If the phrase “a perfect storm’ can apply to a vacation then we had it with our trip to French Broad Outpost Ranch—the perfect vacation.
I have always wanted to visit a dude ranch and never imagined it would be in the hills of Tennessee. Yet, there I was with best friend, Sally (Lovie) and her grand-daughters, Avery (10 yrs.) and Siena (6 yrs.). I love horses but have not ridden more than three times in my life even-though my son, Brian, raises quarter horses. What experience I have with riding is limited. I thought maybe a week of concentrated riding and good instruction would help. By Wednesday morning everything hurt and we were in bad shape. Muscles I didn’t know I had were making noises. Sally had injured her leg and hobbled around with a cane in one hand and ice pack in the other. We were a sight, but it did not slow us down, there was only one way to go – up- and we did! By the end of the week our muscles were working and Sal had shed the cane.
French Broad Ranch is sitting in the majestic French Broad River Valley with towering 3000 ft. mountains on either side. One of our trail rides was a sunset trip to the top of the mountain for dinner – what a view of the valley. Owner, Shawn Gannon bought the 347 acres that borders the Great Smokey Mountains in 2001 where he built the ranch. His skill as a horseman and trainer were a marvel. With his wife, Joann, he has created an authentic and remote setting.
Our stay began Sunday evening after dinner. While rain gently settled on us, we learned about horses and the right and wrong way to ride them. Then we were questioned and paired with our horse for the week. Breakfast begins at 8:00 then, off to the pasture to get our horse, brush, and saddle for the ride. There are four trails varying in difficulty and degree of elevation. With two rides a day we covered them all with combination of some trails. The steepest being the dinner ride. For someone inexperienced as myself, the 12 – 18” wide ridges were challenging, but I did them anyway. Trail rides were at least an hour, then we unsaddled our horse and took them on a cool down before walking them back to their pasture.
Trusting your horse is vital and after a few rides I became quite attached to mine. Rose was her name. She was a copper color Arabian with two white “socks” and a white diamond on her face. Beautiful animal. Each ride brought me a little closer to a comfort zone than when I arrived. By the fourth day, I was trying to figure out how to take Rose home and keep her in my backyard. I had become attached.
I cannot forget to mention the food. We had some excellent comfort food prepared by our cook, “Z” who is a master and had mealtime down to an art. Meals were at 8:00, 12:30 and 6:00. A fifteen minute bell was struck, then a five and for what was referred to as” ranch time”, ten minutes slow. With days filled with activities including; riding, rafting, tubing, games, square dancing, we hit the dining room like pigs to a trough.
The first day we were fortunately enough to have met a family from Hoochton, GA., who had two young daughters and our groups connected immediately. We laughed, worked, played and made plans to visit each other again.
As I mentioned, this is something I have wanted to do for a long time. There were a couple goals I set out to accomplish; one to be able to put my foot in a stirrup and easily mount a horse. It took about three days but finally, I was able to mount by myself. The other was being able to lift a heavy saddle onto my horse, that I accomplished quickly with a handy trick that Shawn taught us one the first day.
It seemed like I walked a million miles and back getting my horse from the field. All in all, we could not have had a more fulfilling experience and none of us was ready to leave. There is no doubt we will do it again. And, oh yes, with all the calories of “comfort food” I still lost eight pounds. What more can you ask!