The Essence of Horse Country

Equestrian dreams? Yes, please. City Life explores the horse-loving town of Middleburg, Va., with Salamander Resort and Spa as our guide.

It’s been a long day of connecting flights and dragging luggage through two major Canadian airports, and I’m finally here at the Salamander Resort and Spa in Middleburg, Va.

My trying commute is promptly made up for when I find myself on a leisurely walk to the resort’s on-site equestrian centre. As I stroll past the culinary garden, a scenic view of Virginia’s countryside unfolds, its rolling hills and green pastures making me feel like I’m walking into a storybook.

I’m soon greeted by Jennifer, the resort’s equestrian manager, who shows me the ropes of Equine Communication. She walks her 12-year-old horse, Stella, to an outdoor arena, where Jennifer spills the secrets that only true horse lovers know, like that you must speak to a horse with your body language instead of your words, and that horses feed off their riders’ energy.

“Horses teach you a lot about yourself,” says Jennifer. I experience this for myself when I’m introduced to Patrick, a 16-year-old gelding. After some hard work and guidance from Jennifer, the initially reluctant Patrick and I make friends. Once I’ve earned his trust, he follows me when I walk and even gives me an affectionate nuzzle. Jennifer was right — you really can learn a lot about yourself from a horse.

I go back to my room to get ready for my spa appointment. Yes, a spa appointment after a self-discovery lesson with horses. Can this weekend get any better? The answer is yes — yes, it can.

Just 12 hours ago I was waiting at the Montreal airport after missing my flight to Washington, D.C. Now I’m at the Salamander Spa, inhaling the aroma of pine-scented oil while being treated to a well-being massage. I’m in full relaxation mode.

Next, I head to the cooking studio for an interactive, hands-on culinary class, where my group and I learn to make Chicken Roulade using some of Virginia’s finest Piedmont ingredients.

As we sauté locally sourced herbs and spices, our friendly waitress pours me a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon from Virginia’s Barrel Oak Winery. As if its horse country wasn’t enough to make Middleburg charming, its favourable climate and rich agriculture make this part of Virginia the perfect spot for growing some of the finest wines in the U.S. And so, together with a glass of wine, I finish my dinner and head back to my room.

On the last day of my stay, I discover the history-packed downtown Middleburg before heading to my final activity, “twilight polo” — a summertime tradition in this small town. It’s exactly as it sounds: a polo match after the sun has set, taking place at the town’s Great Meadow. Salamander Resort has its own section at the event, with a privileged view of the track. Eventually, I break away from the celebratory atmosphere and head back to the resort with my group, singing along to “Bohemian Rhapsody” as we wind through the starlit streets of Middleburg.

On my commute back to the airport, I pass a few vineyards, catch glimpses of grazing horses and already begin to plan my next visit. Salamander Resort emanates the essence of Virginia’s countryside in the most lavish and luxurious way.

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Carlos A. Pinto

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