This three part series features the reflections of three Southern writers on trail rides, campfires, confidence, nostalgia, and slow dancing for the first time. Photographs were taken at Falling Creek Camp and Camp Glen Arden in North Carolina and Camp McDowell in Alabama. Check back next Tuesday for part two.
I was a shy, skittish 9-year-old when a friend invited me to Bar-B-Ranch, in Davie, Florida. Like most little girls, I loved horses, but I’d never been on more than a slow, boring trail ride. At Bar-B, situated on a beautiful plot of old Florida, we rode all day. At first, I was terrified, the movement of the animal beneath me so huge, I curled instead of sat in the saddle, crouched over my patient horse’s neck. Gradually, I learned to sit up straight, to ride bareback, within a herd of 20 other campers and horses, winding a piece of mane through my fingers so I would not slide off. I learned to lean into my galloping horse, to trust that she would not take a false step. To have faith that my horse would take care of me. And I discovered that I was a girl who could take risks—who liked them, even.
When I was 11, I graduated from Bar-B to Camp Greystone, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Greystone—with its crystal blue lake and mountains so beautiful they looked as if they had been painted—was as pristine as Bar-B was roughshod. There were all sorts of activities—pottery, waterskiing, archery—but I lived for the horses, which were nicer at Greystone, better trained, more refined, and immaculately groomed. Our tack gleamed, polished after every ride. At first, I felt brave: If I could race bareback across an open field, surely I could guide a mannerly, well-schooled gelding around a fenced-in ring. But I had never jumped a horse before, and at Greystone, you jumped. Riding was one thing, but asking your horse to leave the ground—it felt as reasonable as asking him to fly.
But the more I watched the other girls sail over jumps, the more I wanted to do it myself. These girls were better trained than I was, sat up straighter and prettier in their saddles, had been riding since before they could walk. My black, curly hair escaped from beneath my helmet while their blonde braids lay neatly on their backs as they guided their horses in perfect figure eights. And so I took the lesson I had learned at Bar-B on the rough, spirited trail horses and applied it to the elegant horses of Greystone: Your horse will take care of you, always. I cleared my hair from my eyes and leaned forward in the saddle, as you were supposed to, and it took everything I had not to look down at the ground, instead to look up, up, up at the mountains beyond the ring—and I flew. I cleared that jump, and dozens more that summer. I was the girl from Bar-B, and I wasn’t as beautiful a rider as all the other girls, but I could clear the jumps just as well as them.
Anton DiScalfani is the author of The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, and her new novel, The After Party, will be published in May 2016. She lives in Auburn, Alabama, with her husband and son and teaches creative writing at Auburn University.