Horse Country

For riders, breeders and spectators, it’s a mane attraction.

For golfers, this is it, of course - heaven on earth. But this is serious horse country too, a premier equestrian community thanks to the sandy soil and mild climate that combine to create one of the best places to raise, keep and ride horses. And folks have been doing just that for more than a century. It's a world of farriers and farms, riders and drivers, stables and saddleries, first-rate equestrian events and the simple elation of the wind through your hair.

Just saddle up and explore Moore County's miles of riding trails, and facilities such as the state-of-the-art Equestrian Center in the lakefront community of McLendon Hills (mclendonhills.com). When you're on horseback, trotting past thick stands of trees, your mind can't help but drift to a time when the land was mostly pure wilderness. Heck, when you're in the saddle, feet in stirrups, reins in hand, it's hard to believe things like mortgages and stock markets even exist. Our horse country stretches roughly from northeast Southern Pines to the borders of Fort Bragg, outside Fayetteville. The people who call the area home treat their horses like members of the family. Neighbors generally allow free passage for riders in exchange for the same courtesy, making for a much larger area to explore and fostering an incredibly close knit community. If a twilight ride ends early over a bottle of wine on a neighbor's back porch, so much the better.

Some of the most beautiful rides can be enjoyed on the more than 4,000 acres set aside by the Walthour-Moss Foundation (walthour -moss.org), just a mile outside Southern Pines. Essentially a vast nature preserve and wildlife sanctuary bordered by horse farms and laced with sandy lanes and trails, the area is open daily from sunrise to sunset.

If you don't ride, that doesn't mean you can't also enjoy equestrian life from other perspectives.  Carolina Horse Park (carolinahorsepark.com), between Aberdeen and Raeford, annually hosts the Stoneybrook Steeplechase as well as several dressage and other national and international competitions, which draw huge crowds of spectators. The steeplechase began in Southern Pines and will hold its 60th running on April 2. The Moore County Driving Club (moorecountydrivingclub.com) hosts an annual Christmas horse carriage parade through downtown Southern Pines that's one of the region's highlights of the holiday season.

And in the Village of Pinehurst, you can't overlook the historic Pinehurst Harness Track, a 111-acre equestrian center that opened in 1915. At this major winter training facility for Standardbreds (a nearby field often hosts polo matches), between October and May you can watch horses being put through their paces in the early morning while enjoying a hearty breakfast at the Pinehurst Track Restaurant.

Early morning training at the Harness Track.