Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse
Appalachian Children's Home Trail Ride to Sand Cave
Early on this year, five members of the Appalachian Children’s Home staff mounted up on their horses to navigate the nine mile roundtrip trek from the Ewing Virginia Civic Park to the Sand Cave, on the North side of the ridge trail. Mary Win King, Melissa Turner, Jessica Taylor, Shaunna Taylor and Steve Yeary started our ride at 10 a.m. with beautiful sunshine and temperatures around 45 degrees. We completed this ride just 4 days earlier with snow and 35 degree temperatures and were surprised to find snow drifts and a beautiful frozen waterfall at our destination.
We ride primarily Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horses and Tennessee Walking Horses due to their smooth gait and easy going manner with the kids and staff at the Children’s Home. Our horses were eager to begin the rocky trail up the side of the mountain complete with switchbacks and numerous small water crossings. The switchbacks made the steep ride tolerable for the horses and gave each of us a chance to look back down in the valley and appreciate the 2000-3000 foot climb we were making. The 4.5 mile trail up to the Sand Cave is well marked and although very rocky at times, has plenty of room for your horse to pick the best path. All of our horses rode on a loose rein, conserving energy for the steep inclines. We only passed one hiker on each ride. This is considered a strenuous hiking trail and Park Rangers suggest allowing the better part of a day if hiking. Our first ride was more treacherous due to the snow and the slippery rocks. The 6 inches of snow on the North side of the mountain was beautiful but posed a safety hazard simply because of the chances of a fall, but our horses were very surefooted and carried us safely to and from our destination.
The hitching post at our destination was more than sufficient for our 5 horses and could probably accommodate at least 20 horses. After dismounting, the walk down to the cave was slick, with or without snow. We all agreed that the ride and walk down to the cave was worth the view.
The cave supposedly had 21 colors of sand at one time, but now has 6 different colors due to visitor activity over the years. The opening is about 150-200 feet wide and the ceiling is about 40 to 80 feet high. The sand is boot deep and makes walking difficult when combined with the incline of the cave floor. The waterfall was breathtaking, especially on the first ride when it was completely frozen. There were numerous picture opportunities in the cave and surrounding waterfall. The hike back up to the horses is a great workout and we were all glad to get back in the saddle.
The Sand Cave ride is a great confidence builder for the average rider and will most definitely produce "wet saddle blankets" and take the edge off spirited horses. I hope you enjoy the pictures and one day get the opportunity to ride the "Sand Cave Trail". The beauty of this natural wonder is magnificent, as was the pleasure of riding our favorite horse, with good friends on one of nature’s best days.