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I've known Melanie most of my life, her sister and I were best friends growing up together in Parker, TX. Later in life, Melanie discovered her love of horses and now operates Lone Star Vaulters in Manchaca, TX. She also has an adventurous spirit like me so when she mentioned that she was headed to Sister Creek Ranch in Sisterdale, TX for a weekend of horseback riding with a bunch of friends - I had to invite myself!

My youngest daughter and I loaded up Tanner Roo and Tan Tan, our trusted buckskin steeds, and drove 6 hours south via Hwy 281 through Hamilton, Burnet, Blanco, Kenedalia and finally Sisterdale.

"Look for the chuckwagon out front," Trish the general manager told us as we slowly made our way down CR 1376 to the entrance of the ranch. Boom, there it was, as was the wide open expanse of the Texas Hill Country. We pulled in the security gate, crossed over Sister Creek and parked at the RV hookups as we were sleeping in our LQ horse trailer. Easily accessible, the hookups have electricity (30 amp) and water but no dump stations. There are picnic tables and fire pits on a hill overlooking the crystal clear waters of the creek. The horse pens are covered and well situated next to the hookups, all you need are buckets and hay bags for your horses.

The most amazing surprise was the little western town called Kickback Flats built around the main operation of the Tennessee Walking Horse farm. There are two rustic cabins that sleep anywhere from 2-6 people with a fire pit and nature trail full of tantalizing artwork nestled among the trees. Emblazoned rock art reminds you to "breathe, stretch, relax and feel."

The first day we rode the PG-13 trail, an easy 90 minute trail at the base of the mountain. The second morning we traversed a little further on the trail as there were 10 of us riding together. PG-13 is an easy ride and anyone can enjoy the terrain. The second day we ventured upward to Moon Rock and Pop Rock where there is a labyrinth you can ride your horse through as well as stunning views of the Texas Hill Country. After each ride, we raced back to the western town as we didn't want to be late for meals -- you do not want to be late for Chef Jake's culinary delights!

Masterchef's own Jake Gandolfo is resident chef at Sister Creek Ranch. He was a finalist on the Food Network's popular "MasterChef" show and as he puts it, "The show really allowed me to come out of the culinary closet,” says Gandolfo. He is the master at Sniffy's, the hub of Kickback Flats. Meal times are serious and if you are late, you lose!

My favorite meal was his sirloin, sausage, brisket meatloaf with whipped potatoes and steamed asparagus. Locally sourced and all organic, the portions are perfect just enough food to get you on your way to the next trail ride. We enjoyed crustless quiche, homemade chicken pot pie, chicken marsala and THE best bread pudding I have ever experienced in my life. And the beauty of Jake, he is thrilled to share his recipes with you. I came home with the bread pudding recipe and Chef Jake made me promise I would send him a photo of my creation at home.

Owners Bruce and Beth Johnson are gracious hosts serving up cocktails and providing soulful guitar music as well. They have a great system for cocktails - when you order a beer, wine or spirit, you put a bean in your shot glass. You settle up the bill your final day depending on how many beans are in your shot glass.

I feel renewed after my weekend with Mel, my daughter and my new friends. Thanks Leslie and John for letting me ride your Tennessee Walking Horse Domino, thank you Diana for the stimulating conversation up to Pop Rock trailhead, and Happy Birthday Pat, so glad we could share it with you.

Happy Trails!

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