Today is Thursday, August 24, 2017

Saddle up for Cedar trails

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So you got an itching to be a cowboy or cowgirl and make like Roy Rogers or Dale Evans?

Well, pardner, Cedars of Lebanon Riding Stables can put you in the saddle and atop a horse any day of the week at Cedars of Lebanon State Park. All you need to bring are your boots and a little giddy-up in your soul.

The stable's riding season has hit the trail and continues until the end of October. This state park offers two trails, one with the tenderfoot in mind and another for those more seasoned to sitting in leather.

"The horses are saddled, and we'll lead you up and give you a little speech on what to do: just relax and enjoy your ride, and we'll introduce your guide, who will show you how to steer," said Sam Williams, a Carthage native into her fourth year as a guide and groom at the stables, a long barn at the end of Stables Road.

Williams is a cousin to Dale Hankins, the owner-operator of the horse-riding service, who also runs the riding stables at Fall Creek Falls State Park.

"I've always enjoyed horses. Dale asked me to help out, and I was more than eager to do it. We live for the season. I'm happy to come back," Williams said. "It's hard work but seeing the grin on the faces of little kids after riding for their first time is more than worth it."

The horses here, either quarter horses, saddle bred or Tennessee walking horses, go by the names of Rosie, Rocket, Sally, Milly, Beauty, Lucky, Cheyenne, Blueberry, Spirit, June, Blaze, Bob, Coco, Chico, Smokey and Cody. And then there's Jill the mule.

Williams described the nature of the horses as being "pretty calm and easy going, but they do have a mind of their own.

"We put 3-year-olds on horses with a guide leading them, and 4- and 5-year-olds have the option of riding on their own or being guided," she said.

Also lending a hand at the stables are Debbie Hirsthmann of Murfreesboro and Faye Stonestreet of Gladeville. Their chores include feeding, watering and grooming the horses and serving as trail guides.

As for what Hirsthmann, a horsewoman for most of her life, enjoys most about the work, she says, "When you take children out for the first time and they're scared of the horses, and then when we come back in and they want to go around again."

Williams, who graduated from Smith County High School in 2013 and is an animal science major at Middle Tennessee State University, said, "I was 16 when Dale opened this place, and I found I really enjoyed horses. I spent more time here than I did hanging out with friends.

"They're majestic creatures. Every one is a little different. All horses have their own personalities. You can get on the same horse for a year and never have the same riding experience," said the guide, who owns Rosie, a 31⁄2-year-old quarter horse, a gift from her aunt Sissy Allmon.

Cedars of Lebanon State Park superintendent Wayne "Buddy" Ingram notes that the riding stable "gives some of these young kids their first experience around horses and lets them enjoy the outdoors and experience something they've never done before. When they're on horseback, they're high up and can see nature further into the forest. It kind of opens up a new door for them."

Indeed, when Amy Ayer of Murfreesboro and her friend Jennifer Norris of Oskaloosa, Iowa, were seeking a place to take their kiddos riding last week, they found Cedars of Lebanon Riding Stables to be just the ticket.

"One of the girls [6-year-old Ashten Norris] is really into horseback riding. We heard good things about Lebanon Riding Stables at the state park through word of mouth and then the Internet," said Ayer, whose son Harrison, 4, made his debut on horseback.

His favorite part of the ride, he says came when "the mud splashed."

"It was much easier than I expected," Ayer said of the 50-minute guided tour along the two-mile trail, "and the children had more fun than I ever anticipated. The terrain was beautiful, and I didn't know we lived so close to a beautiful park. This is a great little secret, and we're gonna have to come back."

Williams described the two-mile trail as "just a walk with a few little hills. You'll see the scenery back in the woods, some cedar glades as many as seven types of moss, and, normally, deer and rabbits, and after a rain, turtles."

The seven-mile trail begins at a walk, but then riders can go at a pace of their own based on the pace of your slowest rider.

"You can speed up to a faster walk, trot on a quarter horse or do a running walk on a gaited horse or you can speed up to a slow rack. You'll see a little dog pond, different types of trees and some rocky spots. You can kind of make this ride more your own," Williams said.

Cedars of Lebanon Riding Stables are open 9 a.m.-6 p.m. daily. Fees (cash only) are $20 for the two-mile trail and $75 for the seven-mile trail. The stables are available for birthday parties for children: the fee is $150, which includes a pony lead-line ride for eight kids, use of the facility plus guests get to play two games, and older children may ride the trail for $10.

For those who wish to bring their own horses to ride the Cedars of Lebanon State Park trails, there is no fee, but you must have a negative coggins statement.

On a historical note, these stables were built in 1971 with fox hunters in mind, and a Judge Warren of Williamson County was one of the driving forces behind the project. The group lodge was also part of the package. Tom Hutchins with his family and two partners, Jim Bates and Don Miller, were the first to operate the facility as a riding stable.

Writer Ken Beck may be contacted at

These colorful horseshoes, open end up for good luck, carry names of those, past and present, who work or have worked at the Cedars of Lebanon Riding Stables. KEN BECK / The Wilson Post
KEN BECK / The Wilson Post
Debbie Hirsthmann guides Murfreesboro’s Harrison Ayer, 4, his mother Amy and their horses on the two-mile trail near Cedars of Lebanon Riding Stables. The stables, open through Oct. 30, are available for those wishing to mosey along one of the trails at Cedars of Lebanon State Park. KEN BECK / The Wilson Post
Sam Williams of Carthage, an animal science major at Middle Tennessee State University, works seven days a week at the Cedars of Lebanon Riding Stables as a guide and groom. Here, inside the stables, she sits astride Rocket. KEN BECK / The Wilson Post
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