But, have you ever noticed that—with the exception of the Parkway and ridge tops—how long those green leaves seem to hold out as October wears on?
The truth of the matter is—unless you’re up in high country, peak leaf season around here isn’t in October at all: it was yesterday. At least it was at Smoky Mountain Trail Rides and Bison Farm in Madison County—perfect timing for Big Brothers Big Sisters’ annual horseback riding group activity.
After taking the left turn onto Lee Ramsey Rd. the visitor to the farm winds along a narrow dirt road that follows a bubbling creek tracing the edges of meadows, historic farm houses, a sunny pasture scattered with grazing bison and then a few small corrals along the shady banks including one with an enormous Asian Water Buffalo and another with a young Tibetan Yak moping about in the mud.
At the end of the drive, encircled in the cove by ridges illuminated orange with the vibrant maples and oaks, the gambrel-roofed horse barn is tucked completely in the shade near a cabin that marks one of the original residences on the historic homestead.
Seven Big Sister Little Sister matches are signed up for BBBS’ group activity, as they arrive the Little Sister’s jump out of their cars and immediately gravitate toward one another. They start playing: exploring the grounds, splashing in the creek, laughing at the (rather overweight) pot-bellied pig, playing with the extensive and motley tribe of cats milling and mewing about and—once we get all of the paperwork in order—connecting with the horses.
Group activities provide opportunities for BBBS matches to participate in extraordinary and unique activities, and—equally important—they give matches a chance to connect, share stories and support each other. With an array of matches coming together for each group activity, Littles deeply benefit from these experiences and the ample opportunities they present to make friends and build community.
Within minutes of arriving, the girls are busting out patty-cake games, chasing each other, complementing each other’s clothes and hairstyles and giggling at the host of wily and expressive animals.
“I’m doing this so I can face my fears…pretty much,” says Little Sister Zaina matter-of-factly, sharing that she has ridden once before, but not since she was about five years old (she’s eight now).
“It’s true,” agrees her Big Sister Caitlin, “Overcoming fears has been a general theme of our match. She was afraid of the water too—and then we went canoeing and it wasn’t too long before she was trying to tip the boat…Yep. She got over that one pretty fast.”
With some leftover French fries from lunch, Zaina approaches one of the horses to give him a little snack, but when she extends her hand clutching the fry between her fingers, Kim—a Big Sister along for the activity, who has extensive equine experience—gently intercedes and shows Zaina how to offer the French fry with a flat open palm so as to avoid getting her hand chomped accidentally.
Zaina gives the new technique a shot, and lets out a shriek when the horse’s tongue licks her palm clean. She retreats with her still open palm now covered in sticky saliva and a lingering look of disgust on her face. But this doesn’t deter the other girls from wanting to try it themselves.
Further along in the stalls, Little Sister Madison eagerly reviews the assortment of beautiful horses with her Big Sister Savannah, wondering which one she’s going to get to ride. This is the pair’s first BBBS group activity and Madison’s first time petting a horse—let alone riding one! When asked how she feels to be here, she lights up with a smile: “AWESOME!!!”
With daylight savings ending, the sun is starting to get low by the time we’re all saddled up, but the air is unseasonably warm and the group is satisfied to be heading up onto the sunny ridge now that the midday heat has passed. As we climb the muddy switchbacks toward the meadows, a mother deer and her fawn scamper through the woods giving the horses a bit of a spook, and a few of them pick up into a trot as we emerge from the valley onto the sunlit ridge that looks west over the undulating mountains of Madison County.
Behind me, Little Sister Zaina is exuberant. She keeps patting her horse, Alias’s shoulder. “I love me horse so much!” she repeats. “This is sooo much fun! I can’t believe how beautiful this is!”
Behind Zaina, Little Sister Siyuna is wide-eyed and aglow with a smile that seems to spread beyond her face’s capacity to hold it. She remains this way throughout the ride.
Ascending the meadow, our ride culminates in a clearing at the top of the pasture. And even though it took us awhile to get saddled and going—and there was some waiting and excercies of patience involved—everyone is thankful now that we arrive when we do, because the sun is now hovering perfectly over the horizon and illuminating the ridges and pasture an electric pink-orange.
“How you all feeling?”
“I’m in heaven!” exclaims Siyuna’s Big Sister Callie, “Fabulous, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
“Amazing!” says Big Sister Caitlin patting her horse.
The Little Sisters share wide smiles and seem to be savoring the moment.
After a group photo, we wind back down the trail through the open pasture, and that’s when we see another mother deer with two fawns in the meadow below. The three of the bolt—leaping through the meadow and intercept our path, bounding ahead in front of us. Their outburst spooks the horses and ends up causing a mutiny in the front of the line: it starts with the mustang carrying our tour guide and ends with Alias taking off through the meadow and up the ridge at a canter with Zaina aboard! But Zaina keeps her cool and remembers to use the reigns to slow him down gently, which works like a charm.
When we catch up to her, Zaina is smiling with thrill and excitement—knowing she has an extra little nugget of adventure to carry with her and remember from this experience—but also knowing that she fully got what she came for: the perfect opportunity to face her fears and overcome them.
Are you a single parent and interested in how mentoring can empower your child? With an abundance of mentors signing up from our 100 Mentors in 100 Days volunteer recruitment drive we’re now accepting enrollment for new Little Sisters! Call or email today to learn more about how becoming a Little can make a Big, positive impact on your child’s life. 828-253-1470 or firstname.lastname@example.org