Story by Tori Rogers
Photos by Jenny Tolep & courtesy of Mimi Paixao
A picture-perfect green landscape is dotted with grape-bearing vines as horses whinny and walk along the dusty path, led by Mimi Paixao. Looking like a postcard from another time, the Vineyard Trail takes visitors on an outdoor adventure. Rebel’s Run is about 45 minutes from Harrisonburg, Va., situated at the base of Afton Mountain. It was founded three years ago by Paixao. Inspired by her passion for horses and the outdoors at a young age, Paixao decided to create a stable as a place to live out her dreams.
She began Rebel’s Run after purchasing a horse, Rebel, from a farm in Bedford, Va. Staying true to his name, Rebel broke out of his pasture less than 24 hours after coming to Afton, Va. Two days of looking nonstop yielded no results, so a search-and-rescue team was enlisted to help find Rebel. “They suggested Rebel might be headed to his old home in Bedford since horses are migratory animals,” said Paixao. “I didn’t think it was possible since home for Rebel was 90 miles away.”
The next day, the search team found Rebel along the Blue Ridge Parkway running through the grassy median headed toward his old home. Rebel had made it more than 35 miles back. Dedicated to her horses, Paixao wanted to make Rebel’s Run her own. “It was important to me that my horses did not look like your typical trail horses you see on vacation. Run down, old, lazy, not well-cared for,” Paixao explained. Starting her day at 5:30 a.m. and ending well into the evening, she works hard to make the trails a place others will want to come and enjoy the outdoors. The Vineyard Trail, along with two others, the Summit Ride and the Valley Ride, form Rebel’s Run.
The Vineyard Trail is a relaxing and beautiful trek through the mountain landscape leading to the Afton Mountain Vineyards. Once there, guests can take a trip down to the tasting room to try a variety of wines or enjoy local fare and gorgeous views down by the lake. Both the Vineyard Trail and the Valley Ride were created and maintained by Paixao. She plans to add a second vineyard trail that would include stops at two different local vineyards.
“Every trail ride is memorable. I’m a people person. I love meeting new people, and I’ve met the nicest people on my rides! I always hear the most interesting stories,” Paixao said. In addition to creating her own trails, Paixao also trains her own horses. They can handle even the most inexperienced beginners and are trained to always follow Rebel, their trail leader. From Cisco, a buckskin gelding with a slightly mischievous temperament, to Cheyenne, a beautiful brown mare who is proud and confident, each of the seven horses at Rebel’s Run has a distinctive personality and physique. The first animal to greet visitors at Rebel’s Run is actually a large dog wagging his tail.
Part Bull Mastiff and part Great Dane, Jaxson is Paixao’s dog and right-hand man around Rebel’s Run. After being rescued from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal’s death row for bully breeds, Jaxson — Jax for short — came to be an essential part of Paixao’s life. Jax and the horses enjoy a love-hate relationship with each other. He sometimes barks to assert himself and the horses playfully nip in return. Full of both energy and excitement, Jax is never far from Paixao, choosing to follow her along every trail ride. “I couldn’t ask for a better barn dog, barn assistant and trail assistant. He accompanies me everywhere,” Paixao said. “He doesn’t need to be on a leash. He’s devoted like no other. I feel safer and I know the horses like having him accompany us as well while on the trail.”
Rebel’s Run showcases the Blue Ridge Mountains, which often are looked at from afar but not always appreciated. A quick drive away from the traffic lights and asphalt of the city, Paixao’s paradise brings back the simplicity of the outdoors that can be shared with a few beautiful horses.