“Ain’t nothing like ridin’ a fine horse in new country.”
This is what Augustus McCrae said right before he started chasing buffalo in the movie Lonesome Dove.
While Gus’s grammar is hazy, his point is not.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a veteran rider or a first-timer, seeing the Shenandoah Valley from horseback is an experience you absolutely should not miss.
Several outfitters in the Valley can put you a horse that’s exactly right for you, give you all the help you need to stay in the saddle, and guide you along some of the prettiest trails in Virginia. Following are four with great reputations. (While selected prices are given for each, additional packages may be available. Check the outfitter’s website.)
Fort Valley Ranch
I-81 Exit 279
Fort Valley Ranch offers guided horseback trips, with their mounts or yours, in the pristine Massanutten Mountains of the National Forest. You can ride miles of marked trails on the Ranch as well as find direct access to trails in the National Forest. In addition to riding, multi-day Ranch Packages in their bunkhouse cabins are available.
Owner Bill Schumacher told us, “Early fall is a great time to explore the Massanutten area of the National Forest by horseback with cooler temperatures and smaller crowds. Fort Valley Ranch offers hourly rides as well as half and full day mountain horseback rides into the National Forest. Add a stay in one of the bunkhouse cabins or campsites to make your visit a full ranch getaway. Enjoy evenings around the campfire. Bring a pole to try your luck in one of the three stocked ponds. Say hello to Lilly and Rose — the Belgian Draft Mules that pull a covered wagon. There is no experience required and we have a minimum age requirement of 8 years old.”
A one-hour mountain guided ride for an adult is currently $35. Appointments, call 888-754-5771 or 540-933-6633.
Fort Valley Ranch is just minutes from the Shenandoah River and Luray Caverns, and only 1.5 scenic hours from Northern Virginia and Washington D.C.
Jordan Hollow Stables
I-81 Exit 264 to US 211 East
Jordan Hollow Stables is located in Stanley, Virginia only minutes from the Luray Caverns in the foothills of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.
Jordan Hollow’s Lisa Cubbage said, “We are a family-owned and operated business offering trail rides for children and adults with all levels of riding experience. We offer group or private walking or trotting pace rides, three times a day during the summer and twice a day during the winter, Mondays through Saturdays. Your experienced guide will take you on well-maintained 150 acres of winding trails through a beautiful wooded area near the border of Shenandoah National Park. Our quiet, breathtaking trails are shared by various wildlife that roam the property. Cross the pure waters of Hawksbill Creek and ride through beautiful country fields surrounded by a panoramic view of the Blue Ridge.
“We treat our horses like family,” Cubbage continued, “and provide everyone a memorable riding experience atop sure-footed, well-kept horses of various sizes and breeds. Riders must be at least 7 years of age and under 240 pounds. We look forward to having you at our ranch. Visit our website for further details and pricing. Giddyup!!!”
A 1-1/2-hour Guided Group Walking Pace Ride is $45 per person. For appointments call (540) 778-2623.
Star B Stables
I-81 to I-64 East, Exit 91
Star B Stables is located near Staunton in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley. Here you can “escape” into the countryside for an hour while you enjoy a guided horse trail ride.
Star B’s Faye Bartley said, “We are proud of our operation allowing people a chance to enjoy an hour of horseback riding. Most of our riders have never ridden before or ride once a year on vacation. Experienced guides provide any assistance and guidance that you need to make you feel comfortable and relaxed so that you can have a great time horseback riding.
“We meet such nice people from all over the country,” Bartley continued. “We have good calm horses and children can ride if they are at least six. We have grandparents bring their grandchildren when they visit in the summer as well as couples and families.”
Be sure to call ahead for an appointment– (540) 885-8855. “We look forward to meeting you and providing you with an hour of relaxing fun, Bartley concluded.” Payment must be made by cash or check, no credit cards accepted. A guided, one-hour ride is $40.
Skyland Stables at Shenandoah National Park
From April 6 to November, horseback and pony rides are available at Skyland Stables (mile 42.5 on Skyline Drive) throughout the day, weather permitting. (Note: September 22nd is National Public Lands Day–a “Fee Free” day in all national parks.)
“If you rent a horse with us,” says Tracy Childress, “you must ride the guided trip. You cannot just go off on your own. Horseback rides depart from the stables, cross over Skyline Drive, and travel past the Limberlost area through an old apple orchard.” Riders must be at least 4’ 10“ tall and weigh less than 250 pounds. A one-hour ride is $50 per person.
“But you can also bring your own horse and go off on other trails,” Childress added. More than 180 miles of trails are open to horseback riding (yellow-blaze trails only). Keeping horses on certain designated trails minimizes impacts on hikers and on the trails and streams. Review the horseback regulations here.
Katie Burner, Stable Supervisor, had some advice for first-time riders. “Come a little early and meet your horse,” she said. “Or even pick the horse you want, if you feel comfortable with one or you bond with one. But keep in mind these guys (the horses) do this every day and are good at what they do.
“At this time of year, reservations are strongly advised,” Katie added. “But walkins are welcome. We’re here at 8:30 every day, seven days a week. You do not have to be a guest at one of the Park accommodations to get a ride.”
Katie added how gratifying it is to see visitors develop relationships with horses, even old, cantankerous ones. “We have one called Elvis,” she said. “He’s a bit of a grouchy old man—just does his job and comes home—but it’s really something to see how much people love him.”
Katie concluded, “Our rich history combined with our lush, tranquil beauty will make it a true western style ride you will never forget.”
To book a ride, call 877-847-1919.
Banner photo courtesy Fort Valley Ranch