Utopia with Horses

In his 1933 novel Lost Horizon, James Hilton described an imaginary Himalayan valley called Shangri-La. Sheltered from the rest of the world, the people of Shangri-La live harmoniously and happily. They live far beyond the typical lifespan, and they don’t age like the rest of us. In short, Shangri-La is utopia, the kind of mythical land humans have always dreamed of but never managed to create or find.


My Shangrila lies closer than the Himalayas. It’s an hour-plus drive up 29 North from Greensboro, in Halifax County, a verdant stretch of southern Virginia marked by hay fields, low-slung homes, and tumbledown tobacco cabins.

I’ve been coming to Shangrila Guest Ranch for nearly four years—long enough to see its owners, Gary and Julie Holmes, double their offspring. Long enough to dream about someday buying a patch of land near Shangrila. Long enough to feel like this is my second home.

My other favorite horse people, James and Kate Cooler, have also fallen in love with Shangrila. This past weekend marked their third natural horsemanship clinic at the guest ranch. Reggie, Greg, Sharon, Bambi, Mena, Lisa, Nancy, Alan, and Jessica all brought their horses for two days of groundplay, saddleplay, and trail riding. Scrambled eggs fresh from the hen house, s’mores by the campfire, and cow roping lessons were bonuses.

The weekend gave me a lot of opportunities to play with my new Canon EOS Rebel T3i, doing my best to capture utopia.

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