At the age of 5, Helen Messenger decided to run away. It wasn't the lure of Hollywood stardom or the call of the big city that drew her: it was the gentle demeanor of a horse pulling a wagon full of goods for sale. After that first encounter, Messenger's passion for horses melded with her eventual career as a pediatric nurse working with children and adults with special needs. As the president and founder of Mesa Vista Therapeutics (MVT), she introduces people of all ages and abilities to the joys of horseback riding. Messenger has partnered with veterinarian Dr. Courtney Belden, equine enthusiast Caitlin Woolwine, and massage therapy and acupuncture practitioners who cater to the needs of both horses and humans.
At MVT's SAS Center—a riding facility with an outdoor arena, indoor ring, 20 stalls, and two viewing areas—instructors train people with and without conditions such as autism, cerebral palsy, and spinal-cord injuries in the basics of riding. Therapeutic lessons help to improve riders' range of motion, muscle tone, balance, and self-confidence. The MVT program has participated in Special Olympics Virginia and Therapeutic Riding Association of Virginia horse shows, and is a North American Riding for the Handicapped Association–certified center.
The team also offers advanced instruction in hunter-seat, dressage, and Western riding, as well as boarding services for horses or motorcycles with active imaginations. As a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, the compassionate team relies upon the generosity of volunteers and community donors.
Campbell Springs Farm’s expansive facilities were designed to help humans and horses collaborate in jumping, hunting, and the Olympic sport of eventing. Half-hour lessons, taught by an experienced and safety-conscious staff, emphasize the english saddle and its requirement for harmony between wearer and sitter. Beginners will walk and trot a horse around a ring, and intermediates can master the canter and get a go at jumping cross rails. Riders with experience and horse sense can gallop across the farm’s scenic course, cultivate skills such as dressage and jumping for advanced competitions, or practice the tricky transition from horse-led carriage to horse-led pumpkin. Students are welcome to bring their budding Seabiscuit for a joint learning experience, or ride a trusty steed from the farm’s ample stable.
Locally owned and operated for 38 years, Pine Hollow Nurseries attracts green thumbs with a seasonal selection of locally grown plants, trees, shrubs, and flowers, as well as gardening and landscaping necessities. The neatly manicured outdoor space houses a plethora of vegetation carefully selected for climate compatibility, such as weeping cherry trees, holly shrubs ($24.99+), and gold-cypress shrubs. Pine Hollow's new greenhouse provides ample shade to plant varieties that forgot to bring sunscreen. Surprise a garden-gnome nephew with brightly colored annual flowers ($1.20+) or browse Pine Hollow's decorative stone ornaments for one's own pad. The nurseries also stock tools and products needed to spruce up neglected garden beds and lackluster lawns, including mulch, weed killer, cement fixtures, and pesticides.
Cooke’s Gardens helps yard guardians transform dirt patches into bloom bastions with a wide selection of flowers, shrubs, and green-thumb supplies. Kick-start springtime by lining garden and bunk beds with marigolds, petunias, and other annuals ($19.99+/flat). Infusing the lawn with grass seed makes neighbors’ mowers green with envy ($13.99+), and a fresh crop of tomatoes and peppers sustains salads all summer ($19.99+/flat). Cooks can add a personalized flavor to recipes by harvesting their own fresh basil, dill, and oregano ($3.99+), and local kittens will pounce upon yards trimmed with catnip ($3.99+) and dog-shoo. Visitors seeking trees and shrubs can also chat up one of the staff’s savvy horticulturalists, who will locate the latest arrivals and explain how a green thumb can help when hitchhiking near tractor drivers.