Early each morning, P.J. Tomlian heads to her driveway to spot her Arabian mare and Paso Fino gelding. Then she hops in her golf cart to do the morning feed ? her horses aren?t on her property, but down the road a bit at the barn.
Most days, there's a good chance she'll get some trail riding in, because she and a friend can trot right onto 35 miles of private trails on the edge of Tennessee?s Cumberland Plateau. Even better, a trailhead leading into the natural wonderland of Big South Fork National Park is just a nine-mile haul.
Tomlian lives in the Highlands at Big South Fork, an equestrian community in northern Tennessee that's designed with trail riders in mind. As these living communities grow in popularity, so do the options for prospective buyers. If a community of horse owners and trail enthusiasts sounds like the good life, there might be an equestrian community out there that's right for you.
Here, we'll tell you what makes each community unique. Then we'll share what two home owners have to say about their experiences. Next, we'll give you eight property-hunting tips, with help from Sue Neff, trail rider, trail designer, and principal broker for Tennessee Recreational Properties, LLC.
And finally, we'll give you the lowdown on seven outstanding equestrian communities geared for trail riders.
No two equestrian communities are alike. Here are five factors that make each unique.
- Amenities. A community can be geared solely toward equestrians, but some may have excellent horse facilities along with amenities for golfing, fishing, and other interests.
- Trails. Trails should be marked and well-maintained. Some communities feature trails that circle the perimeter, homes, and pastures; others have land set aside strictly for trail use. While some are for resident use only, others may allow public access.
- Cost. The cost of barn stalls and use of equestrian facilities could be included when you purchase a home or lot. Or, you may need to buy into a club or pay fees to have access to these amenities.
- Equestrian amenities. Communities may offer owners the option of using their purchased property for horses. But you may prefer to have the option of keeping your horse at a communal barn. The barn may require that owners care for their horses, or they may offer everything from daily care to training and riding instruction.
- Social aspect. Undoubtedly, equestrian communities are a way to build relationships with fellow trail riders. Some have organized clubs, trail rides, and events, while others are simply a great place to make friends and find trail-riding buddies.
A Community Barn
Like many outdoor enthusiasts, Tomlian and her husband fell in love with the Big South Fork region of Tennessee. When they moved to the Highlands in 2008, Tomlian resolved to take advantage of the natural beauty. She decided on a home where her horses could be nearby, rather than dealing with the commitment that comes with owning horse property.
?I wanted to ride!? she says.
While her husband was teeing off on the golf courses, Tomlian had no trouble getting to know her neighbors. ?We moved down here not knowing a soul,? she says. ?I liked the idea of having a community barn.? Before long, she?d been introduced to all the residents and had plenty of friends to ride with.
For Tomlian, the Highlands is the ultimate community experience, but she can see how it wouldn?t be the best pick for everyone.
The Highlands allows residents two stalls in one of the Owner?s Barns without boarding fees. Tomlian cares for her horses, including feed, turnout, and chores. She notes that depending on what time of day you're there, the equestrian center can be fairly quiet.
Like many owners, Tomlian and her husband are retired. Often, residents use the Highlands as a winter destination, leaving some of the homes unoccupied for part of the year.
Mary Anisansel moved to McLendon Hills in Moore County, North Carolina, from upstate New York. She and her husband moved to be near their daughter, but Anisansel also looked forward to riding whenever she pleased.
?Here, I can ride year-round!? she says.
It's not only the milder weather that enables her to do just that, but also McLendon Hills offers eight miles of bridle trails through hilly woods and fields, with obstacles and water crossings throughout.
Anisansel says that she feels safe riding there, because trails are well-maintained and
well-marked, and it's always easy to find a trail buddy. ?I never have to wait around for someone to ride with,? she says. ?There's always someone that wants to go.?
Finding a community where she and her husband fit in and felt at home was of high priority to Anisansel. ?McLendon Hills is not a snobby community ? it's very family oriented,? she says.
