A Program With Horse Power
By Tracey Moser
Mullet Hall Equestrian Center at Johns Island County Park in Charleston, S.C., is tucked within 738 acres of southern pines and moss-draped oaks, alongside open meadows and farm fields. This gem of a property was acquired by Charleston County Park & Recreation Commission (CCPRC) in 1994, and serves as host site to competitive horse shows, festivals, events, and exhibitions. The site also boasts approximately 20 miles of trails that wind through habitats of wild turkey, deer, bobcats, coyote, bald eagles, alligators, and other animals.
The property acquired the name from Thomas Mullet, its land owner from 1791 to 1793. Mullet was a book dealer in London, and no evidence exists that he ever inhabited the property. It is surmised that the subsequent owners—the Legare family—named the plantation “Mullet Hall” after its previous possessor.* Fast-forward 200 years, and the equestrian center got its start when South Carolina House Representative Lynn Seithel obtained $500,000 in state funds, and received technical assistance from Bob Bell of the Classic Company, LTD, a regional horseshow promoter. The site was designed by Jordan, Jones, and Goulding Inc., a landscape architectural and engineering firm.
Mullet Hall Equestrian Center amenities include:
- Four show rings
- One grass Grand Prix ring
- 40 acres of open grass fields
- Ample lunging areas
- Bleachers and judging stands
- Two 98-stall barns with water and electricity
- Two tent pads with water and electricity for temporary stalls
- Horse-washing stations
- A state-of-the-art sound system
- A show office
- Ample parking
- Trail access—accessible to trail-pass members on a year-round basis
- 30- and 50-amp camping hook-ups
Mullet Hall does not offer riding lessons, rentals, or boarding.
The grounds can handle a variety of equestrian-related activities, including shows, trail events, clinics, dressage jamborees, and camp-outs. To maximize usage of the facility, CCPRC programs and hosts other non-equestrian activities, such as cross-country meets, themed races, dog shows, and large special events. Mullet Hall is also the host site for the Lowcountry Fliers, a group passionate about flying remote-controlled planes.
One of the amenities most praised at Mullet Hall is the ring dirt. Assistant Manager Ray Tanner has been called the “Ring Doctor” and “Ring Magician” by visitors. Tanner says he can’t take all of the credit, however; he uses available coastal pluff mud and sand to create a competent footing surface. Another advantage to this mixture is that this Lowcountry dirt doesn’t stain horses’ hooves. Visitors frequently scoop up ring dirt and ask staff where they might buy it.
Mullet Hall offers one of the few public equestrian-trail systems in the Lowcountry. It was blazed with the help of Americorps and the Lowcountry Saddle Club (LSC). These rider-friendly trails are perfect for all ages and abilities, and 56 color-coded intersection signs guide visitors along the way. The trail is used by local therapeutic-riding groups, riding clubs, Girl Scouts, and Boy Scouts, as well as by the local mounted-police department. Future loop trails will be cleared within the park boundaries, running parallel to a saltwater marsh and tidal river. All trails are accessible to trail-pass members on a year-round basis. Currently, 142 active pass holders frequently ride through the property.
Mullet Hall is host to many types of equestrian events, such as trail rides; dressage, hunter/ jumper, and Western shows; horse-drawn carriage shows; clinics; and campouts. The largest of the horse shows is Bob Bell’s Charleston Summer Classic. This year’s event brought in 300 horses and more than 1,000 visitors from as far away as Florida and New Jersey.
Now in its 11 th year, the Harvest Fest is a celebration of good Southern food, games, music, and fun. Guests can do some early holiday shopping at the crafters market, dance to the beat of live bluegrass bands, decorate pumpkins, watch lasso demonstrations, and do much more.
The festival itself is preceded by a weekend trail ride for those who want to bring out their horses, do some camping, and spend time around a campfire with fellow equestrians.
To promote healthier lifestyles, CCPRC is adding more fitness races to the agency’s event calendar. Using the trail system, themed races are exposing county residents to a facility they may not have otherwise visited. The most successful races held thus far are the 5- and 10-mile “Mullet Haul.” Runners are encouraged to don “mullet” hair-dos or wigs, dress in their finest flannel or tank shirts, and hit the trails. It’s worth the trip just to see the garb.
Rural Charm Or Out-of-the-Way
One of the draws of the equestrian center is its location on Johns Island, a beautiful, laid-back haven with little commercial development. The beach is a stone’s throw away. If show participants choose not to stay at the on-site campground, they can spend their nights in resorts on nearby Kiawah and Seabrook islands. However, those wishing to stay in more economical lodging will have to leave Johns Island. The proximity to affordable overnight accommodations can have some attendees driving as many as 20 miles to and from hotels.
Like so many other managers in this business know, staffing an equestrian facility, with its grounds upkeep and long hours of multi-day shows, can be taxing. When asked how he maintains the schedule, Tanner replied, “We make it work because we love what we do.” Park Manager Phillip Eldred concurred, “I enjoy working with trainers and promoters, and all the things it takes to put on a good show. The best part of my job is getting to come to such a beautiful park each day to work.” The facility operates with three full-time employees, one year-round aide, and a core of loyal volunteers.
At the heart of the volunteer program is the LSC, a group originally formed to lobby for an equestrian facility in Charleston. In addition to time spent on trail work, the club was instrumental in establishing an area for camping. Tanner, a member of the LSC, started his relationship with CCPRC as a volunteer at Mullet Hall. Another group that has donated much labor is Blackbaud Inc., a locally based supplier of software and services for nonprofit organizations. Community-minded Blackbaud employees have worked at this site on multiple occasions to paint and spread gravel.
Additional amenities slated for the park in the near future include a covered arena with up to eight additional barns, new open-air and warm-up rings, a farrier station, a viewing tower, and additional trails. Many other facilities are included in the master plan, such as a tack shop, a permanent food-service structure, and shaded picnic spots.
The park is still in its infancy and has seemingly endless opportunities for growth. The next time you are in Charleston, give Phillip Eldred and Ray Tanner a call; they are always ready to give tours of the Mullet Hall Equestrian Center on Johns Island!
*From the Cultural Resources Survey of Mullet Hall Plantation, Johns Island, Charleston County, South Carolina. Prepared by: Michael Trinkley, Ph.D., RPA, Nicole Southerland and Sarah Fick
Tracey Moser is the Marketing Manager of the Charleston County Park & Recreation Commission. For more information, visit www.ccprc.com .