WARRENVILLE — Valeria Beard just may be the luckiest person in Aiken County.

The horseman's Almost Heaven Stables has been a presence in the community for more than two decades. The equine facility that she runs with her husband Dennis has been located at its present location for the past 17 years, five minutes away from the Hitchcock Woods, or a short distance from her favorite restaurants.

An active horseman, Beard has reduced her responsibilities after having been diagnosed with a neuro-muscular disease, but it has in no way diminished her passion for her profession.

Beard still teaches riding lessons and gives trail rides, but the focus of the facility is transitioning to boarding and the leasing of horses. She discontinued her horse camp, has reduced the size of her barn from 17 to eight horses and decreased her number of students.

“I'm in semi-early retirement,” said Beard, who lives on the 55-acre farm with her husband. Her daughter, son-in-law and grand daughter also reside at the facility, in what she describes as their own town. “I still do the trail rides and lessons, but it's on a smaller scale. I used to do trail rides for 15 people, and now I don't do it for no more than four people at a time because I only have eight horses.”

The tranquil setting offers people an opportunity to take riding lessons or trail ride in a relaxed atmosphere. Beard believes horses are meant to run, and should be outside, and not confined to stalls. The transition to becoming more of a boarding facility allows Beard to still have a variety of horses at Almost Heaven.

“We love the horses and being able to take care of them, and we love the owners,” said Beard. “That's just the way we want to go. We have pastures and run-in shelters in every area. We don't believe in stalling a horse. We think a horse should be free to run. They have shelter, and they should come and go as they please. There are shavings in the shelter, and there are covered hay shelters that are matted.”

The facility itself is set on 26-acres, but offers 30-acres of fenced in trails, owned by the Beards. They host barrel racing events at their facility five times a year, with the next show scheduled for the first Saturday in October.

“The boarders have access to the trails, our round pen and obstacle course,” she said.

Beard used to teach as many as 25 children a week, but now has four students, with room for one more. The facility also has horses for lease for $250 a month.

“We have two horses available for lease, and, as long as the person is an experienced horseman, or takes lessons from me, and I know they're ready to take on that responsibility, they're eligible to lease a horse,” said Beard.

Riding lessons and trail rides at Almost Heaven Stables are $40 each. Those interested in trail riding should call a few days in advance.

“It's a guided trail ride, and the horses will be groomed, tacked up and ready to go upon the customer's arrival,” said Beard.

For more information about Almost Heaven Stables, call 803-663-3001 or visit almostheavenstables.com.

Ben Baugh has been covering the equine industry and equestrian sport for the Aiken Standard since 2004.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This version of this story has been updated to correct the cost of riding lessons and trail rides. The Aiken Standard regrets the error.