The friendly environment extends throughout the equestrian center, too. As a novice rider, Anisansel takes advantage of having an onsite barn manager and trainer, taking lessons when she needs help with her Quarter Horse/Paint cross.
Even when she's on her own, Anisansel says more advanced riders are always willing to help out and give her advice. ?You can really depend on people to look out for you,? she says.
This dedicated trail rider especially enjoys attending the Equestrians of McLendon Hills, a club that meets monthly and organizes trail rides, clinics, social events, volunteer opportunities, and more. ?There's always something going on,? she says with enthusiasm.
To start your search, make a list of priorities in your ideal living situation. Narrow down the features that are most important to you, but be willing to compromise.
Do you want to keep your horse on your property? Are you looking for a strong community environment with organized trail rides and events? Do you prefer a quiet lifestyle that allows you to simply enjoy the equestrian facilities on your own?
Here are some tips to keep in mind while you're on the hunt.
- Decide on your key factors. What elements of a future home are most important to you? Location, budget, specific amenities, and the time frame in which you're hoping to buy may be at the top of the list. Establishing which elements are the most essential will help you to narrow down your choices significantly.
- Be willing to compromise. Maybe your dream home is in a community that requires you to haul your horse to a public trailhead. Or perhaps the offered pasture land isn?t as large as you?d hoped for. Keep in mind that all of your expectations may not be met within one community.
- Find a horse-oriented agent. Real estate agents who understand horses will be the best candidates for helping you find your dream community. Even better, ?Find a Realtor that's a trail rider,? advises Neff. ?We understand each other.?
- Find a horse-oriented developer. This is important to keep in mind for safety reasons. Horse facilities have specific requirements, from barn ventilation to arena footing.
- Ensure longevity. Make sure the trails and horses are there to stay. Equestrian community planners set aside land for trails, parks, and horse property. Find out if there's a risk that this might change with future development. When the agent mentions easements, conservancies, and preserves, what exactly does she mean?
- Go online. The Internet is a great place to browse equestrian-community websites. After you?ve done an initial search, get in touch with Realtors and community representatives who can give you honest and specific answers to your questions.
- Visit and ride! Find out whether the community you're interested in has any special offers for prospective residents. Some allow opportunities for prospective residents to stay overnight in recreational vehicles. Or, find a nearby campground. If possible, test out the trails, or even public trails nearby, to see if the terrain is ideal for you.
- Find your community. There are many types of horsepeople who choose equestrian communities. For example, if you're not interested in an environment where horses are trained for competition, find out before you make a commitment.
- Beware of buyer traps. If a community?s marketing materials say ?trails at your back door,? find out exactly what that means. Or, ask a Realtor to find out for you. Keep in mind that property closest to horse-approved trailheads may be the highest in demand, especially if you're looking for convenient access to public land.
Here's a look at several top equestrian communities designed just for trail riders.
- The Highlands at Big South Fork, Jamestown, Tennessee. The Highlands is a planned community on 3,500 acres, with several new homes recently completed. Scenic lots range from one-half to two acres. Located just north of Jamestown, in horse-friendly Fentress County, this private, gated equestrian community is focused on trail riding. Owners enjoy access to two stalls in an Owner?s Barn, use of the guest barn, and 35 miles of private, state-of-the-art riding trails.
- Long Branch Lakes, Spencer, Tennessee. The Equestrian Center is the centerpiece of Long Branch Lakes? 1,000-acre Equestrian Village. The first phase of this center for horse-lovers includes an eight-stall barn, a companion storage barn, working pen, large fenced pastures, boarding, and professional instruction. Riders enjoy easy access to the community?s 30 miles of riding trails and those of the adjacent Bledsoe State Forest. Completed amenities include 30 miles of riding trails, lakefront pavilions, lighted roads with covered bridges, and recreational facilities. The community spreads across 5,000 acres atop the Cumberland Plateau, featuring wooded and lakefront homesites.
