Western North Carolina is wonderful country for riders. With scenic mountain views, rushing streams and lovely forest land, a rider can have an incredible morning or afternoon on a horse. Those, who enjoy just pleasure riding from time to time, often go out on a mountain trail, perhaps with a guide in the Pisgah National Forest or the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Others like to compete in horse shows throughout the area, going to places like Blowing Rock or Tryon, N.C., or Conyers, Ga.
Over the years barns have sprouted up on the hillsides, and in the summer every type of horse can be seen grazing in the fields: Hunters, Jumpers, Dressage Horses, Tennessee Walkers, Paso Finos, Mustangs, Welsh Ponies, and even Miniature Ponies. Most of the fox hunting, polo, and steeple chasing takes place further south, in places like Tryon and Aiken, S.C. but near Asheville–in our own backyard–there is a noteworthy equestrian establishment: Cane Creek Farm.
Nicole Barbour has been the head trainer and manager of this world class Equestrian Center since 2004 and is passionate about her profession. She loves coming in every day. In fact she finds that she is there almost 365 days a year–even on Christmas Day, when she pulls out the stoppers to celebrate with Mimosas and Cinnamon cake She, her daughter Kelsey, and her “right hand” assistant trainer Shannon Laffin, train riders and their horses to become hunters and jumpers. They care for and board horses, as well as teach students of all ages each and every day–mostly one on one. If a student just needs the basics, there is a program for them.
Nicole finds her greatest triumph is when a rider just “gets the concept and understands what I am trying to teach.” She and Shannon take their students to competitions throughout the summer, going on the “A” circuit,” hauling trailers of horses and riders across the Piedmont area with parents and family often in tow. When you see the tack room in the stable, you can’t help but be aware of how successful their teaching must be! The room is covered from one end to another with blue, red, and white ribbons won by Nicole’s daughter, Kelsey.
This incredibly beautiful Equitation Center is situated on 65 acres on Cane Creek Road in Fletcher. As one drives in–after stopping at the “Whoa” sign, one faces the 300’ x 200’ outdoor riding ring, filled with multiple show quality jumps, low and high ones. For parents or visitors to watch the riders, there is a picturesque recently built gazebo at one end. A few curious dogs and Welsh Corgies may come to greet you–if they can escape from the office nearby. Across the way are the newer barns with metal sidings and a green roof, pastures surrounded by weathered wooden rails, and a large enclosed arena for riding indoors with a heated viewing area. The barn holds approximately 24 spacious, stalls with well groomed horses. Rubber matting is used for better footing for the horses and less noise; automatic waterers are in the stalls; and there are three wash stalls. Someone is washing down a horse, with lathered soap being rinsed off. One can see how pristine, clean, and well kept this barn is.
Caring for Horse and Rider
But what is most impressive is to learn how Nicole looks after her horses and her riders. First and foremost she cares about the horses. She is sensitive to the animals’ health and their individual needs. She is very particular about the quality of the alfalfa and hay, often buying nutritious bales coming all the way from South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas. Each horse gets turned out into a pasture every day. She herself and her staff make a point to know the habits of each horse boarding in their barn–individually–to be able to recognize a problem quickly. Suppose the horse is colicky, injures himself, or has a hoof abscess. “Someone must notice it. Small children and horses can’t speak for themselves, ” she said. “If the horse is laying down in the daytime, there may be a problem. This is a huge responsibility and often causes me real stress. There is a lot to looking after a horse. If there is the least indication that the horse is in trouble, I will call the vet.”
Nicole tries to employ the best veterinarian possible, liking particularly the Tryon Equine Hospital, which has an operating room. She calls on Dr. Karen Reynolds often, but others there as well. She has had to use the hospital several times. If time is of the essence, they will immediately send a mobile unit. Her preferred farrier is Todd Danielson. The horses at Cane Creek Farm have substantial horse shoes, which fit well and have clips on the side, so they won’t slide Dr. Kris Woodaman of Integrated Veterinary Healing gives acupuncture to animals to ease muscle spasms and realign their bodies. Every month about eight horses on the Farm receive acupuncture with a noticeable difference in their gait afterwards. No wonder people want to board their horses at Cane Creek Farm if they can! One can see why Nicole considers it a privilege for someone to board their horse in her barn. One can see why the word is out on the street that this is a fabulous place to board a horse.
