CANAAN, Ind. - "We want people to come here as strangers, and leave as friends."
That statement by Shilo Farms owner Rod Asher completely sums up our latest adventure as part of TheStatehouseFile.com's summer series, "GO."
Shilo Farms is a horseback riding stable located in Canaan, Ind. - just northwest of Madison - that offers more than your typical nose-to-tail trail ride.
There are 13 horses on the farm and the Ashers already had our horses selected when we arrived.
Jesse would be riding Cruiser, a paint with brilliant blue eyes. My mount for the day was a dark brown Percheron-thoroughbred mix called Nuisance, so named because he liked to open gates.
We began the day by brushing our respective horses and getting comfortable around them. The next step was getting fitted for our saddles, followed by Rod giving us a crash course in how to properly saddle a horse.
We had both ridden some before, but we were given a brief refresher on controlling our horse before hitting the trail with Jenny.
As soon as we were on the trail, it quickly became obvious that this was going to be different than any commercial rides we had been on before. It was only the three of us - me, Jesse and Jenny - and we weren't forced to fall-in and walk single file. We were able to ride next to Jenny and hear her as she talked about everything from the history of the area to how she first started working with horses.
Apparently Jesse and I seemed to be fairly competent riders, because Jenny soon allowed us to trot and canter for a short section of the trail. It was fun getting our horses beyond the normal walking pace of your average trail ride.
We crossed a creek next, and walked our horses into some of the deeper pools to cool down and get a drink. I can't explain why, but for some reason it was just fun riding our horses into water deep enough that we had to lift our feet from the stirrups to keep our shoes dry.
We were soon back on the trail, winding through dense forest, farm fields, and wide open meadows filled with wildflowers. As we reached another straight, flat section of trail, Jenny asked us if we would like to run our horses again, and this time maybe let them open up a bit more.
Of course we said yes.
With just a gentle kick and click of the tongue, we spurred our horses forward. As they neared a gallop, we found the riding to be smoother and more fun than the jolting gait of the trot - although it also quickly became apparent this was not the time to fall off.
We made it easily, however, and soon reached our turn-around point where we again waded into the stream to water the horses.
The return trip was similar to the first half of our ride: Great conversation, beautiful scenery, and a chance to enjoy riding such a powerful animal.
When we reached the straight portions of the trail, we decided to really let our horses run, and for a brief second we felt like we were in the Kentucky Derby as Jesse and my horses raced side by side.
When we had finished our ride, the Ashers helped us dismount, and then graciously took us on a tour of the rest of their farm.
They have more than 100 chickens on the farm, both egg-layers and meat chickens. All of them are free-range and raised without any chemicals in their food. The Ashers said many of their trail ride customers also leave with a few dozen eggs.
Jesse and I had a fantastic day at Shilo Farms. The horses are beautiful and well taken care of, but what really made the experience for us was the Ashers themselves. I would be hard pressed to find two friendlier, better people. Rod and Jenny were courteous, extremely knowledgeable, and overall just came off as good people.
The ride itself was a blast, as we were finally able to live out every young boy's childhood dream of being a cowboy and riding his trusty steed into the sunset. No previous riding experience is required, and the Ashers said they enjoy having first-timers and that they can make sure a first horse experience is a good one. You can ride the horse at whatever speed is comfortable for you, whether that be a beginner's walk or a seasoned rider opening up to a full gallop.
Rides start out at $40 for one hour, with active duty military riding for free and their families at half price.
We decided to rate this a moderate adventure, in that you can choose how fast you want your horse to go and therefore how adventurous your ride actually is.
If you're looking for a great family adventure, in a beautiful setting, with wonderful people, this is the one for you.
See you out there.
John Sittler is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.