Turn off La Forest Lane in Concord onto the remote clay road leading to Michael Sherman's property and you'll come across three signs stuck in the ground after each curvy bend.
The first reads, Slow. The second, Slower. Farther down, it's Slower Still.
That is the pace Sherman welcomes now.
"I really missed the South. I forgot how the birds sound. I miss the trees. I feel so lucky to be here. I think because of my other life, I appreciate it more."
As he sits on an old splintered board swing hanging from a cedar tree, a horse clops by from behind the house, the way a dog would wander through a yard. Other horses munch clover along the fences in the pastures.
For the past 25 years, Sherman has owned Triple S Arabians stables, 27 acres of Concord untouched by development. Years back, the fields were dotted with cotton. Now horses do the same.
It's a far cry from the heaps of trash that met Sherman on the New York City streets in 1974, then a fresh-faced southern boy fixing to make it big in the theater.
A year out of Cabarrus Central High School, he nailed an audition to study at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, where Robert Redford had once attended.
Watch old 1970's Dr. Pepper commercials, and you'll see Sherman dancing down the street, getting onto a city bus singing the famous "I'm a Pepper" jingle. Those were his heydays.
Soon after arriving, he signed with an agent and began making a small fortune in his niche, print advertisements, something he had experience doing in Concord.
Throughout high school, Sherman modeled children's pajamas, socks and tennis shoes for Sears, Belk and JCPenney catalogs, long after he was a juvenile. "I was a cute little boy. I never grew out of it. I've always looked 13."
Sherman, 56, always had horses. Both sets of grandparents had them, and his parents made sure he always had access to them. He would come home from Odell Elementary School to Sassy, his first horse.
Even during the years he spent in the Big Apple, he rode, befriending the police on horseback, who would occasionally let him trot through Central Park. "If you like horses, you find a way to ride."
A return home
After a decade in New York, Sherman returned to North Carolina at a time when a little understood disease now called AIDS, began devastating the theater business in the city.
Seeing agents, friends and coworkers die took its toll on the performer, who recalls singing at 15 funerals one week.
He came home to Concord, bought the stables, and settled into a quieter life, teaching riding lessons to 46 children each week.
Patience and balance
On this hot summer day, kids watch as Sherman stacks three smooth, flat, oval-shaped rocks on top of one another. The fourth rock, he attempts to balance perfectly perpendicular.
Two kids don't believe he can make them balance, but he does, with a little time, and they are clearly impressed.
"Horses will teach you patience," he said. Beyond that, training a massive animal to follow your commands gives a sense of accomplishment. "It gives you confidence. Once you have confidence, it goes into every part of your life."