This guest blog is from an article in The Trailblazer Magazine. It is written by Susan Gibson and dedicated to my friend, author and editor Susan who lost her battle with cancer in 2015.
I have wanted to see Alisal Guest Ranch
…as a destination for over five years now, and my anticipate was very keen as Jody Miller and I from from Santa Barbara to Solvang, California. we drove the scenic back roads of Highway 154 (the San Marcos Pass), which showcased central California most splendid of oak trees and rolling fields sprinkled with wildflowers.
The feeling of tranquility starts to fill your senses and the hold of the fast pace and stress of work begins to melt away as you turn down the entrance to Alisal Ranch, thru a canopy of ancient sycamore trees above, and the green fields of sleeping horses and cattle on both sides.
Central California Guest Ranch.
Nestled in the Santa Ynez Valley and the renowned Santa Barbara County wine country of Central California, the Alisal Guest Ranch opens it’s 10,000 working cattle ranch this week to some first-time guests and a multitude of single and family groups who return to this Ranch year-after-year.
The staff at Alisal is quick to let you know that there ‘s a lot to do at Alisal; golf, horseback riding, tennis, fishing, swimming and featured special weekends. The Alisal Lake is a private, 100-acre spring-fed lake that is tucked away in the foothills and a great place to fish, boat and bird watch. They are also eager to remind you with a smile that ‘relaxin’ is a treasured pastime at Alisal as well! The quaint cottages are nestled in a grove of giant trees, rolling green grass and a kaleidoscope of flowerbeds in full bloom. The cottages are decorated with wonderful western motif and a wonderful fireplace to keep the body and soul cozy. Your stay at the ranch includes breakfast and dinner with the room rate. The menu is distinctly ‘California Cuisine’ with locally grown fresh fruit and vegetables sharing the plate with an extraordinary entree that could hold their own with a five-star restaurant in New York!
Although there is a wide range of activities it was evident to Jody and myself that the horseback riding was the centerpiece of the ranch. With over 100 horses and 50 miles of stunningly beautiful California Trails, the barns are the magnet for most guest from the first breakfast ride to the last sunset ride of the day.
I was very impressed with the quality and personal care of the horses, and the very careful process that was used to not only match up the right horse with the right rider (accommodating first-time rider to advanced). But then the head wrangler and his staff also took great care in grouping the horse and riders in smaller groups so that everyone could ride to their ability. Each small group has a wrangler in the lead, and their job is to make sure that every rider and every horse has a great ride.
7am Breakfast trail ride.
Jody and I signed up for the ‘Breakfast Ride’ that started at 7am. I had specifically asked to ride in the slower, novice group, but the wranglers, knowing I was a good rider, wanted to make sure I had a good ride so they selected Rusty to be my mount. Apparently, Rusty is the personal roping horse of the Head wrangler Tony and had never been offered to a guest before, and what a great ride he gave me! We rode for about an hour and a half, through the giant oaks dressed with lacy moss, down the canyons of golden oats and painted with deep yellow of wild mustard. we rode through the canyons, alongside shaded hillsides with grazing cattle on all sides, and this kept ‘ropin horse’ Rusty on his toes, ready at the slightest nod to take off and do his real job! The temperature could not have been more perfect, and time stood almost still with clip clop of hooves on well-worn trails.
The smell of coffee greeted us at the Adobe Camp, we tied the horses up to the hitching posts, and sat around a crackling campfire while the staff prepared a hearty western breakfast. The ambience continued with a cowboy poetry recital and singing cowboy on guitar, and I just kept thinking-it just doesn’t get any better than this. We saddled back up and rode different trails back to the ranch, and it was all too fast that the barns were back in sight and this ‘back in time’ breakfast ride was over.
Also also offered ‘Evening Rides’, where you will see herds of deer grazing, hawks hunting, and possibly sight a coyote or bobcat hunting. Another feature of their Equestrian Program is that you can arrange for an ‘Extended Ride’ which is available to advanced riders only. The Alisal Rodeo is a longtime tradition, and guest can watch team roping, team penning and barrel racing. They do offer ‘rodeo lessons’ to advanced riders, and anyone who does rodeo lessons is eligible to participate in the rodeo for an added layer of adventure for the guests!
I was really taken with the ability of Alisal Ranch to be both a world-class guest ranch destination, and still every bit warm, friendly, fun cowboy western ranch. No matter what your stress level when you arrive, I promise you will leave refreshed and with an energized spirit. I know that I will join a long list of guest who return every year to get “lost” in a place where time seems reluctant to move forward…”
Author Susan Gibson, Trailblazer Magazine -Happy Trails to you!
Jody Miller is a professional photographer specializing in Horse Photography, Equine Photography, and Equestrian photography. Jody is available for commissioned photo shoots on location. Her work can be viewed online here in her gallery section, and she is also featured at Arts Prescott Gallery, in Arizona.