Secondly Nicole is concerned about the safety of her riders. She loves it when the students just want to hang around the barn and help, but when actually riding they must be properly dressed. A riding helmet is mandatory at all times, and preferably the better, stronger Titanium one (priced at $350 to $450). Without one there may be a serious injury to the rider, particularly if the person is jumping. Think what tragedies a protective helmet can prevent. In the long run how little money the cost of a helmet is, as compared to the years of misery! As jeans can be slippery, the riding pants should not be jeans. The rider should wear jodhpurs or breeches. A riding boot is needed, but without rubber soles, as rubber on rubber might stick and allow the rider–if he or she should fall–to get dragged by the stirrup, Certainly a sneaker is no substitute for a good pair of boots. This same concern for safety is seen in the outside ring. The noise from Cane Creek traffic might spook a horse, so there are large wind-breaking trees between the ring and the road to buffer sound. If you look closely at the jumps in the ring, each clearly painted jump has a rail or panel that can easily be disassembled if the horse’s hoof should hit it, and the jump cups are set off to the side for safety.
The Horse Business
Nicole has always been passionate about horses and finds it surprising when others are not. She started riding in Westchester County in New York, where she grew up in Scarsdale and attended “Dobbs Ferry.” She trained with the renowned Wayne Carroll and Judy Richter who wrote the book, “Riding for Kids.” Nicole has won numerous blue ribbons and qualified for the Pennsylvania and New York National Horse Shows–quite an honor. After graduating with a major in psychology, she found the jobs she had a bit uninspiring.
However, when Rob Pew proposed a plan to Nicole to run this farm, she was flabbergast. She had been riding and training at the facility with Thom Pollard and his wife Lisa. Apparently the Pollards were moving to Raleigh. This was an amazing opportunity! Could she handle it? There was no extra money in the bank. Could she succeed? This would be a considerable risk. Her husband, Bill, who came to this area to further his career with a cable TV company and has now opened NextWave Communications, saw this as a wonderful opportunity for his wife. He encouraged her to take the challenge. The hat fit perfectly. Go for it!
Rob did insist that the facilities must always be well maintained. Thus a great deal of Nicole’s profit goes back yearly into daily upkeep–painting, repairing tractors, fixing irrigation systems and the like. Everyone in the family including their son, Rhett who actually prefers tennis and soccer to riding, pitches in to make it work. Kelsey, their daughter, has helped run the business since the very beginning. Currently at UNC-W, Kelsey has inherited this love of horses. She teaches, trains, and goes with many students to shows all summer long. She too has shown at Alltech National Horse Show (today’s Madison Square Garden) and like her mother qualified for the ASPCA McClay Finals. Quite an accomplishment. Her own horses, Keiko, Linus and Mickey Mouse anxiously await her return from college to Cane Creek Farm for the summer.
After consulting with her mentor, Kelly Kocher in Tryon, Nicole made some financial decisions. She decided to increase the number of classes and riding programs available. Suitable school horses needed to be found. After-school programs would be important. Nicole wanted to share her love of riding with more students. She wanted them to feel the majesty of this beautiful animal by grooming it. caring for it, riding it, just loving it as she does. A student doesn’t have to board a horse to get instruction at Cane Creek. However, everyone who boards their horse must have lessons there. This is to be a training facility for hunters and jumpers; it is not for trail riding.
So how has this all worked out? The business has grown and improved steadily. There is always something that needs attention. Weather related problems can cause chaos. High temperature changes in a short period of time — say 17 degrees to 80 degrees in a day– can be a monumental problem. Then if the horses’ water should freeze, someone must deal with that quickly. Nicole and her staff have been able to make a number of needed improvements over the years, including building new jumps, fixing the heat pump, putting in the gazebo, rearranging the pastures and painting continuously.
She has upgraded many aspects of the Equestrian Center. “I have been able to put a lot back into the farm, which gives me great pride. We changed the layout of the outdoor pastures. And we certainly have had a number of unexpected surprises along the way, but somehow we managed to overcome the difficulties. The slow economy has dramatically changed certain aspects of the business. Selling horses is more difficult than it used to be five years ago. And the upkeep of a horse seems much more expensive than it was–in comparison.” Nicole is sometimes surprised that others don’t share her passion and her love of riding and horses. “I shouldn’t be shocked, but nevertheless I am. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would get into this business, but I love every day that I am here. I hope it continues for a very long time.”