Club sustains itself with a casual atmosphere and close connections
On a clear day in September, the late summer sun warms the rolling green pastures and fields of Etowah Riding Club. A slight breeze rattles through the tall trees at the edge of the grounds as a pair of young riders trot out into the afternoon astride two glossy-coated horses. There’s a certain peace to the scene, and a timelessness only occasionally belied by the distant sound of passing cars. The clamor and stress of the modern world, and of 2020 in particular, fades into the background, and dissipates under the easy gait of an equine friend.
For more than 50 years, the Etowah Riding Club has provided members and friends a lovely, amicable place to ride, learn, socialize, and compete in equestrian events. This year, the Club has braved the myriad challenges of a pandemic to continue providing riders, especially young ones, opportunities to ride and compete, including their upcoming open show, the first of the year.
“Our spring show was canceled because of COVID-19,” explains Etowah Riding Club Vice President Bonnie Morris. “But these shows are a highlight of the season, so we’re excited to be back this fall.”
The Club’s nearly six-decade history is rooted in a sense of community spirit. Its first meeting took place in the home of the Gash family in Etowah, where friends and neighbors discussed a need for not just a local riding club, but one that could cater to the whole family. They needed space and they needed horse shows, both to foster community and to generate funds for the fledgling organization. Their first show, in 1968, was held off Norris Road, behind the Chelsea Event Center, near the Etowah Golf Course. The first ring was constructed using sawmill lumber donated from founding member Fred Laughter.
In 1973, the Club moved to its current location at Brickyard and Turnpike Road, and added a larger number of events and services for its members. Outside of horse shows, the Etowah Riding Club offered classes, trail rides, campouts, and participated in a variety of local parades, in Hendersonville, Rosman, and Brevard. Over time, the Club’s membership and reputation grew both in and outside the community. A new generation of young equestrians grew up riding horses at Etowah.
Among them was Bonnie Morris herself, who rode at Etowah Riding Club when there were few other options. “I showed there when I was just a kid. This was long before the Western North Carolina Agricultural Center had even been built,” she said. “Etowah Riding Club was one of the only places in the region where you could show.”
Like most members, Morris had a long-standing affection for the riding club long before becoming an officer. “Most nice days it’s pretty easy to catch an Etowah member or club officer out here riding,” she says. “We all enjoy it so much.”
The south-mountain area has a long equestrian history, dominated in the last decade or so by the Tryon International Equestrian Center in Mill Spring, a multimillion-dollar facility that in 2018 hosted the FEI World Equestrian Games (in essence the horse Olympics). “We think what sets us apart is that we are completely volunteer run, a not-for-profit,” says Morris. Etowah Riding Club, she explains, “is kind of like being an equestrian co-op. We are intentionally low cost to give riders an alternative to bigger venues like Tryon. Also, we are beginner friendly and welcome multiple disciplines.”
In recent years, the club has increased its offerings to include a wider variety of events and courses of study. While most events and shows are small, club members ride English, Western, and Dressage style. More focus has turned toward Dressage and Working Equitation; the latter discipline combines traditional styles of riding with competitive obstacles. In its intricacy, Working Equitation “is not unlike Dressage,” explains Morris. Particularly popular in South America, the sport is relatively new to the U.S.
Etowah Riding Club has been offering Working Equitation Clinics and Schooling events over the latter half of the summer, even as so many other recreational activities have been cancelled or postponed.
“We’re doing everything we can to be as safe as possible,” says Morris. “Many of our riders are youngsters, and spectators are often their families. On the bright side, we have plenty of room out here to socially distance.”
Etowah Riding Club, 3802 Turnpike Road, Horse Shoe. The club sponsors an open community show on Saturday, Oct. 3, for riders of all ages. (Rain date is Oct. 10.) Helmets are required on all riders under age 18. English, Western, gaited, trail, lead line, costume & game classes will be offered. Gates open at 7:30am. Spectator admission is $2/adults, $1/kids, 1 person per horse free. For more information, call 828-329-3762 or see etowahridingclub.com.