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Way Down Upon the Suwannee River

The famous Suwannee River snakes it way through Florida’s northern border. Originating from the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia, the river enters Florida’s panhandle, picking up water from several smaller rivers like the Withlacoochee, Alapaha and Santa Fe, and also several springs that feed into it. It twists and turns until finally making the end of its journey in the little fishing town, aptly named Suwannee, into the Gulf of Mexico. The Florida National Scenic Trail runs for some 60 miles of the Suwannee’s 170 mile length through the Sunshine State. The Suwannee River Water Management District conserves much of the land bordering the river for recreational use such as hiking, canoeing/kayaking, fishing, hunting and horseback riding. Several areas offer trailheads, and a few have camping available for horse owners. At Big Shoals State Park, the river also has a series of white water rapids, Class III when conditions are right, when it drops in elevation through the limestone layers as it travels through the quaint little town of White Springs. This rarity in Florida makes for exciting riding, and I am always ready for riding adventures!

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Bill and I decided to try the horse trails at Big Shoals State Park, which also connects to Little Shoals. Bill had only recently begun riding with me that year, which was a busy hurricane season, and many trails along rivers were flooded. As soon as the water receded, we hit the trails. Bill was aboard my Arabian gelding Bask (Baskbandit), and I was on my Rainy (Harmony Raindance). The trails are typical, old Florida woods with tall pines, thick palmettos, scrub areas and large oaks draped in Spanish moss. As we began, the footing was good and the weather cool, being late fall. Looking out into the landscape, you could see the water line on the tall pines, sometimes up to 15 feet high. Some of the older pine trees had succumbed to the loose earth caused by the flooding and had fallen over; many neatly dropped across the trails. I love jumping natural obstacles, and Rain would jump anything I pointed her at, so I cantered ahead to jump several large pine logs and then would wait for Bill and Bask to catch up before moving out again to take advantage of more fun jumps.

Bill asked if I thought Bask would jump for him. I said, “Sure, he’ll jump for you. Just canter him towards it.” And so Bill did, and Bask jumped the first log. Then they jumped second one, and on to the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth one. Bill was having a fun time! As the trail turned east towards the river, the landscape changed to scrub forest and our jumps were gone. We then enjoyed moving through some small creeks and eventually made it to the Suwannee River.

The banks of the river at Big Shoals are about 70 feet high in some places, offering unique views for Florida. We rode along the river and would stop here and there to view the shoals and enjoy watching the black water rush by. At one point, there appeared to be a little trail that lead down the bank to a skinny, white sandy shoreline. Bill had Bask in the lead and asked Bask to drop down the bank. Bask wasn’t so sure about this plan and kept looking back at me for verification. Rain was getting impatient and must have picked up my anxiousness of Bask not going down the bank. I was telling Bask to walk; Bill asked Bask to walk; but Bask just didn’t want to do it. I knew he would do it. He’s done all kinds of things for me, which is why I was getting anxious. Rain had finally had enough and blew by Bask, brushing up against Bill on her pass by, dropped her hindquarters and slid down the bank like no big deal.

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Upon reaching the white sandy beach, she spun around on her hindquarters and stared at Bask like, “Well, c’mon with it!” Bask was now convinced the bank wasn’t going to kill him and followed suit. The shore there wasn’t really wide, and we didn’t have much room to ride along it, so we went back up. The incline was fairly steep, so I couldn’t be too disappointed that Bask originally objected to the descent. Watching Bill come up on Bask, leaning forward to help Bask up the embankment, he was wearing an ear to ear smile. I said, “So, are you enjoying your all-terrain vehicle?’” Bill answered, “Yes! That was the first time I’ve ever jumped obstacles with a horse!”

What?! I thought he had jumped before, all the riding he did in south Florida growing up, surly he must have jumped something down there. Had I known it was his first time, I would have given some helpful tips and slowed down a bit. But like usual, Bask took care of his rider.

Big Shoals turned out to be big fun. There are so many fun places to ride in Florida, and I have many stories to tell!

Ann Almond

High Springs, FL

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