Sightseeing by Saddle
Get off the beaten path with these horseback riding companies
By Marlowe Hast
If you’re yearning to get away from it all, there’s just nothing like putting on a brimmed hat, swinging your leg over a horse, and getting out into the wilderness. It compels you slow down and find a new perspective, as the rhythm of the trail sets the pace.
Horses are a part of life for many along the Central Coast, and visitors — both experienced riders and beginners — have several options to experience that lifestyle by trekking out into wild places. Here are three from each county to get you started on your outdoor adventures.
Ojai Valley Trail Riding Company
Sue Gruber owns and operates Ojai Valley Trail Riding Company, based at the casual, picturesque Oso Ranch on the western edge of the Ojai Valley. She offers trail rides through the Ventura River Preserve, which encompasses 1,600 acres of land protected by the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy. Sue’s trusty steeds help ensure a trail ride that will build lasting memories through this beautiful, rural area.
Riding in the Preserve any time of day will provide fantastic views of the mountains that surround Ojai — particularly its famous Topa Topa mountains on the East End. With sunset rides, you’ll have an opportunity to see the renowned Pink Moment from horseback, as the sun dips behind the southern tip of the Santa Ynez Mountains and turns the valley a rosy pink.
Sue can take single riders, couples, families, and groups. “We can take anywhere from one person to about 15,” Sue said. “We have some families that come every year for a large family reunion, and we get to be a part of that.”
She loves making these types of connections and memories, and Ojai is a great place to do that. Although it’s been put on the map in recent years with its budding tourism industry, “It turns out we are quite the old-fashioned little town still, compared to most of Southern California,” said Sue. “We are also quite the equestrian town. I think people like the slow-paced ride to sort of slow down and enjoy the scenery on horseback.”
Back at the ranch, visitors can spend time with Oso’s many other residents. “Perhaps a foal, or a new mini horse, or a baby cow to nurse or pet,” Sue said. “The pigs always love a scratch. Or perhaps the children will get a feather from the resident peacock! It’s just a grand life that I love to share!”
Day rides and sunset rides are available for ages 6 and older (minimum height of 47 inches).
For rates and more: (805) 890-9340, Susan@OjaiValleyTrailRidingCompany.com, or ojaivalleytrailridingcompany.com
Circle Bar B Stables
Santa Barbara County
In between the rugged mountains of the coast and the gently rolling hills of the Santa Ynez Valley lies Circle Bar B Stables. A full-service dude ranch in Goleta for more than 80 years, Circle Bar B offers cabins, trail rides, spa sessions, and plenty of space to unwind, topped off with dinner and a tasty homestyle breakfast for overnight guests. It can make a perfect centerpiece to a wine tasting or spa getaway.
The idyllic stables are nestled into the canyons north of the Gaviota coastline, with views of the Pacific Ocean. Private and group rides are offered, as are part- and full-day excursions. If you want to make the ranch your destination, comfortable cabins are available for a longer stay. Full spa services with a Western town feel complete the vacation experience.
With Solvang and Santa Ynez to the north and Refugio State Beach just down the hill, the Circle Bar B is a great spot to pull off your boots, flip flops, or hiking shoes and listen to the horses chewing their hay.
For reservations and more, see circlebarb.com or call (805) 968-1113
Central Coast Trailrides
San Luis Obispo County
As the 101 dips into San Luis Obispo County, it curves through the small town of Santa Margarita. There, Central Coast Trailrides has horseback riding on meandering trails through open meadows, oak woodlands, and a working cattle ranch. This longtime family-owned outfit allows for a unique riding experience, whether it’s a standard trail ride or a customized adventure combining wine tasting and/or dining. The typical ride for any riding level is about one hour, with a ride on steeper terrain taking just under two hours for more experienced riders.
“We get to explore some of the most beautiful ranches, vineyards, and properties throughout the Central Coast on horseback,” said Brian Hallett, owner and operator with his wife Crystal. Visitors can book rides at various locations including Santa Margarita Ranch and Cass Vineyards in Paso Robles, as well as other wineries and ranches in the area.
“The mobile aspect of our business and the exclusive access to multiple private properties is very rare for this type of business,” said Brian. Because they can offer various locations, guests returning to the area can have different experiences each time.
Coordinating all of this, of course, takes some planning, so be sure to contact the Hallets in advance of your trip so they can provide the best possible experience. Each ride is tailored to the specific riders; they take detailed rider info which allows them to pair each person with the best horse and saddle for their size, level of experience, and more. Have a special event coming up? Central Coast Trailrides can help with planning wedding proposal rides, family reunions, and corporate events.
Brian said their entire family is dedicated to this equestrian lifestyle of living and working with horses. “Being able to do this for a living is pretty unique and special for our family and our wranglers. And being a completely mobile business keeps things interesting day in and day out.”
Managing 35-plus horses, and several wranglers, means that the Hallets generally don’t venture far from home. But they don’t see that as a bad thing. “We haven’t traveled much in life and probably won’t get the opportunity in the near future, due to the dedication to the business, but we’re pretty sure we live in one of the best places on Earth,” said Brian.
Their vast customer base, which draws travelers from all over the world, seems to back up that sentiment. “We’ve hosted rides for guests from all over, including many from Europe, Iceland, Greenland, Australia, and Hong Kong just recently, as well as a steady flow from the East Coast.” The Central Coast Trailrides staff, Brian added, enjoys sharing the “laid back attitude and kindness of the locals” with visitors who are drawn to the region’s world-class wines and natural beauty.
For reservations and more, visit cctrailrides.com or call (805) 610-1306