Appalachian Mountain Trail Riding

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When you think of West Virginia, you don't necessarily think of the great "Western" riding experience like you might find in the Rocky Mountains. Yet, when you visit Shalimar Farm in the heart of the West Virginia Appalachian mountain range, you get one of the greatest mountain riding experiences you'll ever encounter!

Owners Mickey and George Deike have created "heaven on earth" at Shalimar Farm. They have 900 private acres linked directly to the Monongahela National Forest, with more trails than a normal person could ride in a lifetime.

I've had the good fortune to visit Shalimar Farm on more than one occasion. Summertime was lush and cool, green, and breezy. I can't believe I spent years torturing myself in the hot, humid, sweltering North Carolina heat when we could have been riding in magnificent 75-degree days, with evenings cool enough for fleece. And I never knew there were that many stars in the sky. There are no words to describe that intense, utter beauty.

My first visit to Shalimar Farm was with a trailblazing girlfriend of mine. We left the well groomed, well marked trails and headed into the Monongahela Forest. I prefer nice, wide logging trails, but my adventure-seeking buddy just had to see what was at the top of the ridge-straight up the side of the mountain, of course.

Fortunately for me, my Spotted Saddle Horse, Bristol, is as game and surefooted as my friend's Tennessee Walking Horse. After a climb over logs, through bramble, and under mane-clutching branches, we found ourselves overlooking miles and miles of tree covered mountains. Not a road, a house, or a human footprint in sight. I found it hard to fathom that we stood less than 5 hours from Washington D.C. We'd been riding for over two hours at this point and hadn't encountered a single hiker, biker, jogger, or ATV. Even the horses seemed to enjoy the view as they pricked their ears and breathed in the clean mountain air.

Thank goodness my buddy is an experienced mountain girl and map-reader. Do not venture into the forest unprepared. A good understanding of a topographical map is critical, as well as the common-sense items, such as water, snacks, first aid kit (for you and your horse), and a waterproof jacket.

Back at the farm, our horses enjoyed a large, grassy paddock with their own automatic water trough and roomy run-in shed bedded with a thick layer of shavings. We brought our own grain, but didn't need any hay, as there was plenty of green, green grass.

One of the loveliest features of Shalimar Farm is the cozy cabins. After a long day in the saddle, I'm "all over" a hot shower and a big fluffy towel! Trackside, where we stayed, is equipped with a microwave, toaster, coffeemaker, and small refrigerator. We were able to prepare our own hot meal to go with that nice bottle of cabernet we'd packed. After some quality stargazing, it was time for a good book, clean sheets, and peaceful night's sleep.

On my next visit, I took my 12-year-old daughter and her little TWH mare. It was the end of September, and the intensity of the fall colors rivaled any New England pictorial. We took full advantage of the wonderful trail system that Mickey and George have created-covered bridges, a variety of natural and man-made jumps, gardens, creeks, and a variety of terrain, from open meadows to steep hillside climbs; there's extensive riding available for every level of trail rider. All trails are well marked with hand-made wooden signs, and a map is provided at check-in.

This time, we stayed in the cozy but elegant Blake House, which boasts a fully equipped kitchen, a wood-burning stone fireplace, a gorgeous antique canopy bed, and a front-porch swing. I only wish we'd had more time. Two days wasn't enough to experience it all-and we didn't even leave the farm!

Shalimar Farm sits right between the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank and the Snowshoe Mountain Resort (with great shops and restaurants). Book soon, they only take eight guests at a time!

For more information, contact Shalimar Farm, (304) 456-4852; www.shalimarfarm.com.

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