Boys and dogs just need space. At Southern Cross Guest Ranch, there is no shortage of space for kids and animals to run around and enjoy, plus the horseback riding is pretty incredible too.
On a beautiful fall afternoon, at the invitation of owner Noel Detienne, we drove an hour and a half east of Atlanta to Madison Georgia to visit Southern Cross Guest Ranch. After turning off the busy Interstate 20 highway, we immediately began slowing down to the country pace, passing fields and dairy farms before turning at a modern looking church and then into the Southern Cross Guest Ranch. If it weren’t for GPS, we might have missed it. Instead of a big sign, it’s as if you are visiting your grandmother in the country, complete with various dogs running up to greet you and a comfortable cozy house with rocking chairs on the front porch.
The ranch is a family owned business, started by Noel’s mother Inga, a German immigrant. Originally the ranch was solely a breeding facility where people from all over the world came to purchase horses. Not finding suitable accommodations to suggest for her visitors to stay, Inga decided to open the guest ranch. With the slower economy, space has opened for day riders to visit the ranch and enjoy a day of riding without the time or expense of an overnight stay.
Horseback Riding at Southern Cross Guest Ranch
Numerous activities are available on this country lane, but it’s the horseback riding that takes center stage. Guests are invited to take two rides each day for two hours each. Day riders can choose between one and two hour rides either in the morning or afternoon. All riding levels are welcome. Experienced riders can choose to go off on their own after a brief introduction to the trails. Others follow experienced guides in groups based on skill level. Children must be at least 4 years old to ride and those under 8 ride double with an adult.
Horses at Southern Cross Guest Ranch
At Southern Cross, guests are involved in the entire process of riding. The barn manager helps select a horse with the appropriate temperament. With more than 200 horses on the property, there’s always a perfect fit. Animal lovers will appreciate that trail horses are saddled only when being ridden and rotated among the herd, so there is plenty of time for the horses to just be horses.
Once a horse is selected, guests take a lead and go to the pasture to get their steed. Back at the barn, clip the horse to the hitching post and grab a brush to brush him down before getting a saddle from the tack room. Guides put the bridle on and your ready to go. Once the group is assembled, it’s off to explore the more than 200 acres of woods and pasture. Since we’re somewhat unexperienced riders, our guide David was very careful to watch, especially my youngest, to make sure he was holding the reins correctly and the stirrups were fitted properly. We walked most of the way, but did trot a few times. David was careful to go only as far and as fast as the youngest was willing to go – even with the older ones cajoling him to pick up the pace.
Southern Cross Guest Ranch Trails
The wood trails were beautiful and we even passed a deer lunching along the path. Fall has been especially beautiful in Georgia this year and the brilliantly painted trees were a perfect backdrop for riding through the open pasture as the sun set and our long shadows looked like strange leggy monsters. After the ride, guests return the saddle and bridle, brush the horse down again and return him to the pasture.
Fueling Up at Southern Cross Guest Ranch
Meals at Southern Cross are served buffet style in the dining room and included in the overnight packages. Day guests have the option to add meals on to their afternoon. We had two delicious meals with a good variety of item to satisfy adults and picky kids. My oldest is still talking about the mac and cheese topped with bacon. Between meals, a soda fountain, homemade sweets and snacks are available.
Overnight Accommodations at Southern Cross Guest Ranch
Overnight guests at Southern Cross choose between 16 rooms rated from a category 1 to 5. We visited a few guest rooms and all looked comfortable. Category 5 rooms have a large jacuzzi tub and a fireplace.
Additional Activities at Southern Cross Guest Ranch
In addition to horseback riding, Southern Cross has a pool, outdoor jacuzzi, game room and TV room. There is also a lot of room to just relax. This is a place that just begs the parents to rock a bit on the porch while the kids play a mean game of hide and seek as the sun is setting over a pasture full of horses. For those who want more physical activity, guests can pick up a mountain bike to ride. My boys had a blast trying to jump small hills in the pasture while I watched from a small hill, taking pictures and enjoying the scenery. By the barn is a basketball net. In addition, there are plenty of ranch dogs and cats to play with on the property. My favorite was a large lab mix named Smokey Joe.
While the boys were really excited to ride bikes in the pasture, I loved just visiting with the horses after our ride. It’s obvious they are well cared for and loved. Walking close to the pasture gates, horses come up to say hello and garner a pet. There are all kinds including several young horses. In the afternoon we watched as the ranch hands brought in hay and oats. We grabbed a bit and fed it to the horse out of our hand while we petted their soft noses.
Southern Cross Guest Ranch is like the country house outside Atlanta that I’ve dreamed of having one day. Maybe I’ll just visit here instead.