In an age before smartphones and web searches, inspiration came from sporadic calls to the landline.
Pam Grimes worked in the barn while her mom, Rose, ventured into the house to pick up the phone. An entrepreneurial idea basically fell into the family’s lap. Maybe horses and history could be a good match.
The Grimes were ready to try something new. They were breeding horses and selling them for reining at the time. It wasn’t working out too well.
“We just weren’t making any money,” Pam Grimes said. “We were losing money actually.”
The good news was Hickory Hollow Farm was located in a tourism hot spot. Those phone calls were from potential customers who were hoping to ride through scenic Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
Everything the family needed to launch a thriving business was in their backyard. They decided to make a switch.
“Because of where we are, it seemed popular to tourists,” Grimes said. “So my mom just said one day, ‘Why don’t we sell these broodmares and buy horses and start a trail riding company?’ I was like, ‘OK, I guess we can do that.’ That’s how it started.”
That was in the mid-1980s. The business is still going strong.
Hickory Hollow Farm is a family-run horseback riding operation that takes visitors through the Gettysburg battlefield.
Tours are offered on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays through Sundays each week from April through October. Tourists have two choices. A ride with a licensed tour guide or a ride without the historic details.
Each tour has 10 or 11 patrons and three or four outriders. The farm’s website says riders travel from the Confederate Line to the Union Line and can learn details from the three days of battle. They’ll see the Virginia Monument, Spangler farm, Pickett’s Charge, the Pennsylvania Monument, Little Round Top and Big Round Top.
“I don’t go on all the rides but I’ve been doing it for a long time,” Grimes said. “I know a lot about the battlefield.”
Hickory Hollow Farm has a variety of horses on its 60-acre property. Tours are limited to twice a day in order to give the horses enough rest.
There’s a Palomino named Traveller, who was given to Grimes for free, a Percheron and Morgan cross named Levi, an Appaloosa mare named Pebbles, now retired, and many others among the herd.
It takes a certain type of horse to handle the job. Strong and relaxed are preferred traits.
“We like the quiet ones,” Grimes said. “We would never get a Thoroughbred or an Arabian and expect them to go down the trail. They’re more spirited. You want to make sure you have a horse that’s not going to be injured because somebody is too heavy.”
Grimes primarily acquires her horses through word of mouth and draft websites. One was actually bought through Craigslist.
The horses are chosen carefully. It’s important they like the work and have the temperament for it.
“We try them out ourselves,” Grimes said. “We always make sure the horse is just right for people to be able to trust them and take care of them. They are animals. They can have a bad day just like people. We’re constantly keeping an eye on their attitudes.”
Grimes was in her late teens and early 20s when the family transitioned from breeding to tourism. She never imagined how that change might alter the course of her life.
Hickory Hollow Farm has found a niche. It offers a specialty service.
“You can’t do what we give you unless you get your own horse, your own truck, your own trailer and you drive it to Gettysburg and ride it around,” Grimes said. “Even then people with their own horses are calling me to rent a tour guide. Riding around with your own horse, you don’t know what you’re looking at.”
This is a trip through history. The kind few others can provide.