains well, so it is a good place to ride when everywhere else is too muddy.
Note: As of May 1, 2020, only 1.5 miles of the trail is open, the bridge about halfway is out due to hurricane damage. According to Pittsylvania Parks and Rec, they are in process of repairing the damage with no projected date of completion. For more information, call Pittsylvania Dept. of Parks and Recreation (434) 432-7736.
Whiteoak Wildlife Management Area
A local who rides Whiteoak Wildlife Management Area (WWMA) says to map it beforehand. The road turns into dirt and the parking lot can hold about five or six horse trailers. There is a large oak tree in the parking area. WWMA offers about five hours of riding. Horseback riding is not allowed during hunting seasons, except on Sundays from Sept. 1 to Jan. 15 and from April 1 to May. There are no maps, and trails are not marked.
Take clippers. If you are not familiar with the horse trails then go with someone who is or stay on main dirt roads in the WMA. If you do venture on the wooded trails, take a GPS tracker/map compass and keep track of where you are; it is easy to get lost. You must have a Virginia game lands license, which costs $23 for an annual license or $4 for a day license for Virginia residents or non-residents.
Trying to find public horse trails in Person County proved to be quite the endeavor. I spoke with clubs, horse owners, barn owners, city and county officials, and every single one said, “There are none.” So, where some see a dead end, others may see opportunity! I did find out that the county owns a 200-plus acre farm loosely called “County Farm.” Someone at the Person County Planning Department said, “I would love to see passive and active trails for personal recreation” developed on this county resource.
If you are interested in this and would like to contact someone about it, Heidi York is the Person County Manager. I did not speak with her. York may be contacted at (336) 597-1720 or [email protected]. The county’s website is: www.personcountync.gov. Who knows, local government could be thrilled to have someone step up and help decide what to do with this county resource. Having trails, parks and diverse offerings like horse trails is proven to enhance a town and with the Mega Site happening in Roxboro, this would be a welcome addition to the region.
Berry Hill Resort
Berry Hill Resort General Manager Steven Oullette indicated that new horse offerings are in the works on this 650-acre resort within the next year. Berry Hill is a nature oasis with extensive trails, one of which connects to the South Boston Tobacco Heritage trail downtown. It is possible that we will soon be able to haul to the trailhead in South Boston, ride to Berry Hill, continue riding on the horse trails, stop and have a nice lunch with drinks outdoors while our horse takes a rest, and then mount up and ride back. Or vice-versa.
Management also said horse camping is on the table for the near future as well. This is exciting news. Berry Hill reminds me of a smaller scale Biltmore Estate, which also has a long history of horses and trail riding.
Shangrila Guest Ranch
Julie and Gary Holmes are the owners of Shangrila Guest Ranch with over 125 miles of trails. Their farm connects to about 20,000 acres so you can ride on new trails for days, months, years by reservation only. Shangrila offers day guided rides or you can choose from all-inclusive packages (Good food included. Think hamburgers on the grill.) with your horse or theirs.
They can accommodate groups up to 12 people using their horses or a combination of yours and theirs. Comfy cabins for guest stays and meals are included. They are wonderful folks. There is the future possibility of more offerings for trail riders.
Staunton River State Park
Everyone seems to know about SRSP so I will just say, this is a GREAT place to ride and camp. GO!
South Boston Tobacco Heritage Trail
Park at Cotton Mill Park trailhead located behind the historic Prizery on Railroad Avenue to get on the Tobacco Heritage Trail. It is currently being extended toward Berry Hill Resort. It is now a 5.2 mile round trip (not including Berry Hill). It was featured in the 2019 Spring issue of Hyco Lake Magazine: HycoLakeMagazine.com/stories-2019-vol1/
The Dan Daniel
The Dan Daniel trail, in downtown Danville, technically allows horses but I spoke with city officials and they discourage horses on the trail. It is completely paved and heavily used by walkers and bikers as well. You would also have to dismount and clean up any horse droppings.
Caswell Depot Gamelands
You will want to verify the address and map out Caswell Depot Gamelands and perhaps scout prior to hauling. I did include a map that shows the location. The trail is approximately eight to 12 miles. Horseback riding is only allowed at certain times of the year. Check regulations in the link in the sidebar. From first-hand accounts of riders, this area is pretty much just dirt roads and not very exciting to ride. But, if you are local and need somewhere to go, it is available to us.
I called the NCWRC and got solid confirmation that you only have to purchase a privilege license. You do not have to buy a fishing or hunting license for the game lands add-on privilege, even though the website says, “You must have the appropriate license before a privilege can be used.” As long as you are not hunting or fishing, all you have to buy is the $16 + $2 online fee for annual game lands privilege.
At checkout you will be able to print a temporary pass to use until your permanent copy comes via snail mail. This price is good for in-state and out-of-state residents. Be sure to check the website before heading out for closings due to the COVID-19 situation. As of this writing, it is open.
Other Trail Resources
Sedgefield Hunt Club and Red Mountain Hounds Club
Both Sedgefield and Red Mountain clubs ride private land in Caswell County and the Hyco Lake Region. You can either join the clubs fully, or just join their social clubs. Joining the clubs is less expensive and allows you to trail ride with them. You are also eligible to ride one hunt per year. Being a member would introduce you to new trails you would not normally have access to and you are sure to meet some great riding friends. They have all levels of riding, even at the walk. Please note that modern day hunt clubs don’t necessarily actually hunt animals. They use fake animal urine for the hounds to “chase.”
Trail Riders NC
The Trail Riders NC Facebook group has over 5,000 members and is very active and helpful for North Carolina and Virginia riders. You can get information from folks who have ridden the trails recently and maybe meet some new friends to hit the trails with. I have.
Dan River Basin Association Heritage Trails Master Plan
Begun in 2012, the Heritage Trails Master Plan is an extensive proposal detailing horse trails and opportunity for the region. The DRBA Executive Director said, “This plan showed a resurgence in 2018 when a group of caring citizens from Caswell County formed a Rivers and Trails informal citizen group. Unfortunately, the group disbanded in 2019. We hope that the plan will get some new energy later this year (2020) when people want to and can spend more time in groups and outdoors.”
Author’s note: By no means could I include everything I wanted you to know into one article, so please be sure to follow our Facebook page for additional posts about things I learned along this ride or a future issue of Hyco Lake Magazine.
JoAndra (Jo) Proia is an outdoor writer, trail rider and owns Outdoor Women by Jo Proia, LLC. She grew up in nearby Oxford, NC. Website: www.outdoorwomenbyjp.com