The morning dawns cold and crisp. It's one of those fall mornings Katharine Hepburn would take about in her movies - horseback riding in October in Virginia - what could be a better way to spend a Saturday or Sunday?

Driving west on Route 50 a group of us head right into the heart of the Piedmont Hunt Country - Middleburg. Actually, about four miles west of Middleburg, to the Orchard Hill Riding Stable in Unison. Our guide is Marilyn Grubbs, who will take us through quaint little towns and beautiful woods ablaze with the red and gold of autumn.

The horses are lined up outside the barn, and Grubbs checks on our riding ability before assigning them. All are very manage able, but some more frisky. Experienced riders go for them and English saddles, while novices head toward the sedate steeds and Western saddles with the security of the horn. The horses seem oblivious to what's going on except for an occasional whinny and hoof-stomping, which causes some consternation among the novices.

We bring our own lunches and beverages. As they're stashed into the saddle bags, the horses snort at the extra burden but remain sedate as we mount. We line up, according to which horse follows the other hose better, and set out. The first leg of the trip winds through the small town of Unison. Cars occasionally pass, but ever so slowly. Beautiful homes dot the countryside, and cattle and sheep raise drowsy heads as we pass-well-tended farms.

Once in the woods we dismount for lunch and take in the beauty of the changing leaves. The horses contentedly munch on the grass. After a while the trip continues, winding around hills and sloshing over brooks.

All too soon the day draws to an end as the horses sense the barn is near and the pace picks up to a canter. We've covered about 15 miles in four or five hours, and everyone's a little sore as we unload gear from the saddle bags. But it's been a great way to enjoy the foothills of the Blue Ridge.

The fee for the day of riding is $15 per person. Reservations are needed in advance; call 703/554-8255. If several hours of riding is too strenuous, horses can be rented by the hour ($5 or $4 apiece for a group of 10 or more).

The following guide will give an idea of where to ride, take lessons or board your own horse in the area: