Updated: Aug 8, 2019
Doug Cregger of Appalachian Horseback Riding Adventures has been at it for a long time. He's ridden Pine Mountain for more than 50 years. I came away from my experience convinced that he is a true horse whisperer and a genuinely nice guy! Appalachian Horseback Riding Adventures allows guests an incredible opportunity to explore the beautiful scenery of Mt. Rogers and Pine Mountain of Western Grayson County. He and his experienced guides currently take riders on unique adventures that show breathtaking views of the Appalachian Mountains and opportunities to see various wildlife along the trails including the wild ponies and longhorn cattle after May. In the spring you will be overwhelmed by the flora in full bloom. Rhododendron bloom in May and wild azaleas in June. The fall foliage can't be viewed from a car like Doug can show you from a horse! People come from all over the world come to ride with Doug Cregger; he's even had guests from England, Australia, and lots of places in between. Appalachian Horseback Riding Adventures offers the only guided riding experience in Grayson County in and around the state's most visited park, Grayson Highlands. It's the experience of a lifetime!
Appalachian Horseback Riding Adventures has horses for riders of all experience levels, from beginner to advanced. The schedule is adaptable to your needs; there are no "hours of operation". Six different packages are available depending on the amount of time you have to ride. I'm not an extremely experienced horseback rider, but I enjoyed my experience immensely. Don't think you have to be a practiced horseman to go on this adventure. It's perfect for experienced horseback riders who have come from far away without their own animals, or for those like me who live in the area and enjoy an occasional ride.
I've included lots of pictures in this blog because words just don't do it justice!
We began our adventure on a chilly day in mid June. Yes, you read that right. It was chilly, and it was June! It was downright cold when we got to the top of Pine Mountain, so be prepared when you ride. The temperatures always fluctuate in this part of the country. It will always be much cooler and windier when you climb to our higher elevations. My horse was named Trinity, and I fell in love with her! She was sweet, smart, and opinionated! A beautiful chestnut mare, she knew her way around and took good care of me. She insisted on being our group's leader; I laughed when she bit Doug's horse on the butt so he'd move over and let her take the lead. He didn't care a bit, and did as he was told! Doug's horses are absolutely beautiful. Each has a distinctive personality, and he knows each one. He can talk to you for a few minutes and know exactly which of his herd is best suited for you.
We met Doug at the old stables on Fairwood Road where the Forestry Service has some abandoned office buildings and a nice barn. There are acres of green fields for the horses to enjoy while they're not being ridden. After we saddled up, Doug pulled Trinity over to a step-up so I could get on her, (She's way taller than my 5'2"), and we were off! We crossed a beautiful creek with gently rolling water falls and began our climb up the Virginia Horse Trail to the top of Pine Mountain Scales. A long time ago, ranchers would weigh their cattle here because they would lose so much weight being driven down the mountain. Along the trail, we enjoyed the cool deciduous forests with their moss covered rocks and tall, straight popular, oak, and birch trees. It had rained a lot the previous weekend so the streams were rushing. Many times we were riding through stream beds that were full of water but dry out when there is a drought. Although the wild azaleas had been in full bloom the previous week, we still got to see some of the beautiful orange blooms, and I spotted a few rhododendron that were late bloomers as well. Wild flowers abound in these woods in all colors and varieties. We didn't meet up with much wildlife; I'm sure they heard us coming and shied away.
At the top of Pine Mountain, we noticed the climate and ecosystem start to change. It became much colder, and the wind picked up. The forest changed over to a landscape one might find out west. There were more alpine type trees; the soil was even more rocky, and the blueberry and blackberry bushes were lush and green. They will be full of berries in another month. The views from here are breathtaking. There are 360 degrees worth of beautiful mountains in all shades of blue. (Our mountains appear blue due to the release of the chemical isoprene which protects cell membranes from heat stress due to fluctuating mountain temperatures.) This is the perfect place to stop and enjoy a picnic lunch. There is even a restroom here. The Appalachian Trail crosses through at this spot, so you'll probably see hikers and dogs.
Somehow, I managed to get off my horse and back on her to ride a little higher. From the top of Pine Mountain, Doug pointed out Stone Mountain to the left. There is a road up to this station, but it is only accessible by four wheel drive and pretty rough at that. This little plateau was a paradise for viewing mountain landscapes -- the perfect spot to take pictures.
We continued on our ride for about 30 more minutes to view Wilburn Ridge and Mount Rogers. Wilburn Ridge is located in Grayson Highlands State Park and is a high ridge of treeless mountains. On our ride, we never entered the park, but some of Appalachian Horseback Riding Adventures' longer rides go through it. Just looking from our vantage point there are two points in Wilburn Ridge that appear to be higher than Mount Rogers, but it's all about perspective. Mount Rogers, at approximately 5700 feet, is the second highest peak east of the Mississippi, slightly lower than Mount Mitchell in North Carolina.
Fewer things in my life have thrilled me more than what we saw next. I've seen the wildlife in Yellowstone, and been privileged to watch sea turtles hatch and struggle out to sea. Those were some of the most exciting experiences I've ever had in nature, but seeing the ponies and longhorn cattle just a little past Pine Mountain ranks right up there for me. There's nothing like it! We saw probably 50 or more animals all mixed in together. Beautiful longhorns in all colors abounded; some with horns as long as a man's arm span. The ponies were absolutely beautiful. They were curious about us and stood quietly watching as we made our way past. A little 3 week old stallion watched most intently with his ears perked up high; he never took his eyes off us, but would also never venture far away from mama! There were all colors and sizes of ponies. Some were pretty big -- about the size of a small horse, while others were small. Doug is a member of the Wilburn Ridge Pony Association, so he knows about how many are on the mountain and when babies are born. He highly discourages the feeding of the ponies. Human food is not good for them; you might think you're helping them out, but they're not suited for anything except what they forage for. Winters are harder if they become too dependent on humans for food. Please don't feed the ponies.
After we stopped and enjoyed the view of Mount Rogers and watched the ponies for a while, we turned around and headed back down the mountain the same way we had come. Some of the longer rides continue and loop back to the stables. The ride down was more challenging for me than the ride up, but I enjoyed the beautiful sights once more. The day could not have ended more perfectly. We got back to the stables, and Doug took Trinity's saddle off. She ran around a bit and rolled on the ground to scratch her back. She was delightful, and my favorite part of the day was spending it with her!
Will (my photographer!) and I enjoyed our 3 hour horseback ride immensely. We both plan to come back with our families and perhaps to ride for even longer. I still want to ride Trinity though! There is no better way to experience this unique terrain than on horseback. The ride itself was fun, and the views were spectacular. I'm sure no two rides are the same. Contact Doug Cregger today and set up a time before he books up. He can be reached at 276-783-4136 or by email email@example.com. Fairwood Stables are located at 2827 Fairwood Road, Troutdale, VA 24378. Adventure awaits in Grayson County!