Horseplay 9

Saddle-Up Trail Rides Offers Our Kind of Ride

There’s something inherently romantic about horseback riding. The sway of the saddle and the cadenced clop of hooves make for a quiet lullaby that helps you relax into nature. But there’s something decidedly unromantic about “around the barn” type horseback riding businesses where riders take a laggard jaunt around a dusty loop and miss the magic of the sport. Saddle-Up Trail Rides is not one such company.

First of all, owners Michael and Juanita Cate are horse people. Ask Juanita what she loves most about her job and her response is emphatic and immediate: “Of course, having the horses.” As a native of Henderson County, Juanita grew up riding the trails that thread through the mountains.

Those are the same trails she and Michael take guests on today, and they’re unique in that they’re situated in the heart of Pisgah National Forest. Saddle-Up is the only company awarded the permits to take clients into the national forest (Under Special Use of the Pisgah National Forest). The weaving trails they explore across North Mills River and Turkey Pen are untarnished by the touch of man and haven’t been carved to gullies by the trampling feet of dozens of horses.

Another unique aspect of Saddle-Up is their mobility. “Because of the area that we can utilize, because we are mobile, we can use more trails than most companies,” Juanita explains. “Most are stationary, and just offer ‘around the barn’ rides. These are real mountain trails, trails I grew up riding when I was younger, and this is true mountain trail riding. It seems to bring our customers back, because that’s what makes us different from everybody else—a different array of trails.”

The trails they utilize vary from day to day (again, this is not a stagnant, well-worn loop). On their one-hour rides, the Cates take customers on a “dry” trail, meaning they don’t cross water on the trip. Depending on that day’s trail, riders might meander along a river or catch glimpses of those breathtaking mountain views. They also offer two hour rides, longer excursions with river crossings—two to seven of them, in fact—and more varied terrain. The season and permits run from April 1 through December 18, offering horseback glimpses at the changing of all the seasons.

These aren’t prescheduled rides with trails of tourists, but completely personalized excursions. The Cates keep the groups small, from five to six, and they don’t always saddle up different families or couples at the same time. “It’s more personal than it would be in huge groups with people you’ve never seen and probably never will again,” Juanita points out. Each family receives a distinct experience that’s completely catered to them.

That unique experience isn’t just shaped by the trails, but by the horse as well. “Everybody’s favorite right now is probably Shadow, she is the all-around horse,” Juanita says of the black and white pinto. “She’s easy to ride, basically does what you tell her to—she knows her job for a lack of a better words,” she finishes with a laugh. Though the ladies love the patterned ponies, the gentlemen tend to go for the solid colored horses like Moonshine (though Juanita admits Moonshine’s popularity might have something to do with her name).

Perhaps what makes Saddle-Up most special is the genuineness of the experience. These are real mountain trails that true horse people like the Cates have been riding for years. For a unique excursion into our wilderness, do as the Cates do and saddle up.

Rides are scheduled by reservation only. 828-768-9025