May 2018

A Horse to Water: Saddle up for a tour of the Lowcountry’s equestrian lifestyle

Author: Barry Kaufman | Photographer: M.Kat Photography

Opening a small gate just to the side of the white picket fence that separates the main barn from the rest of Lawton Stables, General Manager Haley Zimmerman glides over pavers on a tour of the facilities. To the other side of a split-rail fence, a horse lazily circles a field, nosing some grass under clear blue skies and swishing its tail in contentment.

“This side is for private horse boarding,” she says, stepping through. “All the horses you see over here (there are 19 of them) and we are full right now. We have 21 more living in the other barn.”

All told, those horses joined five ponies, 20 privately owned horses, and Sea Pines’ famed Clydesdale Harley in an equine menagerie that puts back somewhere in the neighborhood of 325 bales of hay a week.

The two sides to this barn, and the equestrian trails that snake throughout Sea Pines, form one of the foundations of this popular resort. The global reputation of Sea Pines was built on golf and tennis, but few can argue that among its most iconic images are happy tourists mounted on horseback as they traverse the grounds. Which is why it came as such a shock when, following the sale of Lawton Stables, the local rumor mill began circulating whispers that the stables might be turned into tennis courts. Let the record show, the rumor mill was wrong on this one.

“Other than a fresh coat of paint in the barn, which looks wonderful, and some landscaping things, we’re just trying to get ready for summer so we can really buckle down and get some good trail rides out there. We work well with the resort, of course … we just really love it here,” Zimmerman said. “People come here, and they just love it; some people come year after year and some of them it’s their first time ever on a horse. We took out a lot of first-timers this morning, and they’re nervous at the beginning. But by the end, they’re chatting and laughing and just having a good time. That’s what we want to do here. We want to make sure they have a good experience and that the horses have a good life.”

Lawton Stables not only adds a new dimension to the visitor experience, its presence also underscores an entire equestrian lifestyle that has soared in popularity across the Lowcountry. Anymore, trails and boarding facilities are joining tennis courts and golf courses as must-have amenities. Not only will you find private stables in scores of gated communities from Sea Pines to 170, you’ll also find communities like The Paddocks that seem to have been built around the sport.

Jennifer Bell lives in The Paddocks, drawn by easy access to Driftwood Stables and its network of trails after living in Indigo Run for 10 years.


Jill Green, manager of Moss Creek Equestrian Center.

“The stables themselves are owned by Tim Wright, the developer, so they’re not part of the HOA. But there is an easement through the neighborhood where you can ride on trails, and it’s very much a part of the neighborhood,” Bell said. While Bell doesn’t ride, her daughters have leaned into the equestrian experience. “It’s part of why we moved over here, because we’ve been on the island for almost 15 years, and I think the kids were just getting a little restless. This has given a lot of opportunity for them to roam over here. It’s a little more rural than other parts, so they can walk to the stables and ride and take lessons.”

While The Paddocks was built around an equestrian experience, some of the island’s most storied communities have recognized the appeal of horseback riding and boarding. Moss Creek has long served as the island’s front porch, with each new arrival driving past those long split-rail fences and marveling at the beautiful horses within.

“It is a showpiece; it’s eye candy for 278,” said Jill Green, manager of Moss Creek’s equestrian center. “People that don’t even ride horses come in and say, ‘I can’t tell you how this affects my day.’ When I pull in, and I drive past the horses, people stop and pet them and take a picture.”

The equestrian center’s 14 stalls house a mix of resident and guest horses, and its core of riders offer lessons for every skill level. While you’re here, you can even meet Green’s horse, Mouse (“He’s huge,” Green said with a laugh. “It’s a bit of a misnomer.”) Set among the twisting trunks of an old pecan grove, the equestrian center at Moss Creek has been part of the community’s fabric since the beginning.

“It’s an active barn. There are some barns that take horses for the sake of retirement or other purposes, but most of the people who have their horses here, they ride them; they take lessons; they’re generally interested in competing,” Green said.


Shanna Sullivan enjoys a ride through Spring Island with Apache.

Spring Island’s famed equestrian center encompasses 31 acres of lush maritime forests and vast green fields. The many horses boarded there enjoy 30 miles of trails that snake in and around this bucolic and tranquil community. Even with access to these facilities, some residents chose to build their own — some, despite not being into horses.

“I was never a horse person,” said Spring Island resident Shanna Sullivan. “Big horses scared the living daylights out of me.”

Despite her fears, Sullivan soon found herself drawn to the robust equestrian lifestyle at Spring Island. She found a compromise that allowed her to meander among the miles of trails with a trio of miniature horses named Sport, Apache and Harry Spotter. Each horse drives his own miniature carriage and lives in a barn on Sullivan’s property.

“It’s just been so much fun, incredibly so much fun, and a whole element of my life that I never thought was even possible way back when,” she said. “Spring Island has been such a wonderful place to do it. People are great, the trails are wonderful, and everyone is considerate of one another.”

And that sense of community has attracted some big names to the area. Hall of Fame jockey Eddie Maple is perhaps best known for riding Secretariat on the legendary thoroughbred’s final ride, but locals are far more likely to see him running the stables at Rose Hill.

“We knew that there were equestrian places down here. We were familiar with Aiken at the time; we were familiar with Camden, both being just a few hours away,” Maple said of his decision to move to the Lowcountry.

He’s not alone in this decision. For one reason or another, the Lowcountry’s stock as an equestrian destination has soared in recent years. “People settle in this area quite a bit from different parts of the country, and a lot of them have horses,” he said. “Just like you get a fair amount of people that come down here to retire to play golf, and the wives and daughters have horses to ride, so they need places to stay.”

There’s an undeniable appeal to the Lowcountry for those with an equestrian fascination. Many of the horse owners, boarders, trainers and experts of the Lowcountry would agree.
“There are a lot of opportunities,” Sullivan said. “I think the majority of people here have had horses in their past, and so this is just a continuation for them of their passion from earlier on.”


Carrie Lukach and Harry Spotter head out for the trails on Spring Island.

“Full-service equestrian facilities with arenas — not just a place to leave your horse — that offer training and boarding programs, are more in demand now than they’ve ever been,” Green echoed.

“Also, we don’t have the terrible winters down here, and I just think that the people have flocked to this area for fun,” Zimmerman said. “They want to come, ride their horses, have them with them and just enjoy them.”

Whatever the reason, they’re here now. And the trails they have blazed have added an entirely new dimension to our Lowcountry home.

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