The Smartest Horse in the Sandhills

03 Dec 2020

Shiloh knows almost every street, straight or curvilinear, in Pinehurst

By RAY LINVILLE  »  Photos by Mollie Tobias

Don’t you enjoy watching tourists and out-of-towners marvel at the horse-drawn carriage as it slowly moves down a street in Pinehurst. Often on the steps of the Carolina Hotel, a guest remarks, “What a pretty black horse.” Then and there you can identify the locals. One usually doesn’t hesitate to answer back, “Oh, that’s Shiloh.”

The carriage tour is one of the best-known attractions in the Sandhills, and Shiloh is probably more famous than Annie Oakley, at least for the children who visit here like my granddaughter who is now five.

Every December when she arrives from western New York for a visit, seeing Shiloh is always at the top of the “to-do” list. She still has no appreciation for Donald Ross or James Walker Tufts — one day when older she might — but now for her, Shiloh is a rock star. (She also doesn’t know about Elvis yet either.)

Shiloh’s dark eyes are mesmerizing. One stare into them, you may begin to think that you can tell what the horse is thinking. Her mind and mood, however, are best read by Frank Riggs, Shiloh’s driver and the co-owner of Carriage Tours of Pinehurst Village, the business he started with Donna Evans, his partner, in 2002.

Riggs has worked with many animals during the more than 40 years he has conducted carriage tours, and Shiloh definitely is a favorite. Initially she alternated duties with Moonshine, a mule, but since 2012 she has been the only one to draw the carriage.

“Laid-back” is the best one-word term to describe her, he says. “She’s a very gentle horse, not afraid of anything. Shiloh enjoys her job. It’s so much easier than the work that she used to do.”

Like many residents in the Sandhills, Shiloh is a transplant. She immigrated to Pinehurst in 2006 from Ohio where she pulled a buggy and plow for an Amish farmer. “Moving here for Shiloh is like being retired. She doesn’t have to pull a plow anymore,” Riggs says.

Her proud parents were a Percheron (a large draft horse breed) and a Morgan (a smaller pleasure horse). Such crossbreeding is very common, particularly “among the Amish to produce a medium-size draft horse. It’s easier to work with, plus it eats less,” Riggs says.

Born in 2000, Shiloh is in very good health, he says. She looks lean and fit, although she tips the scales at almost 1,400 pounds. If she were a full Percheron, she’d literally weigh a ton (2,000 pounds) or more. The weight is well-distributed throughout her muscular frame.

Shiloh stands 16 hands high, with a hand being the standard unit of equine measurement in English-speaking countries and equal to four inches. A height is measured from the ground to a horse’s withers, the highest point of the skeleton that does not move (such as the neck or head).

Riggs relishes the role of driver, tour guide, and historian as he has lived in the Sandhills since 1970 and has been a witness to many significant changes. In contrast, Evans is more behind-the-scene but is indispensable for making sure that Shiloh is fed, groomed, dressed up, and ready to go on the town with the tours.

Riggs and Shiloh ply the streets of the village every day with their navy-blue carriage that seats four comfortably, but December is the busiest month. During a tour, which lasts about 30 minutes, passengers learn fascinating and little-known historical facts about Pinehurst as they ride by historic homes and explore charming streets in the main center of the village. Tours are available late afternoon or early evening, and customers are picked up at selected local hotels — Carolina Hotel, Holly Inn, Pine Crest Inn, and Magnolia Inn.

As we locals have navigated the winding streets that were designed by Frederick Law Olmstead to encourage exploration, many of us have explored more intersections than planned until we finally grasped the ingenious layout by the famous landscape architect. (Thanks so much, Olmstead!) However, Shiloh knows the village like the back of her horseshoe and has never been lost.

At the idea of her being lost, Riggs laughs and says: “Never. She’s been part of the tours since 2006 and can probably do them without me.”

Scheduling a carriage tour with Shiloh is easy, and because now is the peak season, I suggest calling a few days in advance.

Occasionally I walk to the Harness Track area for daily exercise. When I do, I have to make a diversion to Shiloh’s paddock and extend a greeting. I’m typically ignored, even though my words are softly and affectionately spoken. However, when I am accompanied by a small girl, the rock star recognizes a true fan and returns a gentle greeting.

Carriage Tours of Pinehurst Village

Call Frank Riggs at 910-690-4580 or
910-235-8456 (both are directed to his cell phone). If you have to leave a message, he’ll call back soon and can project his schedule for the next several days. He may suggest meeting at Carolina Hotel around the time that he has a tour booked to start, such as 5:30 or 6 p.m.

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