Your New Favorite Family Vacation

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Saddle Up

Ready to (horseback) ride? Atlanta-based mom Stacey Hasler tells you why a ranch in Madison, Georgia, has been her family's go-to vacation spot for eight years.

I'll admit it: Our family's horse-crazy! My husband, Jim, and I think there's nothing like being out in the country on your horse. So when we were planning our first big family vacation eight years ago, we wanted a place where you can really ride, not just follow the leader. We chose Southern Cross Guest Ranch because, in addition to its beautiful facilities and gentle horses, it truly is a family destination. Now we spend a week there at least once a year.

PLAY: Guests typically ride for two two-hour sessions each day. The equestrians at the ranch make horseback riding a cinch, even for rookies. If you've never ridden before, they'll teach you how to do everything (including gallop) and when you're not riding you can mountain bike, swim, or play games. It's definitely a ranch for horse-lovers though. When our daughters Sydney, 16, and Jessica, 15, aren't riding, they like to hang out with the young foals.

EAT: The kitchen is run by a fantastic cook known as Miss Inge -- her food rivals any fancy restaurant I've ever tried. The staff serves three meals a day buffet style in a homey dining hall. I've never had the same meal twice (the fruit smoothies at breakfast are the best). We like to sit in the back room and watch the horses run by.

STAY: We love the fact that every guest room on the ranch is different. When the girls were younger we stayed in the Red River room (it has a bed shaped like a covered wagon and is closest to the pool). In winter we ask for the Cattle Baron or the Charleston because each has a fireplace. And when we go in the spring we book the Savannah room because its porch offers the best view of the sunset.

THE TAKEAWAY: Sometimes the rush of everyday life gets in the way of family time, so taking our annual vacation is like hitting the reset button. We bond by helping one another get our horses ready every morning and then hitting the trails together.

NEED TO KNOW: The ranch is just outside the pretty town of Madison, Georgia. There are great antiques stores and more than 100 big plantation homes nearby (some of which are open to the public).

For more information: Southern Cross Guest Ranch, 1670 Bethany Church Rd., Madison, GA 30650; 706-342-8027; southcross.com.

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