- McLendon Hills, Pinehurst, North Carolina. Privately owned and operated, the McLendon Hills Equestrian Center is a state-of-the-art, full service equine facility available to both the public and property owners. While owners of mini-farm sites (three- to five-acre lots) may stable their horses on their own respective properties, all resident property owners are offered preferred rates and availability at the Equestrian Center. The 25-acre facility includes a 24-stall central barn with a climate-controlled rider?s lounge, three outdoor rings, a lighted riding area, and a hilltop arena. More than 20 acres are allotted for grazing. The community is surrounded by eight miles of bridle trails.
- The Settlement at Thomas Divide, Bryson City, North Carolina. The Settlement at Thomas Divide adjoins the 500,000 acres of wilderness in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The community is located minutes from downtown historic Bryson City and Cherokee. Trail users can ride?directly from the property to the Thomas Divide Trail trailhead to access more than 500 miles of trails. The horse facility currently includes a barn, an arena, a round pen, a parking lot with RV hookups, and approximately 26 acres of fenced pasture.
- Three Runs Plantation, Aiken, South Carolina. Three Runs Plantation is private, equestrian-oriented residential community that offers home sites ranging from 4 to 20 acres. Thirty miles of marked and mapped trails wind through 2,400 acres of gentle, rolling topography, woods, and savannahs, and along two significant creeks. Portions of the trail system include gallop areas for training, cross-country schooling jumps, and trails for carriage driving. Amenities include jump and dressage arenas, schooling arenas, a clubhouse, an outdoor pavilion, a pool, and a cabana. Generous easements enable residents to access the trails without encroaching on neighbors; conservation easements protect the wetlands.
- Walnut Creek Preserve, Rutherfordton,North Carolina. Walnut Creek Preserve?s development has been designed with riding, hiking, and nature study in mind. The community offers reasonably sized farm acreage surrounded by over 40 miles of trails. The Preserve?s 2,100 acres of forest and pastureland shelter a large variety of indigenous plant life, including several rare and one threatened species, as well as a wealth of wildlife. Only 25 wooded and equestrian home sites of an average 20 acres will be offered for sale, while the remaining acres of wilderness are protected by deeded conservation easement.
- Wolf Creek Ranch, Woodland, Utah. Wolf Creek Ranch is located near Park City in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. Each 160-acre estate is two miles around at its perimeter. The entire ranch stretches 14,000 pristine and peaceful acres, six miles from end to end. It features 60 miles of summer- and winter-use groomed trails. The 26-acre Equestrian Center includes a 28-stall stable with tack room, a hay storage barn, an equipment barn, and longing arenas. Ninety-five percent of Wolf Creek Ranch?s land is protected by a conservation easement.?In addition, this low-density community shares seven miles of common border with the Uinta National Forest ? a 2.2-million acre outdoor playground with a private access gate for residents of Wolf Creek Ranch.
Lauren Back is a freelance writer and television producer based in Denver, Colorado. A former hunter/jumper competitor and guest-ranch wrangler, she enjoys trail riding in the Rocky Mountains.
Equestrian-Communities Resource Guide
(928) 777-0561; www.americanranchprescott.com
Auburn Lake Trails
(530) 885-6526; www.auburnlaketrails.org
(877) 333-4218; www.bridlegateranch.com
The Galena Territory
(815) 777-2000; www.thegalenaterritory.com
The Highlands at Big South Fork
(866) 731-7268; www.bigsouthforktrp.com/highlands
Long Branch Lakes
(866) 615-6616; www.longbranchlakes.com
(910) 673-4951; www.mclendonhills.com
(423) 884-3000; www.raritybay.com
Santa Lucia Preserve
(877) 626-8200; www.santaluciapreserve.com
The Settlement at Thomas Divide
Bryson City, N.C.
(828) 788-3648; www.thomasdivide.com
Three Runs Plantation
(888) 297-8881; www.threerunsplantation.com
Walnut Creek Preserve
(828) 625-1122; www.walnutcreekpreserve.com
Wolf Creek Ranch
(435) 783-6666; www.wolfcreekranch.com