By Britney Grover
Only two cities in the United States have ever hosted Olympic equestrian events: Los Angeles, California, and Atlanta, Georgia, where they were held at the Georgia International Horse Park, newly constructed with the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games in mind. Ever since, Atlanta and the Horse Park have been a top horse show destination.
Helen Ballard is not a stranger to either top horse shows or Atlanta. Having lived in the Atlanta area off and on all her life, Helen grew up with ponies before showing hunter-jumpers. “I’ve ridden all my life,” she said, adding passionately, “I’m an avid equestrian.” Her daughter rode ponies and then junior hunters, so Helen traveled with her to all the top shows from indoors to Wellington. In 1983 Helen founded Ballard Designs, a very successful home décor business. With her history in the area, her love of horses and such impeccable taste, Helen is the perfect equestrian guide to Atlanta.
If shopping were a sport, Helen would be a grand prix competitor. She’s friends with the owners and designers of many top stores, like the Tilinskis of Bungalow Classic. “One of my favorite places to go shop is in the Westside. I love Bungalow Classic,” Helen said. Bungalow Classic, next door to Anthropologie, is a haven for antiques, home décor made from reclaimed materials, and other classic home furnishings including horse paintings and equestrian books, according to Helen. “Randy and Courtney have amazing style and grace as a couple.”
The Westside Provisions District is rife with top stores and restaurants — what Helen called an amazing area and the SoHo of Atlanta. “Two of the most stylish people, the most amazing family, in Atlanta are married and each have a store,” Helen explained of two similarly named stores in the District: Ann Mashburn and Sid Mashburn. “Ann Mashburn has a lot of really upscale clothes as well as inexpensive, classic shirts and pants that all fit into the equestrian style,” Helen said. “She was an editor at Vogue, and it’s just a really cool family: Her husband, Sid Mashburn, has this amazing men’s store. They make custom suits, sell great jeans and even have a ping-pong table in the middle of the store.”
Helen’s other favorite stores in the area include Peridot, specializing in gifts to suit just about anyone’s taste and created by Helen’s good friend Dina Woodruff. “One of the best new stores in Atlanta is Dixon Rye,” Helen said, where former West Elm style director Bradley Odom has created a home furnishing and design center with intention. A trip to Dixon Rye will result in unique finds and a one-of-a-kind experience, helping customers blend the rich Southern heritage of the area with their own personal lifestyles.
A short way away, Atlanta’s Buckhead district also hosts some of Helen’s top shopping choices. Those destinations include Huff Harrington, combination fine art gallery and home furnishings store, and Sabot, a mother-daughter boutique. “B.D. Jeffries sells clothes and antiques. Sloan Home is a little boutique that has a lot of equestrian art, and Erika Reade Ltd. sells tableware, jewelry and furniture,” said Helen. “They’re all three right together, but totally different stores. Then there’s a great Mexican restaurant right there, bartaco. They have the most incredible margaritas and tacos — gourmet tacos in a very casual environment.”
But tacos aren’t the only mouthwatering Buckhead fare. In 2014, the longstanding Sears, Roebuck & Co. building was reopened as Ponce City Market. The market has 259 residential flats, 550,000 square feet of office space and 300,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space. “The restaurants are amazing,” Helen said. “My favorite restaurants there are The Mercury, which has great cocktails; Dub’s Fish Camp for oysters, wings at Minero, the kale salad at Brezza Cucina, and Botiwalla.”
You don’t have to look far for a more high-class dining experience, either. “Right near there is one of my favorite fancy dining places, Le Bilboquet.” With its classic French dishes and authentic décor, Le Bilboquet offers a Parisian sidewalk café atmosphere. Umi is a modern Japanese sushi house that Helen calls very gourmet. Looking for more places to make reservations? Aria is an acclaimed modern American restaurant; savor traditional Italian food at Sotto Sotto; experience coastal European fare at St. Cecilia; partake of locally-grown produce at Restaurant Eugene. A fantastic entrepreneurial restaurant is Better Half, which Helen likes because it’s not only great Southern food but easy to get into.
If take-out is more your style, try Star Provisions. “Star Provisions has a bakery, and great sandwiches,” Helen shared. “They have a little cheese store with incredible cheeses, and one of the best coffee shops in Atlanta.” For healthy, inexpensive lunch dine-in or take-out, Helen’s favorite is Souper Jenny. With four Atlanta locations, Souper Jenny’s fresh menu changes daily, but includes soups, sandwiches and salads.
One Souper Jenny location is at the Atlanta History Center, a must-see on Helen’s visitor list. Take in Atlanta’s rich history with 33 acres of exhibits, gardens, family-friendly activities and historic houses like the Swan House, an Atlanta landmark and interactive glimpse into the wealthy 1930s lifestyle. Other top tourist destinations include the Atlanta Botanical Garden and SkyView Atlanta: view the city from a climate-controlled gondola aboard the 20-story Ferris wheel in Centennial Olympic Park.
When planning your stay in Atlanta, there are options for every budget — and imagination. Pamper yourself in the ultimate luxury of The St. Regis Atlanta, or the W Atlanta Downtown. “I think renting an AirStream and staying in Conyers would be fun,” said Helen, for those attending a horse show at the Horse Park. “Besides that, I’ve always wanted to stay in a tree house!” And, surprisingly, that is an option: head to Airbnb for more than one Swiss — or Atlantan — Family Robinson retreat. No matter where you choose to stay, Atlanta can be much more than a horse show destination — it can be the trip of a lifetime.
To start planning your Atlanta journey, visit www.atlanta.net.