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Horsin around the High Country
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A very wise man who happens to own one of my favorite hideaways in the North Carolina High Country once told me, “You need a horse in the mountains the same way you need a boat in the Lowcountry.”

Not too long ago, my Beloved and I put our friend’s theory to the test.

Ah, but why write about this now, you may ask. Isn’t it old news?

No. For one, everyone loves to talk about their vacation; besides, I need a tax write off. But more important, as I write this on a chilly, rainy day nearly two months later, I realize I am not only dreaming of a white Christmas with long mountain views, but I’m missing the decadent leather sofas and magnificent stone fireplace of Treehaven, possibly the most understatedly spectacular home I’ve ever had the pleasure of enjoying. From the hot tub views of Grandfather Mountain sunsets to the tiniest whimsical details in the home itself, Treehaven is an amazing getaway. It’s gorgeous, comfortable, reasonably priced -- and pet friendly, too. I defy anyone to find anything as nice, especially in that neck of the woods.

But back to horses and mountains; this was something I had never considered. In fact, I had not been anywhere near a horse for nearly two decades.

I don’t know why -- I’ve always liked horses -- but I think part of my hesitation from this phenomenon of freshly entered middle age where much of my backside seems to have disappeared. Maybe all that padding migrated to the other side of my jeans, or maybe it took up residence under my chin. All I know is, they don’t call me “Old Crack in the Back” for nothing.

But I digress…

What this progressive gluteal erosion means is time I spend in the saddle equals heavy self-medication later to keep from having to walk like the Jolly Green Giant just checked my prostate.

Still, we wanted to do something different, and I figured a middlin’ case of acute fanny fatigue would be a small price to pay for a new memory.

So it was that on an almost perfect autumn afternoon we found ourselves enjoying some of the most spectacular views in the Blue Ridge. You can almost feel the spirit of Daniel Boone overtake your soul. If there weren’t the occasional contrail in the sky and you weren’t wearing Tony Lama boots and LL Bean sweaters and hadn’t arrived in a Subaru Outback, you might be back in 1760.

This place is called Dutch Creek Trails and it consists of 132 acres near Valle Crucis, not too far from the Blue Ridge Parkway, Boone and Blowing Rock. A close-knit family of hail-fellow-well-met characters -- headed up by honest to goodness cowboy Keith Ward and his wife, Tammy -- own and operate this spread. For 50 bucks, you’ll enjoy an old fashioned hayride across a beautiful pasture, followed by a guided trail ride through some of the loveliest terrain to be found anywhere on the planet.

They’ll go almost any time, drawing the line only in severe conditions. As Travis Ward says, “If you’re dumb enough to want to go riding in that kind of weather, I’m dumb enough to take you.”

The best part is that virtually anyone of almost skill level can go -- the horses, like their human counterparts are stalwart, gentle, friendly, knowledgeable, and possessed of good senses of humor. The ride lasts a little over an hour -- just enough to get a real taste of the experience but not so much that “Old Crack in the Back” spends the rest of his vacation in traction.

You never know whom you’ll run across on the trail, either. Several critters visited us, including a huge white tail buck that charged right up what looked to me like the side of a cliff, and a pileated woodpecker followed us for about the first half hour, laughing maniacally and blissfully banging his head on trees the whole time.

One point my equine friend Blackjack quickly made to me was that she really didn’t need my help navigating the trail; all I really had to do was sit back and enjoy the trip.

Between Blackjack’s steady, sure-footed stroll and our guide’s entertaining stories and knowledgeable commentary and direction, the time passed far too quickly. And yet, by the time we were done, I knew my afternoon in the saddle was just about perfect.

I’d recommend the Wards and Dutch Creek Trails to anyone.

And the hot tub at Treehaven was a nice touch in the end. Literally.

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